Curveballs and Lemonade: A Day in the Life

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.)

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"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. 

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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…

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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. 

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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...

Field Manual 6-22 Leader Development

The US Army's "Field Manual 6-22 Leader Development" is quite the comprehensive document outlining the core traits that officers, commanders and other high ranking personnel of the military must posses to fulfill their jobs.  This document's basis combines psychological research, psychiatric theory and experience from military service people.

Thankfully, Prudence L. Gourguechon has summarized the field manual into 5 key traits of a true leader as follows:

  • Trust
  • Discipline and self-control
  • Judgement and critical thinking
  • Self-awareness
  • Empathy

Recently in a meeting with other CEOs, we ran an exercise discussing how we had succeeded in these 5 areas over the past year, and how we will improve in these 5 areas moving forward.  The process enabled as objective-as-possible reflection to occur in the room, requiring honest feedback from our peers.  After a healthy group discussions, we summarized our future behavior with 3 key adjectives, projecting how we will grow in our business and personal lives.  These are not necessarily traits that we fully possess, although some members of the group arguably do.  For me, I aspire to be even more of all three.

I arrived at Focused, Patient, and Decisive.  When considering this trio as a backbone to my decision making process, I found deeper insight in the combination of words than each on its own.  For example, when listening to a staff dispute, I must first focus on the situation, clearing away the rest of the work day's clutter.  Next, I patiently listen to each party, taking in all data points before arriving at a conclusion.  Lastly, with a decisive hand, I make the decision, and ensure action is taken by all parties.

Give it a try.  What are your 3 adjectives, and how can you implement them in your personal and business lives? 

And if you'd like some light bathroom reading, enjoy the 282 page PDF below.

Defending Democracy

I read this shortly after the election in November, but after the final day of President Obama (and the inauguration of our incoming president), I felt the urge to re-post these words of wisdom.  Stay vigilant these next 4 years (or less)!

"Defending Democracy" 
by Timothy Snyder

Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so. 

Here are twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today:

1. Do not obey in advance.
Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

2. Defend an institution.
Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.

3. Recall professional ethics.
When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.

4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words.
Look out for the expansive use of “terrorism” and “extremism.” Be alive to the fatal notions of “exception” and “emergency.” Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.

5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives.
When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it.

6. Be kind to our language.
Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don’t use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps The Power of the Powerless by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czesław Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev.

7. Stand out.
Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.

8. Believe in truth.
To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

9. Investigate.
Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Learn about sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.

10. Practice corporeal politics.
Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.

11. Make eye contact and small talk.
This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.

12. Take responsibility for the face of the world.
Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.

13. Hinder the one-party state.
The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.

14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can.
Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.

15. Establish a private life.
Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.

16. Learn from others in other countries.
Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.

17. Watch out for the paramilitaries.
When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.

18. Be reflective if you must be armed.
If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.)

19. Be as courageous as you can.
If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.

20. Be a patriot.
The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.

Timothy Snyder is a professor of history at Yale University. He is also the author of Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning.