Thinking Back to Coventry

Coventry (Boston Globe)

Coventry (Boston Globe)

Coventry. The mere mention of the word makes any Phish fan cringe. But here we are, ten years later, on the heels of Phish’s sixth summer tour since their return and on the brink of their fourth fall tour in six years. One can say we’ve come a long way from the mud ridden disaster that was Coventry in 2004. Sometimes the universe just provides the exact combination of elements to match a particular mood, and between the traffic debocle, the mud-soaked concert field, and fans being turned away from the site in cars while others hiked in, everything about this weekend was an absolute fucking trainwreck. And then we had the band. In what was supposed to be their swan song, the came out in arguably the worst form of their career—in every way. Despite a few highlights over two days, the music, overall, matched the vibe of the festival as well—an utter fucking mess. Calling Coventry a travesty would be the understatement of the century. It was really that bad. If you need any memory of just how bad it got, watch some footage of the final night. Viewer discretion is advised. There wasn’t much takeaway from that weekend in Vermont, other than Phish was gone, and this time it was for good.

And somehow, I was ok with it all. I was devastated when Trey announced that they were done, but at Coventry, everything was already a foregone conclusion for me and I wasn’t all that traumatized by the events. I just knew things couldn’t be right with the band, because they just played their farewell festival without dropping “Tweezer.” And that’s not a joke, but a funny truth. There was no stepping into anything that weekend except mud, and lots of it. I remember walking back to our RV after the final show and just seeing abandoned shoes stuck in the mud, and somehow it felt like an apt analogy for the entire weekend. You had to just let go to enjoy yourself at all, even if it meant leaving your shoes behind. Phish was done and this was one last hurrah. But the irony was that there was very little joy at Coventry, and it was hardly a hurrah.

Coventry (sensiblereason.com)

Coventry (sensiblereason.com)

When they say the crowd went the way of the band in this era, its no joke. I didn’t have to look further than my own RV and my closest tour friends to see the effect that oxycontin and other hard drugs had taken on our scene. I was always someone who kept it lighthearted, I got spun and smoked weed all night, but I never saw the point in the “post-show” drugs. At some point, things shifted for some of my friends, as I’m sure they did for the band, and the entire tour experience became intertwined with hard drug use that went far beyond any recreational habit. Band members, my friends and way to many people in our community were in the grips of the same drug that had its grips on the nation, the semi-synthetic opiate named oxycontin that had become easily attainable in America during this time. It is a drug that chips away at one’s character and zest for life as quickly as it does their health, and in retrospect, it’s amazing Phish cranked out the music they did that summer. Leg one was solid the whole way through, and they had even played a fairly strong two-night stand at Great Woods just before Coventry. Through all the substances and internal issues, the band could still jam. Their composed playing had gone the way of the wind, but those guys could jam up until the end. Just about.

Many people say that they knew Phish would be back. I wasn’t one of those people. I took it at face value. Phish was done. I had to in order to put it all behind me and move on. After a little bit, it almost became easier to live a normal life without Phish, because I didn’t want to leave town every couple months for weeks on end. I didn’t have to make excuses to families, employers, schools and beyond in order to sneak off onto the astral plane with Phish. But throughout the band’s five year absence, I never found something that spoke to me as personally as Phish had, thus when I heard they were coming back, this entire blog began as a place to simply process my thoughts. I guess those people were right, because Phish came back, and they came back in a big way. Though it took a couple years to shake off the rust, Phish had climbed back to prominence, adding chapters upon chapters to their legacy that few dreamed possible. Thinking back to Coventry now is like remembering a bad dream from long ago. I can still relate to the emotions of the weekend, but they don’t sting any more because we are six years into a new era. Now we can all legitimately say, imagine what our lives would be if Phish hadn’t come back? And that, my friends, is pretty damn sweet.

