Welcome to a new category on The Sloping Companion. We call it The Overflow Tank. What is this section all about? This is where my fellow contributors come on and speak their mind on various topics related to Phish and the surrounding community. Our first installment is by Stephanie Geman-Marcotte. She is an author and we are stoked to have her contributing to our website. Look for more from Stephanie in the coming months. She has a lot of good things to say. Enjoy.
When Robert asked me to explore the ways in which the older, more seasoned, Phish phans could welcome the younger aficionados into the Phishy fold, I accepted the challenge because I have noticed a divide between the older and younger members of the Phish community – a situation in need of improvement.
I’ve heard opposing views regarding the possible reasons for this lack of cohesion. The older clan thinking that the “newbies” are distractions to the scene, incapable of appreciating the cosmic subtleties of a Phish show. In some respects I can agree. I’ve had to move my blanket to a different section of the lawn multiple times at a show because the college kids next to me were jabbering away and it wasn’t to share their glee regarding the stellar jam unfolding before them.
Even if they had been emphatically shouting out the unique merits of that evening’s musical direction (a common practice among the younger crowd), affirmations of that nature should be conveyed silently with a jaw-dropped, awestruck glance to say, “Fuckin’-A dude, holy fuckin’-A, can you believe this shit!” A suitable inaudible response would be a wide-eyed, exaggerated exhalation while turning the head in shared disbelief to reply, “No, dude – this is fuckin’ insane, Driscol better be getting this shit on tape.”
There should be a manual, a Helping Phriendly Book given to everyone at their first show that lists the generally accepted rules of etiquette and offers suggestions to enhance the concert experience for the entire audience.
I get the sense, however, that a Prime Directive of this sort would not be warmly received (and most likely ignored) by the newer phans, especially if it harped on picking up garbage and keeping conversation to a hushed minimum while the band is playing and wiping off the toilet seat if your aim was off and not drinking to excess and …
I’m not sure if the younger crowd just hasn’t had time to cultivate an appreciation of these types of scout-like practicalities, or whether the older crowd has become a bit too staunch in their advanced age, unwilling to overlook minor discomforts and annoyances.
I can’t say that I’ve experienced outright disdain from the 20-somethings so much as a general shunning of the older crowd, whom they must perceive as incapable of grasping the unique opportunity to shed their skin of societal oppression in ways that are only possible in that type of relaxed setting.
I question, however, how much of their Phish experience is about the music, and how much is about having a raucous good time in a circus-like Mecca with an ample supply of illicit delights. And maybe it isn’t so black and white, maybe more like a broad spectrum, maybe it takes a while for a true appreciation of the music to develop – and if given enough time, they too will mature as I have.
I saw my first Grateful Dead show about the time the newest Phish fans were being born – back when the lot was mostly filled mostly with VW busses driven by gentle, Earth loving hippies instead of SUVs and Lexus’s borrowed from parents. The vibe has changed so much over the years, and it falls upon the jam-band elders, such as myself, to convey our wisdom. Because without restoring a keen appreciation of the helping, friendlier times of the long-long ago, I fear that a unified collective of barefoot children will remain just an idealistic dream.
My first Dead show was at the New World Music Theatre in Tinley Park, IL – a fitting name for a venue – back before they were all bastardized by commercialism to have empty names like the Tweeter Center, Waste Management Ampitheater, or the Allstate Arena. Before that day, I was an angst-ridden college graduate with a chip on my shoulder, but it only took that one night to transform my entire being into a peace loving hippy.
I added Phish to supplement my jam band addiction in 1992 after being blown away by my first show that transfixed me from the first note to the last. I was not quite sure how they were able to pull it off. Their intensity never faltered, even after playing an entire song while jumping on a trampoline. There was no time to catch your breath during drumz/space – just song after song of power-packed awesomeness.
Early Phish was a force both similar to, and completely different than the Grateful Dead, and I was lucky enough to have three solid years to follow my two favorite bands around the country. I was 24 years old at the time and had structured every aspect of my life and budding career to accommodate my demanding tour schedule.
