A Brief History of Dick’s

Posted in History with the tags , , , on August 21st, 2014 by Mr.Miner
9.2.2012 (Graham Lucas)

9.2.2012 (Graham Lucas)

Four years ago, the Phish community descended on Denver, Colorado for the Labor Day weekend. The band had booked a new venue—a soccer stadium just outside the city—for a summer-closing three-pack. Even before anyone stepped inside the venue, the idea seemed like a sound one—a free-for-all throwdown with a massive GA field where everyone could congregate in a hassle free environment. Tickets wouldn’t be a problem with such a large venue, and everyone could come out for the three-night run over Labor Day Weekend to enjoy the last shows of summer. And the stadium was named Dick’s. It didn’t matter that its moniker was taken from a nationwide sporting goods store, the community—and the band—ran with the inherent humor. Phish loves Dick’s. We love Dick’s. Everyone loves Dick’s.

In just a week, we will all head to the Rockies once again, for the fourth consecutive Labor Day fiesta. Like two of the three previous stands, this one will be a stand-alone trifecta that will seal the deal on another summer of Phish. But before we get there, let’s take a quick trip through the history of a venue that has become a modern legend.

2011

Dick's 2011 Official (LandLand!)

Dick’s 2011 Official (LandLand!)

Dick’s 2011 was the culmination of a huge summer of growth for Phish. They had played a two-legged tour beginning on May 27, with Superball in between. After trudging through 2009 and 2010 on a far slower learning curve than most anticipated, Phish made a huge leap forward during Summer 2011. High points came right out of the gate at Bethel and the “Rust Belt” run through Detroit, Cleveland and Cincinnati, in July at Superball, and later that summer at the Gorge and UIC Pavilion. The band took just under two weeks off before coming into their first Dick’s stand firing on all cylinders.

A tradition was born in Phish’s first show at Dick’s—the “S” Show. Throughout two sets and an encore, the band played twenty-six songs that began with the letter “S.” This stunt set a precedent of setlist trickery that now occurs on the first night of each end-of-summer weekend. Though fun, this show was somewhat light on jams, sprouting minor highlights in “Sneakin Sally -> Sparks” and “Seven Below.” Things changed over the following two nights, however, as Phish got down to business with jams aplenty.

Saturday and Sunday’s second sets were packed to the gills with improvisation, and an unforgettable “Tweezer” lead the charge. This jam departed from the darker grooves the song is known for and launched into the most heavenly jam of the year. But while “Tweezer” was most definitely the jam of the weekend, the set of the transpired on the stand’s final night, centered on a smoking sequence of “Twist -> Piper > Hood.” Needless to say, after three nights of top level Phish to close the season, folks couldn’t wait to return to the industrial park in Commerce City the following year

2012

2012 Official (Stout)

2012 Official (Stout)

Dicks 2012 was a whole different story. This three-night stand was a pivot point in the overall narrative of the 3.0 era, thus holding importance in the context of Phish’s career. In short, this stand was an absolute breakthrough.  The bad had rediscovered the art of long form jamming over leg two of summer tour in 2012. Before Long Beach, Phish’s improvisational passages had grown quite dense, but usually maxed out between 12 and 15 minutes, feeling more like appetizers than main courses. Though they had dropped a handful of extended jams in 2011, they had reeled things back over summer’s opening leg, one would suspect as a calculated move in order to make this jump over leg two. But when tour wound its way to Dick’s—he finale of summer’s second leg—things transformed once again.

A confluence of elements combined to make this weekend magic. The band was coming from six consecutive one-off shows through the South and Midwest and now had a chance to settle in for three nights in a familiar and well-loved environment. And Phish had—at long last—gained their sea legs again, playing with an enhanced sense of freedom over the previous fortnight. This was a recipe for the perfect storm, and as if that wasn’t enough, Phish helped out further by forcing their own hand on night one.