Coventry (fredshead.org)

Coventry (fredshead.org)

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1,437 Responses to “Thinking Back to Coventry”

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  1. HeadyBrosevelt Says:

    dug this a lot, miner. i have stated on here before that i was pretty much off the bus during 2.0. i do remember walking around utah lot in ’03 and thinking a lot of the kids looked liked zombies. psychedelics have always been my preferred mode of transportation and it was weird seeing more junkies than usual (i remember noticing more junk/junkies around ’99) on that utah lot. i feel the scene, now, is much, much brighter- rainbow unicorn farts and bubbles.

  2. HeadyBrosevelt Says:

    also on the conventry topic, not a bad read.

    http://www.jambase.com/Articles/122452/10-Years-Later-The-End-Of-An-Era-Phish-At-Coventry

  3. guf Says:

    yeah, another good read, thanks.

  4. vegas wolfmans Says:

    Good stuff, Miner. I was present and still haven’t ever felt compelled to listen back. Not making a statement or anything, it’s just a time I prefer not to reflect upon. My life was is such chaos and disarray- mirroring the band in many ways. I listened to very little phish during the breakup and edged back in slowly- first 3.0 shows were Gorge ’09. This place has been a huge part of reigniting my love for the band. Thanks for that.

  5. EUPhan Says:

    i was flying from Germany to vegas in 04 and was shocked about the scene. for me phish is all about music, not drugs so it was sad to see both the band and the fans in such a bad state. in 09 i was the happiest man on earth and due to my age and job i could afford to travel much more often to see phish in the US than between 97-04. and hell did they come back! i was trying to get tix for the vegas run to celebrate the 10y anniversary of my trip but unfortunately could not get any tix from e lottery and public onsale. have fun my phriends!

  6. ElJefe Says:

    Have some great memories of Coventry.. Mostly non musical. Spent a great trip up w my bro and hanging in Burlington.. My buddies stuff got lost on the flight so we bought/returned this huge weird tent… Was only in line for like 12 hrs cause we took crazy back roads while listening to the Camden show as the fog descended and we could only see 10 feet in front of us.. Got good and drunk as we somehow got the tent up in the wind and rain..woke up just as the soundcheck was floating out of the boom box like some crazy dream..somehow found our friends via walkie talkie as they walked in.. Balled my eyes out a few times. Definitely never forget it.

  7. RicksFork Says:

    Great reflection Miner. I really enjoyed this honest piece. I was out of the scene during this era, but the few random shows I caught had a darker and stranger vibe than what I had known from 95 – 00. My friends and I talk about this all the time. I am glad we are where we are now.

  8. sumodie Says:

    Beyond the human made mud mess, the natural landscape surrounding Coventry was quite beautiful. The perfect spot for some other festival in an alternate universe

    I’ll admit I got the willies when I drove by the exit for Coventry last fall

    Thankfully now the experience is just another chapter in the life of Phish

    But one thing hasn’t changed: opiate abuse rages on in VT (& elsewhere)

  9. MiA Says:

    Great thoughts this morning.

    I had no idea the opiate scene on the tour. I was 9+ years into a professional career and I guess I finally (in ’04) saw phish as a ‘drug band’. The types of jams I liked were gone. The dark opiate haze jams (IT’s 46 days) just were jams I could go without.

    If Trey’s health is played through his jams, listen to Randall’s Dust is pretty pretty joyful.

  10. Fastenuff4who Says:

    Thanks Miner.

  11. sumodie Says:

    Saw all my 2.0 shows sober. Was likewise clueless about the dark underbelly of that era

  12. BingosBrother Says:

    Truth Sumo. May be worse than ever. 2003 was the only year I missed a show since 95. Went to Rosemont lot by myself, home of my first show, walked around a bit, went home. Decided to see them off in DC 04 and it was magic for me. Cried during Coil and drove straight home. I was at peace. Miner has me wondering how much less love and knowledge and joy I’d have without 3.0. Each show is a gift of infinite proportion.

