Six days later, and this life rollercoaster experience is beginning to sink in.
Sean and I have seen 60 or more Phish shows together since 1999, including 9 earlier just this summer. Phish’s 11th Festival since 1996 titled “Curveball” would have made it 12 shows for Sean and I in 2018 thus far, and would count significantly more than regular shows. Festivals require months of planning, mapping logistics, coordination with your crew, and severe anticipation (think Christmas Eve for a five year old). Sean and I rallied three other friends to join us, making it possible to experience the ultimate convenience in Phish camping - an RV rental! Phish festivals showcase multiple sets of powerful music played over multiple days, often include a late night surprise set in a secret location, display incredible art installations, a myriad of delicious food vendors, fun spaces to explore and relax, a tremendous sprawl of camp sites and the most dedicated like-minded tribe of phans seeking the ultimate spiritual collective release from all of life’s stresses.
Curveball was no different. This time it’s sold out, 65,000 strong. We were listening to Phish’s festival radio station “The Bunny” on our way in to the Watkins Glen festival site, looking forward to picking up a copy of the daily newspaper, stoked to participate in the wiffle ball and corn hole tournaments, shop the farmers market, and our friend Kerri planned to run in the Runaway Jim 5k race. Until we received the news...
“I heard the news today, oh boy.”
Wednesday, August 15th. Matt, Cin, Kerri, Sean and I came from multiple corners of the country (Seattle, Brooklyn, San Diego & Santa Barbara) to meet at our RV rental spot in New Jersey. The five of us couldn’t be more excited at our late night Walmart pit stop. We loaded up the RV with way too much bacon, avocados, chips, grilled cheese supplies, various chocolates, alcohol, Gatorade, water, mud boots, headbands, stickers, glitter and many more items not worthy of acknowledgement. The five of us got a comfortable night’s sleep in the air conditioned RV, excited to explore Curveball the next day, a full day before the music begins.
“About a lucky man who made the grade”
Thursday, August 16th. We arrived on site by 9am to pick up wristbands and the RV parking pass. Through Sean and my music industry work we have a friend who was able to get us into a rare RV campsite on flat pavement that had water and electric hookups. We literally could not be better prepared to have the weekend of a lifetime. After egg, bacon and avo breakfast sandwiches we found warm showers 50 yards from the RV, then ventured into the festival venue from our RV sanctuary. I’ve worked at hundreds of concerts and festivals and attended even more as a fan. This site was absolutely gorgeous. The flow was intuitive, had clear and fun signage, creative and varied vendors lined the paths, large art exhibits were scattered throughout, and the massive stage stuck out of one end soon to draw us all in like moths to Kuroda’s world-class light show. The bits of mud had mostly been covered with hay, and the site appeared pretty dry since the previous weeks of rain. It all added up to fun, fun, phun! After lunch and delicious ice cream treats we decided a mid day nap was in order...
“And though the news was rather sad”
...Sean woke us all from our decadent sleep with the news. Curveball cancelled?! WTF! Is this a joke? The first of many Curveball pranks this weekend, right? It can not be. We are here with thousands of early birds. Tens of thousands more are setting up camp as we speak. Tens of thousands more are landing at airports or driving in as the announcement is first heard. Why?! Oh dear Phish gods, why? Water contamination due to heavy rainfall the previous weeks and local flooding in the Watkins Glen region. Residents on a mandatory water boil order. Tanks at the water treatment plant needing emptying and scrubbing before anyone can safely drink or bathe. The governors office and Phish crew negotiated options, but ultimately the festival permit was pulled as they were unable to provide 300,000 gallons of fresh water to the site immediately that day. F-U-C-K. Mother Nature wins, again. (That’s another blog post.)
"Well, I just had to laugh”
“So what now?,” collectively gasped 65,000 gutted phans. For those on their way, “do we keep driving into Curveball for one night with phamily?” For those just arriving “do we continue setting up camp?” For everyone on site, “do we spend the night and and party and cry together before the site closes at noon the next day?” And for us, “do we get out tonight knowing more rain is coming? Where do we go? What do we do until Monday?” Many considered changing flights (and some did), abandoning their magic weekend of celebratory release. Everyone had planned their summers around this pilgrimage. Countless PTO days used. Countless miles traveled from all over the globe to be with each other. Countless dollars invested to be here, now, together. A myriad of vendors who left their day to day businesses to sell at Curveball will recoup nothing for their troubles. We heard a guy broke up with his girlfriend, instead opting to attend Curveball. We heard several people were fired over their decision to attend Curveball. The stories are still pouring into the Phish message boards as I write mine.
“I saw the photograph”
Bitter shock, betrayal, heartbreak, rage, depression and hysterics instantly swept over tens of thousands. We decided to skip the assumed rainstorm and head south to a friend in the Poconos, Pennsylvania. After driving three hours through dark, rain, and little league World Series traffic, I pulled into a beautiful property and parked the beast amidst lush trees and green ground-cover as far as the eye can see. Our sanctuary for the next couple days. Aaron greeted us, throwing ears of corn at the RV door and yelling some painful dumb pun about life’s curveballs. He sorta understood our collective pain after hearing our story, but no one really does unless they’ve been spiritually connected to and guided by the greatest band on earth for years, or decades in our case.
