Synchronicity. Serendipity. Surreal. Those are three more “S” words that can be applied to Phish’s Friday night performance in Denver. While the show was set to kick off the final run of summer—a season that had been nothing short of transformational for the band—there was a backdrop of tragedy for some of Phish’s extended family. Just the week before, tour mainstay since 1993 and the de facto “mayor of Phish lot,” Scott Ian Nowak, suddenly passed from our world. An original member of Phish’s Green Crew back in 1994, Scottie was a glowing spirit who brightened every situation he encountered—a true beacon of light in tour’s existential circus. Greeting anyone and everyone with a heartfelt “Good Morning!” (even if he first saw you at 7 pm) Scottie infused Phish tour with a purity of soul and luminosity that will sorely be missed.
Just before the final run, one of his closest friends wrote the band a letter explaining Scottie’s undying dedication to their music and culture, and what a painful loss so many in the community were going through. He also requested a dedication of “Esther” (Scottie’s favorite song) during the Denver weekend. And though “Esther” was never played, Phish—in delivering the “S” show—left us with a profound synchronicity for the ages. Had this show been planned for Scottie? Was it purely coincidence? How could it be? Interestingly, after talking to Scottie’s closest friends, the answer to this question just doesn’t matter—it happened. A powerful night of memories was helped along by a show that fit congruently into the cosmic life cycles of the moment.
Though Scottie had no direct connection to the band, some of his very close friends have intimate ties, and though Scottie was just a name in passing to the band members and a dancer to which they had connected to countless times over the years, he was a pivotal and influential person in the lives of so many in the Phish community. Instead of my telling Scottie’s story, I offered this space to some of his closest friends to do just that. Below are anecdotes and memories from Scottie’s friends—vibrant vignettes of an irreplaceable life lived. In honoring their words, I have barely edited these stories at all.
Scott Nowak, aka “Scottie from Schenectady,” or “Scottie with Overalls” as he would come to be known on tour, started seeing one-off shows in 1993. While working in the IRS office after finishing high school in the spring of 1994, he decided to throw in the towel and took his savings and convinced his long time friend, Scarecrow, to drive the tour. Scarecrow was easily convinced, and the two set out on the epic spring ’94 tour. They attended every show on that legendary run, but the Bomb Factory was a near miss. Scottie and Scarecrow got locked into a vampire’s apartment in New Orleans and had jump out of a two story before spending hours trying to find where they had parked. But they made it to Houston for the second set and then on to the Bomb Factory. I met them two shows later at Paolo Soleri Amphitheater in New Mexico—my 10th show.
I rode with them the rest of that run (the first tour for all three of us) through Red Rocks, Phish’s first performance at the legendary venue. Our meeting was a matter of fate or destiny, as it was and is with most of the connections made on tour. And while I could write for hours about every adventure, you can look over the list of places and venues and only imagine what and how it all went down.
We camped every night, didn’t have to drive through the night to make to the show on time, and we slept under the stars briefly at rest areas. We had four tapes in the car: Phish-Nectars 1988, a random Dead show, Beck’s Mellow Gold and a mix tape made by a high school friend of Scottie and Scarecrow’s. That was the soundtrack to the beginning of our journey with The Phish. We drove through the Southwestern desert, for them, their first time out there, and continued up the west coast while bathing in the ocean and hot springs, dumpster diving and spare changing at gas stations to get from show to show, all the way from San Diego to Vancouver and back down to San Francisco.
At the Warfield shows on that spring run our trusty driver had disappeared and Scottie and I were bound by a bond at that point. We realized that our unity was in our deep love and appreciation of the band and the music, and that nothing would keep us from a show. So while Scarecrow missed the first two nights, Scottie and I held on to every sacred moment of music, clearly seeing for the first time that everyone who attends a Phish concert is there for an entirely different experience. And for us, it was the music. For others, the music allows an umbrella to gather under, to meet other people, for partying, for inspiration, for whatever it may be, the experience is up to the user. Scarecrow showed back up that third night and we were relived as we headed East from San Francisco to Colorado.