  13. Shred Says:

    I was in a similar space as band in 04. So many bad choices. Somehow I had the clarity not to go to Coventry. Hampton and Camden sucked.

    2.0 was polarizing. I either loved the show or hated it. No in between. Always will love It Miami and Camden03.
    Hated Vegas HamptonCamden04 Denver03

  14. dorn76 Says:

    CrackBaby makin’ music.

  15. George W. Kush Says:

    Nice post Miner.

    Super appreciative of where we are now with this band. 04-09 was a musical blank space for me and most every show I saw (esp Trey band) I thought “man, if only I could be seeing Phish…” Nothing really filled that “astral plane” void. Certainly saw a lot of good music but never reached IT anywhere else.

    Happy Friday all. Thanks Miner for half a decade of inspiring and communitizing thoughts. And thanks to the Phish from Vermont for perhaps one the greatest revivals in rock n roll history.

    Dicks awaits.

  16. stapes Says:

    DC & Alpine 04 was my goodbye to the band as I picked up and headed west right after. Bittersweet. Felt at peace with it though. As Heady and others mentioned, started filling my time with other stuff. However I had gotten my fill in 2.0.

    Let’s not forget the other large gathering in the NE that happened 45 years ago this weekend, and also had its fair share of mud.

    Off to play in the mountains. Getting excited for Dicks. Hope the boys have been hitting barn.

  17. dusty Says:

    I was out for most of 2.0 as well. Just a different place in my life then and I wasn’t being drawn in by what I heard. For my friends, junk and ice caused the most damage and lost.

    Caught Albert Lee last night, the man still has his finger speed. Loved the banjo rolls in a mostly straight ahead country set. I really got lost in his b bender setup though at points. Just has this incredible steel type sound to that way he uses the neck bender on the second string. I got the impression of a really down to earth guy though from talking with him briefly.

  18. Calpain Says:

    a very poignant post, thanks Miner. Camden 04 felt very foreboding and dark. never thought we would would make it back…but here we are!

    thankfully everyone seems to be in a much more positive mind space these days.

  19. George W. Kush Says:

    Per Mia’s (i think) earlier reference. Herbie boots.

    http://neverenoughrhodes.blogspot.com/2008/05/never-enough-live-herbie-hancock.html

  20. verno329 Says:

    Hate to be bottom page’d but thanks for the Other One recs MrC. Yeah I’m a big fan of the abstract, spaced out Dead jams. Your 72 Dark Star mix gets regular spins for me.

    I did love the HFS pedal one from DP18. Spun that one twice yesterday before the one from DP23. Fantastic stuff. There’s always an Other One to suit whatever mood you’re in.

  21. jonacho Says:

    I too was off the train for 2.0 – what I did see was uninspiring.
    Still, its an odd feeling to simultaneously regret not being at Coventry, and being very glad I skipped it.
    The bonus is that great friends were made that weekend whose circle I am in, and that has made 3.0 a wonderland of fun and rainbows.
    Thank the great spirit that we have 3.0 we get more gifts and lifelong highlight experiences

  22. Snigglebeach Says:

    Another great article Miner. 2004 was such a tough time for so many people. I (miraculously) avoided the oxy rush that chewed up a lot of my friends in that era. But that was still a lousy time in my life.

    I think Coventry marks the end of a terribly tough 3 years of my life that revolved around depression and soul searching that prob started before 9/11 but intensified right after.

  23. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    Did I miss talk of the new Allman brothers release here? Complete Fillmore east set

  24. verno329 Says:

    Great piece Miner. Loved it.

  25. dorn76 Says:

    Also avoided oxy, but did not avoid that tree on New Year’s Eve ’03-’04 while solo driving drunk home from a party down the street in order to watch a lousy BC bowl game on my couch. Really. Game was played in Hawaii or something and started at midnight…

    Anyhoo, the aftermath nearly cost me my life, my wife and did cost me a couple years of physical/mental good health. Dragged my busted ass to Coventry though!

    Weed was always the best pain med.

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