Phish Saves America: Looking back at Phish 8 in Indio, looking forward to Phish New Year's in Miami

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Yes, I'm gushing. It was both an oasis and a playground, and everyone seemed to be soaking it up and rolling with the laid-back West Coast vibe. The Halloween headcount was 40,000, and having been to several festivals with upwards of 60,000 people, I definitely felt the roominess, as if I could be anywhere I wanted at any time, with little or no problems.

Kuroda was simply amazing. He had his lights trained on the palm trees on either side of the stage, and coordinated in hues that matched what he was doing with the lights onstage. As far as the setlists, I'm not the type of person to go through each set, song by song, picking apart each missed note or extolling the virtues of a certain guitar solo, but I will offer a few choice comments. I love "Party Time," I thought it was a great song to kick off the weekend and set the mood -- light and fun and danceable. I like "Time Turns Elastic" but the Fest 8 [image-1]version was not my favorite, and although I absolutely love "Sugar Shack," I feel like the boys haven't quite ironed out how to do it live yet. The "Punch You in the Eye > Down With Disease > Prince Caspian > Wolfman's Brother > Piper > Joy, David Bowie" was sick as shit, no doubt about it, and the third night's "Mike's > 2001 >Light," when the stage was about to lift off and Trey was laying down the sickest sci-fi distorted licks to that crazy tilting balloon monstrosity, then going all beautiful with the "Slave" -- I mean, you don't see other bands doing shit like that. Who needs a billion dollar 140-truck stage set up when you can have balloon lights??!?! I'm really digging on what "Undermind" has become live, a really funked out number with Page getting all B3 crazy. And the "Esther..." It was my first and it was loverly.

So, I'll admit that I wasn't thrilled when I found out that Phish had chosen The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street as their Halloween set/musical costume. I don't dislike the Stones but I'm not a fan, per se, and wasn't familiar enough with Exile to care whether or not Phish was playing it. So I was feeling particularly blase about the whole thing, excited about seeing Phish, of course, but unable to muster up any true excitement about what they were going to perform. But the set was a blues rocking, gospel-tinged, funkified good time and I enjoyed every minute of it, even knowing just three of the songs. A three horn [image-2]section -- Dave Guy on trumpet, David Smith on trombone, and Tony Jarvis on saxophone -- as well as backup by Sharon Jones and Saundra Williams brought a fleshiness to the band's sound, and added to the retro textures of the music. The whole thing made me want to check out Exile. And later, the "Suzy Greenberg" encore featuring horns and Sharon Jones knocked my socks off.

Everyone got free coffee and "8" shaped donuts for the 90-minute noon-time acoustic set (I got there late and was too impatient to wait in line, but appreciated the sentiment). It was mellow and wonderful despite being hot as shit. I sweat every bit of energy out of my pores, downright cried when they played "Curtain With," the first time I'd seen it since Coventry, and spent more time in repose than any other time I've seen Phish. It was divine.

It was also a bittersweet experience. I was re-uniting with my husband after 10 days apart (he's been on the road shooting Routes Music), but we'd be separating again after the fest for another two or three weeks, and would have little or no alone time that weekend, which happened to be our two-year wedding anniversary. Still, it was a pretty goddamn fantastic way to spend our [image-3]anniversary, alone time or not, and we were surrounded by some of our closest friends and phamily.

I walked out of every show I've seen this year thinking it was my favorite. Festival 8 was no exception. Every set held unique and special moments of intimacy and intense joy, not to mention plenty of opportunities for ecstatic, unrestrained dancing. And isn’t that how it’s supposed to be, why we return to see these four musicians perform over and over and over again, for those special musical moments of soul stroking beauty when you know every person in the place is tuned in to and moved by the same thing ...

Random tidbits:

  • I was enchanted by one of the sign language interpreters. He was a clean-cut Asian man with salt-and-pepper hair who seemed to be as into the music as everyone else. In fact, at first, I didn't even know he was a sign language interpreter. I thought he was just some enthusiastic ticket holder in the raised VIP section who'd decided to conduct the audience like we were some sort of human orchestra. Luckily, he wasn't conducting us, he was signing the songs. And he was far better than the petite blonde, although I could tell she was trying real hard to be into it. Here he signing "Casino Boogie."

Phish - Casino Boogie (10-31-2009) from Hidden Track on Vimeo.

  • One night, while perusing food options with my friends Becky and Terrance, we paused at the Beans and Rice* shack and got an earful from one of the vendors, let's call him Booris. His unprompted story was triggered by Becky's costume, a mass of red and black feather boas all sewn together into a fluffy getup ...  Not sure if Booris was trying to sell us on the extra sausage by telling us about hooking up with "a midget, oh, wait, they prefer the term 'little people'" who was clad in a green feather boa. He was at some other music festival, he explained, and went on to tell us in great detail how, three days and no showers later, his friend pulled a green feather out of Booris' ass while the two were getting down. Becky and I were amused, but mostly grossed out by his story, so we moved on and ended up getting some shitty gyros made with lunch meat. Terrance got the beans, rice and sausage. And I was jealous of him, I'll admit. (*Not the real name, if you couldn't already tell by its generic nature.)

