How far would you travel to see the band that you love? Scratch that how far would you walk?
This is the question that was posed to be sitting on the side of a highway in Vermont back in late August of 2004. There was about 12 miles of straight traffic in between my vw jetta and my favorite band Phish's final farewell festival. This festival was capping off what was and still is the four greatest months of my entire life. Let the story begin.
The summer of 2004 I had just graduated from James Madison and decided to put real life plans on hold and move down to the beach with about 15 of my closest college friends. I will save the story about this house for another time, because well its too good. But the basics you need to know is, the group of friends I hung out with in college was the most random group of kids imaginable. Looking at us, you wouldn't have thought we would all mesh but somehow we fit like a jigsaw puzzle. Each person bringing his or her own unique inspirations and personalities to the group. The thread that kept us all together was the undying love of our favorite band: Phish.
Many of us had started listening to their music back in the beginning of high school and had seen countless numbers of shows. We spent years in college on the road heading to shows, throwing listening parties in our apartments after we got home with tapes from said shows, anything involving this band we were a part of. To me the best part was that at any show we would go to, you could look to your left and look to your right and you were surrounded by the people you love listening to the music you all loved. To me there is no better feeling than that right there.
So it was not suprising to anybody that during the start of that summer of 2004, when Phish announced that they were going to be breaking up after 20+ years of music making, we were all saddened. To us this was not just a band breaking up it was singling the end of our college life as well. This band who was such an integral part of our last four years, it was almost fitting that at the end of the summer we would have a summer tour that would end this experience for all of us. It was an easy decision for all of us to attend the last run of shows. Little did we know what exactly we were signing up for.
The story of that whole tour is long and again will save that for another day but I would just like to focus on Coventry. Phish's (at that time) last 2 day festival up in Vermont. This festival was to be the send off of a great career. The place where everyone would travel far and wide and join with 80,000+ of their fellow Phish friends and give this band the thank you it deserved.
Well, I definitely was not prepared for what came next. After spending the previous week and a half traveling up and down the east coast. My car was on its way to Coventry, Vermont. A small country town on the northern neck of the state. My friend Jeff from college and I were the two passengers in my car,
we had plans to meet up with my college friends at the Festival. We drove threw the night after the Camden show and made it up to Vermont right around the crack of dawn. That is when the traffic started.
We got on line and we waited. And waited. And waited. Now anyone who has been to any huge music festival knows to expect some traffic but there was something different about this time. We were not moving. At all. The car had been turned off for hours. At some point we had even gotten out of the car walked down the road and started making friends. Later on that day when we realized we still were not moving an inch, and we could not even see the venue in the distance some people started to worry. We had heard about the conditions on the campsite, and they said that the rain the week leading up to the festival had virtually washed away some of the parking lots. I stayed positive. That was until Mike Gordon (Phish Bass Player) came across my radio.
I will never forget this. Jeff and I were sitting in my car listening to Phish's radio station when the voice came across and said "to anyone who has yet to make it on to the festival grounds, we are sorry but there is no more room and we are going to not allow any more cars in". We froze. No more cars. Really! But I had tickets. I had spent the last two weeks sleeping on the side of the roads and in crowded hotel rooms to make this trip happen. Was this how my Phish experience was going to end. That is when Jeff looked right into my eyes and asked "We are not going to miss this show....right?". I looked at him sternly and said with conviction...absolutely not! We started brainstorming...no more cars in...no more cars in...no more cars in...GOT IT! We will walk!
By this time it was the next morning, we had waited the whole entire day in traffic and we had approx. 12 hours until the first set started. I looked at Jeff, he looked at my car (a graduation present from my dad) and we said one of Phish's famous lyrics. "Can I Live While I'm Young?" We pulled my Jetta into the grassy median of the highway and parked. We had seen a few people do this before us and figured that if they were going to tow us, they would have to tow everyone. We quickly each packed a book bag filled with our essentials and just started to follow the crowd. We asked someone ahead of us how long they thought we had, the answer we heard made us laugh. 12 miles. Better get to it.
That day walking through the countryside of Vermont with thousands of fans on the same mission will be one of those days that I will never forget. The great people of Vermont were allowing us to use their backyards to cut through, they
were feeding us, letting us graciously use their bathrooms. It was a wonderful feeling. Now as you can imagine, we were in the middle of nowhere so cell phones were not working and Jeff and I had realized that yup we were probably on our own for the next three days. Finding out friends among the masses was going to be hard, but we were okay with that. We just wanted to make it inside. We walked for what seemed like forever that day. In truth it was a solid 5-6 hours of walking to make it to the gates of the venue. I had never been so happy to see a muddy parking lot in my entire life. We made it!
We sat online outside the gates to get us into the venue and we were lined up right next to the lucky people who had gotten their cars into the lots. As Jeff and I sat in this line exhausted, something in me made me look into this line of cars. Something caught my eye. I see our friend from college Aaron sticking his head out of his car trying to sell an extra ticket. I look at Jeff and say..."No friggin way!!!". We cut the lines ran over to Aaron, happy to see someone else we recognized looked around and just started jumping up and down. Behind Aaron was a line of about 5 of our friends cars. They had taken a different route, using back roads and somehow made it into the concert grounds with ease (right!?). I didn't care how it happened but some how it did. Jeff and I jumped on the bumper of the car and literally road it into the campgrounds like a chariot.
We made it. We took the risk. Left the car. Stayed positive. And our karma paid us back by bringing us back together with our friends. All was right in the world. Now as for the rest of that weekend, things could have went smoother. The band had some technical difficulties, the venue was literally a mud pit which stole from me my favorite sandals, I literally had nothing on me but the things I fit into a backpack (sweatshirt, bottle of vodka, and some others things that I won't mention). But what mattered is when I looked to the left and looked to the right I was surrounded by the people I love, with the band that had brought us all together saying goodbye in front of us. In that moment I remember thinking that it was a fitting end to a long great journey, and it was time to move onto the next stage. And I did in fact. Live while I was young....
***I write this post in dedication to all of my friends who are on their way out to Phish 8, in California today. Phish reunited earlier this year after almost five years away and are throwing their first festival since Coventry this weekend. I will not be going, instead opting to listen to it on my radio all weekend, with my new car sitting safely outside my building. It didn't work out this time around, yet you know sometime in the near future when given the option again, I would gladly throw that Civic into a grassy median and walk for a few good shows with some good friends***