Phish – Festival 8
10/30-11/01/2009 – Empire Polo Fields: Indio, CA
Words/Photos by Reverend Justito
Writers Note: In honor of the 8th Phish festival, I plan to write 8 separate confessions of my four days in the desert with Phish. Having left the Hunky Dory campsite 30 hours ago, I have still not fully processed everything I experienced within the grounds of the Empire Polo Grounds. In the event that some non-phish fans read this, I have tried my best to provide links on lingo that is often discussed in Phish circles.
Part I: The Feeling I Forgot
In the time it takes to drive Brittan Avenue from Alameda De Las Pulgas to El Camino Real, I became a fan of Phish. It was late 1996, and on that ride from Youth Group to Jack in the Box, I heard the first couple of songs from 04-27-91 show. Acapella openers and songs about someone named Jim who ran away were weird enough to have me hungry for more. The next summer, I went to my first show (7-31-97) and went from casual fan to obsessed overnight. For years, Phish was my number one past time. I went to shows up and down the west coast. I traded tapes, and then CD’s then various files. I even had a failed attempt at dreadlocks, and well let’s just say I am embarrassed to tell you how many times I showered in February 1998.
All was Hunky Dory with Phish and I, until 7-10-03 when I walked out of Shoreline Amphitheatre with my head down in shame. After a self imposed hiatus, a strung out and uninspired version of Phish criss-crossed the nation playing more subpar concerts than stellar ones. Gone were the tight jams and crazy chord progressions. In their place was embarrassing slop that made me wish I was seeing some terrible band llike The String Cheese Incident. While sad that something I truly loved called it a day, I was actually glad Phish called it quits less than a year later. As the calendar progressed, I started to forget all about the band that in many ways became my identity for six years.
In those six years since I left Shoreline in disgust, a lot has changed for the members of Phish. Most important was front man/cult leader Trey Anastasio getting pulled over in upstate NY, driving on the wrong side of the road with a serious collection of drugs in the car. I was skeptical at when this reunion was announced, would they still have it I thought to myself? Much to my relief, after three solid nights in Hampton, VA they indeed did. As the year progressed, I grew restless waiting for tour dates. Upon finding that Wooks lied to me on PT and the band was not playing the Hollywood Bowl during summer tour, I actually fell into a slight depression. Spirits were quickly lifted when the rumors began that the east coast rockers were planning a serious left coast desert shakedown over Halloween Weekend. Spirits went through the dang roof when Festival 8 – a three day Phish festival over Halloween (a high holy day for Phish fans, as the band covers another artists record front to back as a musical costume) was finally confirmed for the Empire Polo Fields in Indio, CA. The first three day Phish Festival featuring 8 sets of music two hours from home? Well I sure as hell can’t think of a better way to get reacquainted with an old flame.
I won’t lie, it took a bit. Perhaps we were too far back from the stage, but the first set of the event (10/30/09) was rough. Sure the upbeat “Party Time” was a logical opener, but the mix of songs simply never seemed to click. “Chalkdust Torture” seemed a bit more rushed than usual while guitarist Trey Anastasio managed to crack himself up during “NICU”. A personal highlight for me was the opportunity to finally see drummer John “Henrietta” Fishman bust out a “suck and blow” solo on the vacuum cleaner during the somewhat rare “I Didn’t Know”. My love for the new song “Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan” only grew after seeing the Vermont foursome tear it up. With a chorus of “Got a blank space where my mind should be” the line really hit home after having partied for 24 hours straight under the Santa Rosa Mountains.
The bands second set was much better. It took me 15 shows, but I finally got the Gamehenge classic “Punch You In The Eye” which kicked things off. However, what took place next was what I came in search for. Down With Disease>Prince Caspian>Wolfman’s Brother>Piper>Joy. I am pretty sure it was sometime during the big build in Piper when I finally let go and was totally entranced in the music. With a backdrop of palm trees lit up by one Chris Kuroda and the constellation Orion high above us in the sky, a huge smile spread across my face. The Feeling I Forgot was back. Phish had me in their pocket, and could do whatever they wanted to me, even if that included bringing out some weird balloon type prop that flashed vibrant colors during “Harry Hood”.
No one and I mean no one can take me musically on a journey like Phish does. It really has been close to 10 years since I truly experienced the band max capacity. Walking out of the concert area and back to our tent, I had a tear or two running down my cheek. I finally got to experience what millions across the country have already discovered this year. Phish is back, and they are BACK. With about 30 hours in the desert under my belt, and six sets remaining, I grabbed a slice of pizza and did what every other phish head inside the lush Empire Polo Fields were about to do. Phish is back, Halloween had arrived and it was time to party, even if it meant denouncing ones membership from PETA by killing a couple dozen roosters. Party Time indeed.