Dreaming of That Feeling

Madison Square Garden (Andrea Nusinov)

Christmas lights speckling buildings and trees like a fairy tale, the smell of chestnuts roasting from street vendors, the chill of the winter air, the sound of horse-drawn carriages walking the streets—there is nothing like December in New York City. A place that already exudes a one-of-a-kind energy adopts an enhanced grandeur during the holidays. Visiting the city during this time was a tradition of my childhood, but in 1995 a new twist on this life-long custom materialized in my life—Phish at Madison Square Garden.

Ever since 1995, the week following Christmas has been all about Phish. Aside from the few years they weren’t together, the emotional high of Christmas was bridged by just enough time to exhale, pack and travel to the holiday shows—an even higher emotional peak. The New Year’s Run has been every bit a part of my year-end ritual as the holidays, themselves, for as long as I can remember. This rite began when I was twenty years old, as Phish was cresting the tsunami that was 1995. I can still recall the sense of awe and wonder at the spectacle and experience that was Phish at Madison Square Garden in December. It was undeniably and quite obviously a magical combination.

My world had been flipped upside down by my second-ever Phish show in Charleston just a month earlier. I was immediately hooked for life. The MSG shows (I did not go to Worcester) were my sixth and seventh nights with Phish. I still have the journal in which I recorded my feelings as a college junior trying to find my place in the world after my first of eighteen New Year’s with the band.

1/1/96: (After staying up all night and taking the train home my parents in the morning.)

After such a euphoric weekend filled with fun and emotions and experiences, how am I supposed to just experience it and let it go? I’ve never felt like I did this weekend. Saturday night was the most emotional, spiritual and purely good experience I’ve ever had. [My friend] put it right when she said that you just get a feeling that is indescribable where you are so sure about something and just know that is what it is all about. I love that feeling. It is entrancing. Being at a show is indescribable. At a show there are all these nice people there to just enjoy Phish and enjoy life. “Can I live while I’m young?” I would really like to tour I think. It would have to be during the summer but I don’t know how or with who. Basically, Phish shows are where it’s at for me. I’ve never loved doing something so much. I wish it wasn’t so long until they tour again. But coming from this weekend of pure perfection, joy and love, I was kind of let down today with regular life. I guess that’s sometimes part of the deal. Can’t wait for the next show.

1/8/96: (A week later)

I’ve never experienced such an unbelievable weekend. Between the shows, trips, friends, and the New Year’s atmosphere, I’ve never felt so happy, euphoric, overjoyed and fulfilled in my whole life. The show on the 30th was perhaps the greatest experience of my life. I’ve never felt so certain about something in my entire life. Everything was right, in place and in tune, and I felt a release, a gratification, an intense cleansing that I’ve never known before. I’ve never felt so emotionally drawn out than at that show. I feel now that I want to go to shows every night! I felt so in tune with everyone, myself, and the world. I’ve never felt so happy to be somewhere with the people I was with. It was heartwarming to be a part of…I could go on writing about how my New Year’s weekend fulfilled every hope and expectation, but words just can’t express what I’m trying to say. I never want to stop going to Phish shows—EVER! I found something I love doing so much and I don’t want to let that go.

The feelings that I felt during those two nights in 1995 have been the same emotions that have imbued every New Year’s Run with Phish at MSG. The final four calendar days of the year, Phish and New York City combine to form an enchanting cocktail. They go together, they are made for each other. They define and delineate the passage of time. They are the clockwork of life.

These past two years, as Covid has taken this ritual away, these days feel depressing and aimless for me. I feel lost.

I guess it is normal to have a post-holiday crash, but I’ve never experienced that in my life until 2020 thanks to Phish. I was too young before ’95 to even have emotions like that, and ever since, Phish has been there to catch my post-holiday self and lift me to the highest planes I know. Despite the crazy year that was 2020, this wayward feeling is even more pronounced this year. We were all but there. We had flights, tickets, and plans. We were going back to the Garden. It was all happening again. And then it wasn’t. And now…here we are.

Those four days in April, should they come to pass, will be fun and exciting in a totally different way. But they won’t be December Phish. They won’t invoke the feelings of a New Year’s Run. They are hardly a consolation prize for this ritual denied. There is something special in the numbers 12/28, 12/29, 12/30 and 12/31. They are the most meaningful days of the Phish calendar, the calendar with which so many of us synchronize our lives. And we are now forced to wait another 365 days to see if next year will bring the year-end revelry we so dearly long for.

But what’s in a number?

