Ever since that Polaris show during July of ’99 when Trey announced the millennium show in Florida, the juices were flowing. All alone, with 100,000 friends, in the Everglades to witness the passing of time to the soundtrack of Phish– what could possibly be better? Soon it came out that Phish would play an all-night set for the entry into 2000, something that caused butterflies in my stomach as soon as I heard it. “Were they serious?” I thought to myself. That feeling that I got at the end of every show- that unquenchable jonesing for more- might finally be satiated with such an event. Was this really happening? It was, and the excitement began building directly upon leaving Polaris and heading on an all-night cannonball run to Alpine Valley.
All night! The possibilities were endless, and my imagination began to run wild. This was the event Phish was destined for, ever since their inception back in the eighties. Staring down the millennium like the barrel of a rifle, Phish would step to the stage and never leave. As Trey announced during the first set of the first day, there would be security around the stage to make sure the band members could not leave! His joke only made my fantasies all the more vivid! Phish was going to be the soundtrack to the most cosmic night we had ever experienced. A journey into the unknown, the likes of which we had never seen. All those shows throughout the year, all those years throughout the decades, they had all led up to this, the most monumental affair of Phish’s career. But I had expectations.
This was the only Phish show I ever entered with expectations, and after 250+ shows at that point, I should have known better. Yet, ever since the all-night set was announced, it was obvious to me what would happen. It would be akin to The Lemonwheel’s ambient “Ring of Fire” jam– Phish would come out at midnight and play however the spirit moved them. Yet, this ring of magic wouldn’t be one hour- but seven! All fall I imagined this night as the ultimate psychedelic adventure of both my and Phish’s life; this is where our paths had led us. I was sure that when they came out at midnight, there would be no songs, how could there be? There would be no “Runaway Jim” or “Down With Disease” to wish us happy new year, just an amorphous beginning to a jam that would move organically for hours as the universe shifted from the 1900’s to the 2000’s.
It was going to be colossal– I knew it in my heart. This was what I had been waiting for my whole life, pure unadulterated Phish improvisation with absolutely zero musical reference points to know where we were headed. No beginnings or ends, just music– universal spiritual music– the stuff that Phish did best. We wouldn’t know how many hours had passed or how many more there were to go, we would be lost in the harnesses of the Phish with nothing but our collective imagination to move us.
Yes, it had to be. The band would spend the first four sets of the festival playing all of their significant songs, and then come out at midnight and just play. It was perfectly scripted in my head– I knew it to be true. And during that first set, when Trey affirmed that the band would never leave the stage, even for a short break, I knew I was right.
And so it started. The 30th. After waiting in hours, or days, of traffic, we had just enough time to ditch our RVs and make it to the concert ground for the first set. The Native American chants led by Chief Jim Billie made my personal predictions even stronger in my mind, harnessing the energy of the land’s true inhabitants; reaching into history to access the future. It was all coming together. The forces were aligned, and then came “Ghost.” By dropping such a dark song in the midst of daylight, my only thought was, “Of course, they had to play some huge songs during the day, because there wasn’t gonna’ be any tomorrow night!”
The 30th proved everything I thought it would be- a show of massive proportions showcasing the darker side of Phish. There came a bulbous festival combo of “Wilson > Curtain > Tweezer” to open set two, and a magical fifteen-minute “Harry Hood” and “Good Times, Bad Times” to close the set. This was shaping up the be quite the night, and the third, and best, set was yet to come.
After two full sets, Phish sometimes came out for shortened third frame, but not this time, as the final segment of the day would be the most impressive. Using two of their most divergent and popular songs, the band opened the night time with a fierce Chalk Dust and a “Moma Dance” that sounded larger than life, slowly booming through the speaker towers. Without wasting anytime, Phish tore into a ripping mid-set Antelope that proved to be one of the highlights of the entire day. After a quirky stop in “The Sloth” and a moment of reflection with “When the Circus Comes to Town,” Phish revved up one of the most belligerent Mike’s Grooves in memory.
It was the last “Mike’s Song” of the 1900’s and it sounded like a precursor to the apocalypse. An excursion of the deepest and darkest, this Mike’s shook the festival and its audience to the very core, tapping into forces that seemed far larger and more powerful than anything we knew. The music was slow, directed, and overwhelmingly menacing, as if it descended upon us from the heavens, delivering an ancient message of redemption. The jam grew far darker and aggressive as it progressed, pulling everyone’s mind into one evil grooving stew. Certainly the definitive jam of the evening, it was the ethos of this Mike’s that the 30th had always been about– the mysterious unknown and the terrorizing adventure into darkness.
As the band moved through the ferocious jam, the field, and the whole world, tremored in its monstrosity. This was IT, this was the place where everything would go down, and night one could not have been scripted better. Finishing off with transitions into Simple, Hydrogen, and Weekapaug, when this set ended, everyone had their world shot into perspective by the magnitude of the music. With a Tweezer Reprise encore, the stage was set for what would surely be the most magnificent night of the band’s career.
To Be Continued Tomorrow….
The first night.Tags: 1999, New Years