There has always been endless debate about the culture that exists on Phish lot. Many have decried the drug-focused and money-making endeavors that they have observed there. Others have espoused the lot’s vibrancy, culture, and diversity, using it as an illustration of Phish’s community that has evolved over the years. If I were to interject in this debate, I would venture to say, “You’re both right!” The Phish lot is a place that can be both inspiring and downright depressing; a place that highlights the creativity and artistry of Phish fans as well as a place for those unconcerned with the music to hang out, do and sell drugs while pulling down the vibe of the community. It was always a very delicate balancing act on lot. Was this a positive place or was it a degenerative place? The question will never be answered definitively, but it can certainly spawn some discussion.
Upon arriving on Phish lot at your first few shows, you couldn’t believe the immense amount of activity going down. People hawked everything from beer to burritos, from patchwork to Xanax. The marketplace, itself, was overwhelming as “Shakedown” took on a life of its own. This was exciting to the new fan; not many other concert experiences could provide the type of extra-curricular entertainment and open market that Phish lot could. Artists sold their work, from paintings and jewelry to clothes and photos, and creativity overflowed from the committed bohemians who routinely turned lot into an their own craft show. Witty lot t-shirts, psychedelic artwork, amazing works of blown glass, handmade garments; these were the fabric of the nomadic street market.
But as Phish continued to grow, especially after the Dead’s demise in 1995, the lot gradually became a seedier place. A population of hanger-ons began flocking to Phish shows for the lot and not for the music. The potential economic gain was too hard for drug-selling “kidz” to stay away; the customer would come to them every single night. Soon there was an infiltration of these “pseudo-hippies” who came to the scene to hawk their drugs, take their drugs, and ride the coattails of the greatest band on earth. Most never cared about going into the venue to see Phish unless a free ticket landed in their hand. These were the ragged kids that dragged malnourished dogs behind them while listing the drugs they had to offer. While I am sure there are some innocent folks in this demographic, it was this group who used Phish for personal gain without loving Phish at all.
It was one thing if a fan was on tour trying to get from show to show by selling bags of weed or providing people with their desired party favors. It was a complete different thing when disenchanted and disconnected kids flocked to the lot just to engage in the harder drug trade of substances such as cocaine, oxycontin, and heroin. These are the people that eroded the community. And it was substances like these that drove Phish to quit for survival back in 2004. Given these circumstances, we arguably have a certain responsibility to maintain a cleanliness to the Phish scene for one another, and for the band.
Because Phish grew out of the psychedelic counter-culture of the ’60s, as carried into the ’90s by The Grateful Dead, these mind-altering substances will also always be present on Phish lot. Psychedelics in moderation, however, don’t usually cause any problems. One may bug out and miss what they came for, but no one is going to OD on mushrooms or LSD. It really all comes down to intentions. What does one want to get from the experience? The use of psychedelics to enhance your personal show experience can be profound, but no drug should define your experience. When it comes right down to it, Phish’s music is the most powerful drug on the planet.
What is of far greater concern than people ingesting one thing or another for the show is the rampant drug market that exists after the show, which is an open invitation for fans to hole up in a hotel room and overdo it. I have always thought that leaving a Phish show is one of the “purest” states I have ever felt. With all the crap in life swept aside, I am able to see what is truly important. It was always a bizarre juxtaposition to watch people scour the lot, buying all sorts of powders to “party” all night long. But alas, all you can control in this world is yourself, and if we are all looking after our own and our friends’ best interests, we can all significantly impact where Phish culture will evolve to in 2009.
I am not naive. I don’t think the negatives of the the Phish lot will magically vanish when they return to the stage, and with a new younger generation, who knows what will happen! I probably won’t spend too much time investigating. By the time 2.0 came around, my game plan had morphed into “Park > Go in > Come out > Meet up > Get out of Dodge.” No doubt, it is the greatest to hang out in the lot post-show while feeling Phish’s energy still bubbling inside you; that “post-show glow” is one of the best feelings in the universe. This energy is enough to carry you through the night all by itself. Sure, add some decompression drinks and smoke, or absolutely nothing at all.
We all owe it to Phish to bring our best selves to these shows this year, as the band has worked with dedication to do the same. Bring your spirit, bring your heart, and bring your dancing shoes; let’s keep in real and rage it in ’09!
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
Here we have a classic relic from the analog era with a tape that almost every fan had at one point or another. The show took place in a small college gym and was filled with Phish’s zany humor and wonderfully tight ’93 playing. This is two sets of great Phish, highlighted by a massive YEM medley in the middle of the second set. A first set “Stash” and a rare “Ballad of Curtis Loew” also stand out in this overall great show. The recording includes most of the soundcheck as well.
Soundcheck: The Ballad of Curtis Loew (missing), Loving Cup, Tale of Ulysses Jam > Sunshine of Your Love Jam
1: Loving Cup, Foam, Guelah Papyrus, Sparkle, Stash, Paul and Silas, Sample in a Jar, Reba, Punch You in the Eye > Runaway Jim
2: Halley’s Comet, David Bowie, The Ballad of Curtis Loew, You Enjoy Myself > Owner of a Lonely Heart > Low Rider > Spooky > Oye Como Va > You Enjoy Myself*, Lifeboy, Rift, Big Ball Jam, Great Gig in the Sky, HYHU, The Squirming Coil
E: Memories, Sweet Adeline, Golgi Apparatus
*End of instrumental jam included a quote tease of “A Spanish Piece” (Pink Floyd). Vocal jam contained: “We Will Rock You” (Queen), “We Are the Champions” (Queen), and “Welcome to the Machine.”