The 28th—Everyone is back together again. Whether it was only a couple weeks apart, like 1995 or 1997, or several months, like 2017, the community is whole again. Everyone is filled with cheer, surfing the coattails of the holiday season as we congregate in New York for our own high holidays—the most spiritually charged days of the year. The band gets back to business, sometimes reacclimating to the stage (as in 2013 or 2018), and sometimes doing a whole lot more (as in 1998, which stands alone on this mantle, or 2012, and 2017). Everyone gets back into the groove and settles in for the four-night extravaganza. We are home for the holidays.

The 29th—This is most often where things get serious. The band has reconnected, we all have a night under our belts, and everyone is ready to dive a bit deeper. Some of the most stellar nights of December Phish have come on the 29th—1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, and 2013 jump right to mind. This night often felt like the most significant of the four during the 1.0 era. The ante is upped on the 29th, and whether or not the Phish delivers a fully fleshed out show on night two, at the very minimum we head home with some profound jams. The momentum of the run builds; we are only halfway through.

The 30th—This is the high holy day of the modern Phish calendar. This is the night of myth-making. This is the date that has consistently delivered the most profound experiences of 3.0-era New Year’s Runs. The 1993, 1994, and 1997 editions hold esteemed places in Phish lore, but in recent years, 2012, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 all hold up as the standout shows from their respective runs. The band has recently made a point of throwing down the gauntlet on the night before New Years. With a huge production and all-out party on the horizon for New Year’s Eve, this is the final night that is solely about the music. And it has showed. While the anticipation for New Year’s Eve is now palpable, this night remains anchored in the depths of musical adventure.

The 31st—The peak, the zenith, the top of the mountain—call it what you will, New Year’s Eve is the crown jewel of the run. There exists a feeling in the air on 12/31 unlike any other night of the year. It is a celebration, a rite of passage, a cleansing. We are throwing off the old and embracing the new, all through the prism of a three-set experience. Most often, the heaviest music comes in set two while the spectacle takes place in set three as midnight approaches. But sometimes these shows transform into utter blowouts a la 1995, 1998 and 2015. Many of these shows can simply be referenced by their monumental third-set productions—the Meatstick night, the JEMP truck night, the Hourglass night, the Big Boat night; the list goes on and on. And when the encore ends, we are launched into the next year filled with inspiration and excitement, riding the wave of an exhilarating four nights in our sacred space. All is good in the world, for how can it be bad? The post-run glow is stronger than after any other shows of the year, for we have once again turned the pages of our lives with Phish coloring our technicolor dreamscape.

But not this year.

Sure, it’s cool they are putting together a webcast. I appreciate the effort and the care they are showing to their community who has had their time-traversing carpet pulled from under their feet. They didn’t have to do this. And perhaps it will be something totally new and unique, but needless to say, it won’t be the same. The feelings I’ve been describing won’t be there, for a TV screen is a sterile medium that can’t communicate something visceral and mystical. The emotions and depth of experience just don’t translate. But knowing Phish, they will put together something special.

For me—and I know for so many of you—these days are missing. They are empty. They are rudderless. For the second year in a row I am left trying to fill the time when my heart is in another place altogether—a place that, for the moment, does not exist. I am grateful that we have been able to share such an incredible year with Phish in the face of so much uncertainty, for a year ago, I could not have imagined the shows that have transpired throughout 2021. But the New Year’s Run was supposed to be the cherry on top, the true return to normalcy—our homecoming. Now we can only dream of those four special nights in that round church of Midtown Manhattan. I miss the music, I miss the people, I miss the energy, I miss the magic. I miss that feeling.

In just a few days, the date will read 2022, but will time have even passed? I know I won’t feel the same. But we must be thankful for all we do have and know that at some point, we will return to that hallowed space marked by the final four days of the calendar. But in truth, those days are so much more—a timeless portal that guides us through the chapters of our existence.

5 Responses to “Dreaming of That Feeling”

  1. Mikey T Says:

    Thanks for putting this out there Dave, you’ve perfectly described how this 4 night run usually feels, but yeah, not this year. My CA divorce, followed by my COVID related job loss completely derailed my life. I got COVID in LA and that was most likely the last show I’ll ever see. Sorry I missed saying hey at Dick’s and filling you in. Ps. Nice shirt.
    So, I’m very excited to see our band do something completely new, different, and at a price point I can afford. Now I’m going to make some lemonade.

  2. wsppan Says:

    I could have sworn you wrote about your first shows happening in ’83? Didn’t you write about losing your friends and finding new ones and and then peaking during the 12/31/93 Hood?

  3. wsppan Says:

    I could have sworn you wrote about your first shows happening in ’93? Didn’t you write about losing your friends and finding new ones and and then peaking during the 12/31/93 Hood?

  4. Mr.Miner Says:

    I could have sworn you wrote about your first shows happening in ’93? Didn’t you write about losing your friends and finding new ones and and then peaking during the 12/31/93 Hood?

    ^nope.

  5. Willowed Says:

    Thanks so much for sharing.

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