  • [image-4]Everyday, I walked by and salivated over the sign at The Waffle Shack that advertised different varieties of hot waffle ice cream sandwiches. But the timing was never right and I always planned on getting one, but the time was never right to pull the trigger. Luckily, my friend Stephen is a pull-the-trigger kind of guy and brought one of said tasty ice cream treats to his girlfriend, Blythe, while I was conveniently nearby. She looked at it dubiously, until I came bounding over and began extolling the wonders of waffles and ice cream and how putting the two together was a such brilliant idea, and can you imagine it with strawberries on top? I think I talked her into liking it, but she, being one of the nicest people ever, gave me a few nibbles. And it was mmm mmmm good...

  • Some costumes I liked: a bee colony, glowstick and light creations of all sorts, my favorites a group of folks wearing colorful jellyfish headresses, a giant silver full-body robot, a deadringer for Matthew McConaughey's character in Dazed and Confused, a man dressed as Wonder Woman, a big baby (another man clad only in a diaper), the characters from Super Mario Bros., all manner of dead rock stars, from Janis Joplin to Jerry Garcia.

And now ... MIAMI!!!!

Miami, oh, Miami. Six years ago, in 2003, I experienced one of the most exciting, intoxicating runs of post-Hiatus Phish (aka Phish 2.0) -- the four-night run of New Year's shows in Miami, my most vivid memory (aside from the music) the makeshift lot/camping area right outside the arena and the great gushes of smelly humanity going in and out of it.

This year, the location (American Airlines Arena in Miami) and the number of shows (four) were announced in the Phish 8 playbill, and confirmed last week online. The lottery results have trickled in throughout the day, and I was shut out -- again. Luckily, I live in St. Petersburg, Fla., which means I will be doing it old fashioned style and hitting up my nearest Tickemaster outlet in person early Saturday morning.That's how my brother-in-law got tickets last NYE. If you live in town, I'll see you there...

To read past Phish Saves America digests, click here. To read my review of Phish's Joy, click here. To check out the Routes Music breakdown of Phish 8, click here.

Here's a photo gallery of pics by Phil; to see additional concert photography (more Phish plus Radiohead, U2, David Byrne, Umphrey's McGee, the Beastie Boys and many others) as well as original prints and more, click here; and to read about his travels shooting Routes Music, click here.


It's been a little while since I've written one of these, I know. I blame the relentless daily grind and its effect on my creative juices, which used to flow in a healthy torrent and now trickle in erratic drips and bursts. Phish has helped me through it, and I've hopscotched my way from one musical reprieve to the next to keep a firm grip on my mental well-being — a roadtrip to Knoxville via RV with some Bonnaroo-bound friends; a long weekend in the Midwest at the Deer Creek and Alpine shows, with some relaxing downtime at a lakeside resort and the small town surrounding it; and a long weekend in New England, the rather stellar Hartford and great Saratoga Springs shows serving as bookends to a good friend's 40th birthday extravaganza. That last was a particularly fulfilling excursion because my husband and I met a diversity of like-minded music lovers, made new friends and re-connected with older ones, chowed down on delectable homemade cookies (gotta get that recipe, Stephen!) and other tasty eats all throughout, and generally took in some tranquil good times amidst one of the most pristine mountainside settings I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing. [All photos by Phil Bardi.]

So basically, I've spent more time catching the grooves and enjoying the comforts of good friendships (i.e., taking real vacations), and less devoted to actually writing about the band that got me writing about music in the first place. Seeing Phish is a sort of soul cleansing, the metaphysical lift I need to get me through to my next phase of reality, and lately I've focused more on trying to soak up the time while it's happening rather than trying to overanalyze it, or even analyze it at all.

But I digress. Yes I was wrong about the festival location — I'll happily eat my words because Phish Festival 8 was ... a little like paradise. Just imagine for a moment that last Phish festival in Vermont — the nasty weather, a hellishly long wait in miles upon miles of gridlocked traffic followed by Mike's disheartening "Please turn around" radio announcement, the thousands of cars abandoned by fest goers who decided to hoof it in, Trey pretty much falling apart on stage, the mud, oh god, that awful, stinking, sticky dark brown mud ...

Now, picture staying offsite in a big comfy bed and taking showers everyday, driving into the festival grounds amidst little or no traffic, the only real down side the kerchief covering your mouth, Old West-style, to fight the grainy dust of California's Southeastern desert reaches. The surrounding landscape is gorgeous in an unforgiving sort of way, bursting with a multitude of earthy hues that change depending on the position of the sun — sooty brown, russet, cinnamon, amber, ochre, burnt sienna, rust, umber, terra-cotta ... You enter the Empire Polo Club, park, make your way through amiable, if entrapment-attempting security personnel at the gate, then suddenly, you're in and luscious food scents are drifting on the breeze along with snippets of excited conversation about the seeming ease of every single thing so far, postcard perfect surroundings — the clear cloud-free sky, the line of palm trees that seem to be everywhere you look, and behind those, the rugged peaks of mountains; the bars that serve beer and alcohol (Bloody Marys!!); and oh my god, can you believe the fucking grass?? Take your shoes off and dig your toes in it. Carpet-soft, clean and dry — no puddles of mud forming anywhere. Venture deeper into the circular, verdant stretch of lawn, and explore the scattered art installations and creative diversions, white tents set up over clusters of food vendors, retailers, not-too-nasty Port-o-Potties (with the fabulous option of port-o-trailers with toilets and running water — nonpotable and recycled, of course, everything here is green-friendly) ... [Video after the jump.]

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