Friday, August 17th. Aaron’s property is a perfect place to land, facilitating the mourning process from shock and denial to anger and bargaining. Let the lemonade making begin. Aaron, his wife and friend spent the day with us showing us around the area, driving us to sushi and staying up late laughing, eating pizza, watermelon and pineapple we had on the RV, and drinking the strongest liquor in sight. Matt and Cin decide late that night to go back to her place in Brooklyn — and then there were three. We stayed up late looking at #Curveball and #Phish memes on Instagram and Facebook. I’ve included some at the bottom of this post for your amusement. Humor can be a wonderful coping mechanism in the throws of shock…
Saturday, August 18th. Kerri grew up in Jersey and worked for decades in Manhattan before moving to San Diego. We have a built in Sherpa! It’s time to make more lemonade. After a thank you and goodbye to Aaron’s compound, we decide to take the RV to a Walmart parking lot in Jersey because driving it into NYC is insane. That, and Walmart allows RVs to park free of charge. Yes you heard that right — plan months to attend a Phish festival, and end up RV camping at a Jersey Walmart! CURVEBALL indeed. With Kerri’s NJ transit system knowledge and our ambition for adventure, we made our way to Brooklyn to meet Sean and my childhood friend Tyler and his lady. Back to a party of five, we wandered Brooklyn eventually landing at Dinosaur BBQ where the plates were fat as the patrons. Commiserating more with outsiders helped find more humor in the grief, although we basically stayed in the anger and depression stages of the grieving process. A late night hang at Tyler’s apartment and some train and Lyft rides back to Jersey paved the way for a quiet night at Walmart. And more Phish Curveball memes.
Sunday, August 19th. What’s that feeling? Wait... a tinge of excitement? We haven’t felt this since our Thursday nap. How can we possibly have any excitement? Tonight the Brooklyn Bowl (music venue, bowling alley and bar) is hosting a Phish meet-up where they would screen a 3 set show from the 1996 Clifford Ball festival. Not only did the Brooklyn Bowl ensure this aired on all 14 screens, music piping throughout every inch of the venue (toilets included), but they offered a 50% discount on bowling and specialty drinks for all Curveball refugees. A huge thanks to venue owner and jam band promoter legend Peter Shapiro for providing the community his space for this event. Finally we can properly commiserate with our tribe! But first, some fun in Manhattan. We enjoyed a table full of Jewish comfort food at 2nd Ave Deli, complete with pastrami on rye, kugel, kinish and Dr. Brown’s cream soda. We walked a few neighborhoods, marveled at the varied architecture styles side by side, enjoyed anti-Trump rhetoric, and cruised Washington square before finding a train back into Brooklyn. Everywhere we looked seemed to be references to Phish lyrics, mostly cruel puns that reminded us how much we needed this night with phamily.
At last we made it to Brooklyn Bowl, our temporary Mecca for the evening. As soon as we arrived we found many phans clearly in the anger stage of the grieving process and swapped stories. Some had stayed Thursday night and managed to find the “ditch party” and the “tunnel party” on site, literally gaggles of phans that organically formed parties in a ditch and a tunnel accordingly. These gatherings apparently raged all night (people had 3 days of party favors to now consume in one night), and one even featured an impromptu band that covered Phish favorites. We were glad we left when we did, although were happy that many phans had at least one night to blow off steam and make a bittersweet memory. The venue filled up with Phish shirts and hats, and we at last felt at home amongst the tribe. Set one started and the dance floor filled. I’ve never seen so many people dancing to a video projected on a screen, but it felt right. The crowd cheered appropriately at each moment that a live show would have experienced, drowning out the pre-recorded crowd noise on the video. So many hugs and high-fives went around the room in an attempt to salvage a lost festival experience. The take away from this room full of conversations is that the band is experiencing heartache along with the phans this weekend, perhaps even more as they knew precisely what experience they had been planning for a year. For this moment we were filled with joy and connection, all processing our grief in real time, as healthy as we knew how.
After some 3am Joe’s pizza we called it a rap and had one final sleep in the RV. I’m writing this on my Monday bittersweet (mostly bitter) plane ride home. We made the best lemonade we knew how to make.
What would Phish have played? What stunts would they have pulled off? Any special guests? Any new cover songs? Any secret late night sets? Any interactive art experiences? We will probably never know, unless Phish decides to keep the Curveball moniker and theme for festival 12, whenever and wherever that may be... until then we will rage at Dick’s over Labor Day weekend, throw down for fall tour, and appreciate whatever cover album they debut on Halloween in Vegas. Never again will I complain about a “rip-cord BDTNL.” Perhaps we will soon even hear that MSG for New Years will happen once again? Thank the Phish gods that we will (most likely) see more shows in 2018 and beyond!
Moving forward, I know my life expectations will be more modestly considered. As Phish says, “most events aren’t planned” and we must “surrender to the flow.” What a reminder to be present, count our blessings, and love each other. Thank you Phish (and their world class crew) for caring so much about the community we proudly wear on our sleeves, and here’s to festival 12!
I am extremely GRATEFUL for having seen Phish so many times throughout my life, and for the future shows I hope to attend. I am GRATEFUL for the Phish experiences that have shaped my life. I am GRATEFUL for the Phish community who share love for music and progressive vision for humanity. I am GRATEFUL for THE MUSIC, always and forever.
“A crowd of people turned away
But I just had to look
Having read the book
I'd love to turn you on"
PS - I must include some beautiful words of reflection from Kerri, “Sometimes what grows out of what’s not expected surpasses the expectation itself. I love/loved our crew and am filled with so much love. I’m proud of everyone for rolling on and supporting each other. I have seen everyone grow a little bit more on their own and that’s fucking beautiful, so bring on the curveballs - we all now have the ability to smash them out of the park!!”
Enjoy some #Phish #Curveball Memes...