Upon arriving at Red Rocks, which was the first show that “Green Crew” had official leadership and actual tickets set aside by the band, we got to the lot and were told that we couldn’t park on-site without tickets. We Jedi’d in and met for the first official G-Crew meeting, led by Jamie and Lisa. From that point on the deal was set for Scottie. He was like, “All I have to do is pick up garbage and I get a free ticket to see the magic circus? Sign me up! ”
Green Crew was where and when Scottie began to touch souls, his infectious laughter could be heard across the parking lots, his great insight into the songs made him someone that was sought out after particularly mind blowing shows to help sort out the mental mind-phuck that the band had presented that night. There was always a level of feeling that certain moments in the show or lines of the songs were very directed at YOU, the concert-goer. Sometimes Trey’s stories would incorporate a sign that we all passed on the drive, or reference a city that was passed along the way, or “Slave” would be dropped on a night that everyone was pressed to make it on time. Scottie was always there to sort out the meaning, decipher the reality from the myth. Between that spring and summer we caught, 40 shows together.
Scottie caught all the ’95,’96,’97,’98 shows, making it to Europe and one Japan run. He also hit the monumental Phil and Phriends shows also at the Warfield in ’99. All the debuts, moments like the Darien Show when the Pranksters came out, he was there. We drove the Island Tour together. It was in ’99 that he stepped away from doing full tours, as real life obligations took hold. Don’t get me wrong he still saw tons but as far as being “on tour,” that was where the parting began. Scottie was a dedicated member of G-crew and continued to pick up recyclables after the shows, even after he stopped getting official band tickets.
Scottie was a part of my life, from day 10 of my days on tour and for everyday since. He called me every year on my birthday, without fail, for the last 17 years. When there were times that I was at shows and he was not, we would either email, text or talk about the pivotal moments of the night for every show that I have been to since 1994. For me, Scottie has always been synonymous with Phish and my first experience with destiny. So when I found out about his passing on Saturday August 27th, I was destroyed. Though we had times of disconnect over the years of Phish’s breakup, we always had our annual catch-ups over our birthdays that were only a month apart. Once Phish reunited, he was unable to attend as many shows, and I was blessed enough to be able to catch a lot of them so we had fully reconnected over the last two years, and were in touch almost daily.
It is hard to put into words what Scottie meant to me and all of our friends. He was a source of constant light and positivity. Someone you could always count on to lighten the mood or make a rough situation better. In remembering Scottie, one of the things that keeps coming up is his ear to ear smile. Since his passing, people have been sharing all of their pictures of Scottie, and in each one, he is flashing that trademark grin. I remember at Darien Lake in 2000, I left my seat during “Suzy Greenberg” to use the bathroom. There was a crazy storm happening outside in the field area and as I walked back, I found Scottie back in the field, completely drenched. I went into the tent, borrowed a stub from somebody and stubbed him in. We walked back to my seats just as the song was winding down. Scottie sat up on two of the seatbacks so he could see over the standing people. As usual, that grin was ear to ear. We all thought the song was coming to an end but they kicked back in for an epic “Suzy Reprise.” Scottie was beaming and energy seemed to radiate from him and light up the whole tent as the band took the song to another level. I will always remember this image of him, sitting up, almost over the crowd and focusing this tremendous energy on the stage. A number of people will credit the energy of the “Suzy Reprise” to the fierce storm that was raging outside, but I will always attribute it to Scottie, because the instant HE entered that tent (looking like a drowned rat with glasses), then energy of the show skyrocketed. It was intense and unforgettable.
When souls connect there is just an understanding. In 1994 in Glens Falls, NY at my 6th Phish concert I met Scottie from Schenectady aka SchnectaScottie…from there our paths merged and for the next three-plus years as we were to “ride” together, dance together, laugh together, cry together, pick up recyclables together and live together in this alternate society and, often times, reality. As we grew together – sometimes further apart but mostly closer – we shared adventures on the Vermont snow and ice, raised wolves, watched our friends wed and give births, and saw our band take a break, come together, and then break up (eventually to come together again – hallelujah!!)! Things rearranged and many people, including Scottie (and I), migrated from the east to the west coast. I recall Red Rocks 2009 when I saw Scottie after what had definitely been at least four years. I was initially shocked to see him but ultimately delighted and comfortable. It felt as though not a minute had passed from our last encounter. Yet I realized I had no reason to be shocked to see him for this was our home – where we go – and our common thread from the beginning…Our family. The last time I saw him was at Super Ball IX when I received a hug that I will never forget! A Scottie hug: fully lifting me off the ground enveloping me in a strong embrace that conveys true, pure love only to be given by the people who are our truest, brightest stars that follow each other for eternities… and that SMILE, oh that smile!!! I love you Scottie!