8.31.12 (G.Lucas)

8.31.12 (G.Lucas)

The band chose to spell “FUCK YOUR FACE” as their prank on this run’s opening night, a decision that allowed them to play only twelve songs over two sets. They had to jam their faces off to make this show happen, and that they did, setting fire to the soccer stadium with one of the modern era’s finest performances. Jams fell out of the sky on this night, including an all-timer in the first set in “Undermind” and an extended “Carini” to back it up. The second set is well known at this point, featuring a multi-tiered take on “Runaway Jim” and another all-timer in “Chalk Dust.” This was one of those nights where everyone walked out with eyes wide and sparkling.

And the next night the magic kept flowing as the band dropped a monumental version of “Light. This excursion traversed copious musical ground, as the band seamlessly rolled through several themes and segments, complete with a blues rock coda that left everyone’s jaws on the floor. This jam hit so hard that it was mere weeks before fans made pins, stickers and t shirts to commemorate it’s occurrence. It was that big of a deal—a true heavy hitter in a time when they didn’t come around too often. But all of a sudden, these monster jams were rolling of the presses at Dick’s in 2012! And they were played with the sense of effortless that made Phish famous. They were in the zone all weekend long, and we have the tapes to prove it. The rest of Saturday’s show was rock solid as well, a but a few years removed with a more macro perspective, this show is truly about the “Light.”

644063_10151135714484798_1697060993_nJust as the year before, the tightest set of Dick’s 2012 three-night run was its last. This set was centered on monstrous version of “Sand” that Phish opened up like never before. The minutes of music that took place before the band headed out the other side and into a harder rock outro are among the best of the year. Seamless segues from “Sand” to “Ghost” and then into “Piper” provided a non-stop 50 minutes of improvisational fireworks. “Twenty Years Later” and “Lizards” provided a poignant juxtaposition before a powerful “Hood” brought things home. Dick’s 2012 was truly a portal through which Phish stepped and has never looked back. Their playing from 2009 had all led up to this, and their playing since has been more consistently creative and inspired. This stand transformed the band’s confidence, and it became apparent that things were just really now heating up for this third go-round. The long wait of 3.0 had paid off, and Dick’s was the new Promised Land.

2013

8.30.13 Official (K.Taylor)

8.30.13 Official (K.Taylor)

Phish had just under a month off between summer tour and Dick’s in 2013, and this time the band didn’t come in with such fire. Just as they had forced themselves to jam with a 12-letter setlist in 2012, this year they all but eliminated any possibility of large excursions in spelling out “Most Shows Spell Something” in reverse. “Sand” popped off to start the second set, but after that it was a pretty straightforward show, as the band crunched in 23 songs to pull off their setlist pun.

The second night, however, was an 180-degree turnaround. Phish played one of their best start-to-finish shows of the season on Saturday night, featuring one of summer’s most significant improvisations in “Chalk Dust Torture.” This “Chalk Dust” would immediately be added to the laundry list of filthy jams dropped throughout Dick’s history, as this end-of-summer piece featured a blissed out beginning, a dark drum and bass section, a sequence of groove laced with a calypso vibe, and some stop-start theatrics. Once again, the rest of the show was quite good, but with a macro view, this show was all about “Chalk Dust.”

Sunday night of 2013 didn’t follow the pattern of previous years and, quite honestly, fell rather flat. I’m not sure why this stand took a left where the others turned right, but sometimes, that’s just the way it goes.

2014?

This year is an interesting case. Phish is coming into Dick’s on the heels of a summer tour that peaked early and coasted to a finish, and with the same amount of downtime’s as last year. Trey has been uncharacteristically laid back this summer, with varying degrees of success, and it is hard to predict what guitarist will show up in Denver. The band, however, has been playing well as a unit, and in a comfortable environment away from the east coast, anything is certainly possible. Answers in one week!

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Thinking Back to Coventry

Posted in Commentary, History with the tags , , on August 14th, 2014 by Mr.Miner
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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