So now it’s twenty years later. I have had two decades to witness the changes in the scene, and to be honest – I’m not sure the culture has evolved as I thought it would. In fact – I think the unity of the Phish crowd may have deteriorated. Or maybe it’s just impossible to avoid a generation gap. But, I don’t think that’s the case, because physical age was a non-issue with Deadheads. I hate to use corny new-age-isms, but ‘soul-age’ seemed a more accurate demographic to define the crowd. Or maybe there were just fewer kids seeing the shows back then, and the overall vibe reflected the greater median age of maturity.
It was a simpler time back in the early 90′s, cell phones did not exist (you must think I’m ancient). If you wanted to meet your friends at the show, you picked a time and a general quadrant in the lot like ‘next to shakedown by where we bought those devil sticks last year’ and it always just worked out. And if not, no worries, you could always find your taper friend by the soundboard who would know where everyone else was.
I love my tri-corder (that’s what I call my android), it’s an incredible device, but I question its place at a Phish show. It’s a distraction that keeps us (me included) from being fully engaged with both the band and the audience. I have always thought that the point of seeing the Dead or Phish in a live setting was to join with the collective in a way that shocks and persuades the melded soul to ignite – to weave a magical dream that connects everyone on a ‘higher’ plane of perception.
Being ‘actually high’ on goodies from the lot (although a powerful gateway to the sublime) is not the secret to generating a communal experience of transcendence, and if taken to excess, the goodies can actually impede the ability of the lucid weavers to spin up the magic that propels the band into uncharted levels of awesomeness. Too many times, I’ve witnessed trips gone awry with Trey having to stop playing in the middle of a song to talk down a red rocks climber flirting with disaster, or balcony divers landing with a sickening thud on the concrete, and just recently, I read (via a flurry of freaked out tweets) about a naked girl jumping from the top of a light post. There’s a time and place for going that far, and it’s in the safety of your own home with a copy of Timothy Leary’s ‘High Priest’ with designated trip drivers to insure safe passage to the unknown (and back!)
So if a questionable character in the lot offers you a palm full of blue liquid for five bucks, don’t take it – even if the stuff you took over two hours ago seems like it was bunk. I don’t want to come off as preachy (since I could be close to your parents’ age), and since I can’t stop you from doing things that I used to do on a regular basis, I won’t encourage you not to. But, I can give you some advice on how to maximize your experience (and of those around you) and limit the potential for life-altering disaster.
Firstly, if it doesn’t grow in the ground, it isn’t for you. I’m not saying that there isn’t some wicked powerful natural stuff out there that could permanently fry your brain, but at least you know what you’re working with. Natural stuff doesn’t give you the sharp-edged high that you get from some mystery elixir that some half-cocked pseudo-chemist brewed up in his bathtub. Natural stuff won’t keep you up all night against your will, it won’t make you salivate uncontrollably, it won’t make you grind your teeth till your jaw aches, and in my opinion – stuff that grows in the ground is less likely to make you take all your clothes off and jump off of a light pole instead of paying attention to the awesome band playing right in front of you.
Less is more. Looking back at my 100+ Dead and Phish shows, the best were the ones where I wasn’t too far gone to have a conversation with my lawn neighbor, or figure out how to pay for my pretzel and put away my change, or keep track of my shoes, or help somebody in need of assistance, or to NOT BE a person in need of assistance.
OK, enough lecturing – that wasn’t my original intent when I started writing this. In fact, I’m a total hypocrite, my era wasn’t any better – the 90’s crowd had their share of immaturity. I was at the Grateful Dead show at Deer Creek where all the fans who didn’t get their miracle broke down the fence at the top of the lawn and stormed in. Jerry and the band seemed so sad, like their devoted following had been usurped by an army of disrespectful strangers. True Deadheads would never even think to storm the fence. So who were those people? And did they blossom into fans the band could be thankful for? I’d like to think so…