– Sally Greenberg, San Francisco, VT
Unlike a lot of my friends I do not remember the first time I met Scottie. Though I was around a lot during the early ’90’s, I wasn’t “on tour” until the summer of ’95. As someone who came frequently to the shows but was not immersed in the culture at that point, Scottie stands out in my memory as someone who just always was. You know those people, right? I’m sure we all have a few, who catch our eye from our first few shows and then again and again. There’s something about them. Well there was definitely something about Scottie. How do you quantify the light inside someone? We all have the light but Scottie knew how to make it shine. He never stopped shining he never stopped being Scottie.
When 3.0 came around I was thrilled. From my first Grateful Dead show in 1987, I had bought into the life and community, the f(ph)amily, hook, line and sinker—this was my real world. But 3.0 just wasn’t the same. Don’t get me wrong, Phish is playing awesome, I mean, they are killing it! It’s just my community felt gone. So many familiar faces were there rarely or never, lots of brief hellos but very few genuine interactions, a distant cousin to the community I knew.
Everything seemed different, but not Scottie. Scottie was still the same. He was someone that people in our community try to be like but fell short because you just cannot fake the kind of generosity of spirit he had. His open arms and enthusiasm for people made a huge difference in my life. Seeing him again this summer made me remember what it was that had caused me to spend my entire 20’s and early 30’s on the road following a band. He was the embodiment of everything that was amazing about that time period. He was fun and funny. He was a dancer and free. He was a great friend but also a friendly stranger. Man, could he give a hug. I never heard him talk bad about people and he was also a deep thinker, a realist about what life could be. He had character in the way people used to talk about it; back bone, strength, honesty and kindness. He was a character. He adored his crazy dogs and music. He was cherished and loved.
One cannot talk about Scottie without bringing up Mataya and Lucas. They were his Shepard/Wolf dogs that he brought with him everywhere he went. Many a night as the lot emptied out we all cracked up laughing, hearing him calling them to “load up” so that he could leave. Scott spent a great deal of winters in the Burlington, VT, area snowboarding and of course ‘Taya’ and Lucas were there at his side. He was an avid outdoorsman and had hiked the majority of the Northern part of the Appalachian Trail with just his dogs, a backpack, and a Walkman. He bragged that he trained the dogs to carry their own food and bowls along the hikes. He collected gems and minerals, marbles, and was an avid reader; Bukowski, Thompson and Dostoevsky were some his favorites. He was always into the moment and feeling fulfilled within it. And if it was not feeling that way for him, he would do whatever he could to find that feeling.
– Jen Chadbourne
Reflections on the “S” show:
I was enjoying the first show of the Denver 2011 run from the start. It was bittersweet as we remembered our brother but I was stoked to be there. Obviously, everyone was pumped to get a “Sloth” and “Sweet Virginia” was a pleasant surprise. It was not until halfway through “Suskind Hotel” that someone came up and told me that every song so far had started with ‘S’. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. I knew in an instant, along with all of my friends, that this show was for him (whether or not this was the band’s intention, we didn’t care). It added a whole other dimension to the show for me, and from that second on, each song took on extra weight. Serious extra weight. “Strange Design” and “Shine A Light” really hit home during the first set. When the lights came up, nobody could believe it and we were all amazed and grateful. When they opened up the second set with another ‘S’ song, I was in further disbelief. The set was an emotional roller coaster for me, personally, and I pretty much lost it during “Slave.” Regardless of the band’s intent, the timing of this show, sublime playing, and song selection really hit home. I will always cherish the memory of this show and be forever thankful that I was able to witness it go down. RIP Scottie.
“Phish has always been a very personal journey for everyone involved. It is up to you to decide your experience on every level. “You decide what it contains how long it goes, but this remains.” So when the band was three songs into the 1st set of the Dick’s Sporting Goods show, I picked up the phone to call Scottie’s mom. As “The Sloth” ended and I tearfully left her a message letting her know that they were on the fourth ‘S’ song of the set and that it seemed to me that the ‘S’ theme was going to continue for the duration of the show, that ever burning question remained on everyone’s mind, was this for “Scottie” or a huge coincidence?
The “cosmic serendipity” (to quote a great friend) that occurred with the September Second Show is a full reflection of why I, Scottie, and our family, have dedicated so much time and energy to seeing Phish. Mike Gordon has talked a lot in in interviews about the Nirvana space that opens up when everything in a jam is in the perfect place, and the cosmic oneness that occurs in that time, be it a moment or 15. It is this idea that brings up the role that Scottie played both in my life, the band’s life, and touring reality. We are all connected through energy, and when we are elevated through the music, we are connecting on a yet to be understood dimensional level. It is through this connection that I believe the ‘S’ set, and really the grander vibe of the whole Colorado weekend took a hold of. With all of the connections that we have as family to the band and the band members, and to one another over this 20 year journey, it is ridiculous to think, that with as great a member of our phamily Scottie was, that it would not be felt through and through.”
