Phish’s dates are looming. And it’s brought me into contact with a feeling I haven’t had in a very long time—Phish is here to stay. Unlike previous times—when their very presence sometimes felt as fleeting as their live improvisations—the band has reached an anchored and steadfast place. And they seem in it for the long haul. The question this begs me, someone who has felt like he has needed to be there every step of the way, is—“Was it for this my life I sought?”
With a medium as ephemeral as live music, you’re either there or you’re not. The tapes tell a limited story of what happens each night, but they are powerless in recreating the overall experience. One never knows in which show Phish will dive off the deep end, making strategizing on what shows to hit a fool’s errand because even the most bullet proof logic often backfires. This is part of the reason so many of us simply removed that equation from our lives and hopped on entire tours. There’s nothing like the comfort of knowing that you’ll be there for every note played. The plotting of getting to and from tour vanishes and you can relax for the ride.
You see, I came late to the game, with my first show coming in the Summer of 1995, despite growing up in New England and having plenty of occasions to see the band. Only a few months later, in North Charleston in the Fall of 1995, I had an utterly transformative experience with the sublime combination of Phish and pure LSD, and I immediately became addicted to the experience.
Once I became hip to the scene, part of my mental trip became how much Phish I had missed! All of ’92, ’93 and ’94—and I had tickets offered to me in each of those years at least once. The thought that I could have seen New Year’s Run ’93 in New Haven or 10.8.94 in Fairfax, Virginia still stings a little bit. In retrospect, who knows if I’d be here now if I started then, we all have our paths. But with my newfound passion for the band, needless to say, I made it a point to see as many Phish shows as I could.
During 2000, we heard that Fall would be the end, rather a “hiatus” of the music and lifestyle that we all loved so much. It was bittersweet. They played “Let it Be” after the final show. We cried. We mourned. We moved on. Then, without much time passing, the band was back and touring in 2003. Yet, before we could turn our heads, they were gone again. And maybe this time it was forever. Things had gotten unhealthy for them and their lives certainly mattered more than their band. But regardless of circumstance, they pulled the plug quite abruptly and it was a colossal loss to everyone in the community. I still remember crying while staring at the half-assed message Trey posted on their site announcing the end. How could something so special end like this?
I made peace with Coventry and once again moved on. Unlike so many others, I was not sure Phish was going to come back for a second time. I had written it off. I had no other choice. But as soon as I heard the confirmation of their second return, in the Summer of 2008, I felt that burn in my heart again. That feeling that had been all but stored away as something that had happened in my past was now choking me like a frog in my throat. It was all happening. Again. And I simply could not escape the fact that the highs, emotions and level of spiritual connection that I felt at Phish shows had been unmatched in any other life experience. Thus, the draw of Phish tour was too strong to deny, even in this more mature world I was trying to navigate. And—quite honestly—one of the driving forces behind my unending desire to see every single show was the thought that I could wake up any day and Phish could be gone again. The fear was real. This experiment was bumpy and unpredictable the last go-round and addiction is a vindictive enemy. Was the band just coming back to right their wrongs of ’04? To save their legacy? Would they be ghosts in five years?
Well, here we are, five years later, and the answer is hell no. In fact, Phish is more stable than they’ve been in well over a decade. Band members have found balance in their individual lives with their families, side projects and a couple Phish tours a year. The health and happiness of the band is well documented, and not since the mid-nineties has Phish enjoyed such a rock solid place. When combining this state with their current proficiency and creativity, in a manner like never before, it feels like the band is in it for the long haul. Their tongue-in-cheek invitation to their 60th reunion was not an empty gesture. There is much more to come from the Phish from Vermont.
And as I get older, I’m realizing that the goal of life may not necessarily be to see the most Phish shows as one possibly can. At some point, one can max out the information they can learn from a single experience. I’m not quite sure that I’ve reached that point, but I may be getting close. And that is ok, because when the day comes to stop seeing every show, I no longer have that existential fear that Phish will vanish into thin air. They’ll be around. And so will I.