– Jen Chadbourne
“Losing Scottie, for me, felt like the final death toll of a way of life I had cherished for so long. I have lost many a friend along the way but this felt different. Scottie meant something to me I’m having a hard time putting words to. He was my friend and I loved him. Scottie was the kind of friend you never doubted loved you back. To feel like somehow I, we, the world, let him down in returning that undoubted love is hard. To think that he was so alone in his final moments is heartbreaking. The whole thing was dragging me down to a very dark place.
I spent the night of September 2 in Schenectady, NY, sitting for three hours with Scottie to say my final good-byes. It was horrible. Driving home to Brooklyn that night with my two friends, it was very quiet in the car and then we got the text. “Four songs in, every song begins with ‘S’.” For the rest of the ride we streamed the show on my friend, Q’s, hand held smart phone. The service came in and out, we couldn’t connect it to the stereo system but we never put the phone down. More texts started pouring in to our other phones from Colorado and all over the country. And when Phish played “Shine A Light” it brought me to my knees. I knew, I just knew, that it was okay, that Scottie was okay, that I would be okay, the love was real, that that time was real, that things change and it is okay to move on. Thank you Phish.”
“Celebrating his life in his most recent residence of Colorado with a three-night run of Phish could not have been more fitting. The moon watched over us with the smile of the Cheshire Cat shining down upon us. Our family came together in ways I could not have imagined… People in all corners of the country gathered and showed support for each other. Many made special arrangements to come to Colorado. Those who couldn’t travel on short notice made plans to be with friends and family where they were. Some represented at the family’s services in New York and arranged a card for them extending our sincerest sympathy and support.
I am thankful for the interconnectedness of it all. The story has been written and the adventures continue to unfold—I can’t put down the book that is this journey. While the lessons keep coming and the loss of our dear friend hurts dearly, I am beyond appreciative for the collective consciousness of the Phish community and our relationships to each other (but also with the band) no matter how close or long distance they may be. I am beyond proud of the Joy that has been manifested before this and will continue after. There is no way or reason to try to describe the “home” or “family” vibe that is ‘Phish tour’: who feels it, knows it. It is for this feeling that I keep returning. The music is what fuels it and our participation ignites it!
I had a lot of meanings for the show brought to you by the letter ‘S’. Life, death, birthdays, circles, cycles, September second, sevens… and sssssso on! For my family, the show was a tribute and a very beautiful one at that. But this is not the first time I have tried to relate a show or set list to the very events happening in my life. I’ve searched for meanings and common archetypes to make sense of it all at almost every show I have been to!
Personally, I would describe Friday night’s show like Déjà vu:
It seems familiar, holds meaning, but yet you just can’t put your finger on what the exact message is so you make it into something personal for you. A bookmark? A reminder we are on the right track? Or the wrong one? No one knows for sure…but you have an idea. A Feeling.”
“For those of us that were touched by Scottie’s light, and were suffering his loss this was the perfectly concocted dose of music and magic to ease the pain and process the loss. It was a beautiful memorial—purposeful or not—to someone who’s life was dedicated to the emotion and belief that we are all connected through this music, and that this connection is far more real than the paradigm of “real life.” But the loss of such a beautiful person, such an incredible artist and loving friend never comes at the right time. And while this weekend was cathartic, the rest of my LIFE, I will spend missing him. Sharing huge Phish moments, my birthday will have a “blank space where Scottie used to be,” from here on out. So in his honor, I beg of anyone reading this…Choose life. What ever it may be that brings you joy, clutch on it and treasure it, because the wake of loss felt by those that are left to live their lives out, will forever be changed without YOU in the picture. Even if we have never met, if we have danced at Phish we share a connection that, while unexplainable, is a very real force. And when a life is taken from that force, the ripples are felt by those left behind infinitely and that pain is very hard to process. We are a community and if you feel alone remember that you are not. A Phish phriend is a phriend for life, so reach out to your phamily, and be a active vibration in our world. Smile and dance like every song is your favorite, open your heart, and most of all LIVE…”
Dedicated to Scott Ian Nowak 2/9/75 – 8/27/11. Your laughter will ring on forever.
Jam of the Day:
“Slave to the Traffic Light” 9.2.11 II
The emotional peak to the ‘S’ set.
Tags: Culture, Summer 2011