Phish Live Review Part 1

Phish came back to Maine July 3rd to start their 2013 tour at Bangor’s Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion. With thousands in attendance in the venue and a good crowd outside the gates enjoying the groove, this show won’t reach the legendary status of the Lemon Wheel three day event in Limestone, Maine, but it was a good time. And that is the point really.

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This review will be in two parts and is a community project. First, you’re going to get my take aimed at illuminating the Phish experience, and then we’ll follow up with another review from some more qualified Phish fans discussing the show and the music. I have to admit I went down to the show a Phish Virgin. I am now a Phish Wannabe. Let’s face it, I have a rigorously scheduled life and am wound a little tight so I’m never going to make the cut, but I really get why people follow the band.

If you are a Phish fan, you already know this stuff, but for those of you wondering what this flood of people is all about, let me share a bit from my conversations and observations before the show. The Phish Lifestyle is as much about connection, intention, and freedom as it is about the music.
First let’s get this straight – Phish isn’t about people being out of control. Okay. Fine. A few Jell-o shots were sold without a license, and I’m pretty sure the “for tobacco use only” glassware really isn’t. Phish 09James, a charming young man from Jersey with the acid molecule on his T-shirt told me drugs are bad and he had first hand proof. Yes, there are illegal substances at Phish shows. A shit ton. You don’t have to bring any of your own, you just have to breathe. But more interestingly, there is order at these shows, an expectation that everyone Play Nice. For example, when the crowd bottle-necked trying to get through the narrow cattle shoot-style gate at the rear of the venue, some fans jumped the railing. I heard a yell from behind me – “Hey, you’re making it bad for everyone! Stop jumping the line.” A roaring BOOOOO filled the air and the stem of jumpers stopped. I could write forever about the stories I heard last night, but I’ll try to be brief and even make a point.

Connection. Not only is everyone friendly and easy going, but fans see each other at show after show and help one another out or just hang out to visit. A wonderful redhead, who honeymooned at Limestone’s show, told me she didn’t start following the tour until she was older and her daughter was grown, and she could tell countless tales of fans helping one another – with tickets, with a place to stay, or just a conversation. 16,000plus friendly people, ready to chat and be polite – that’s Cool.

Intention. I work with college students who struggle to know what day it is. Phish fans plan for months in advance to stash cash, buy inventory, work out their profit margin, and then set off for months hoping for the best. Devin, a young man selling T-shirts told me his business strategy but admitted he’d probably sleep in his car when the cash ran low before the tour wrapped up. He’s in his mid 20s and has been touring for five years. Phish 13This is a plan, a choice, not a haphazard “seemed like a good idea at the time” situation, and it takes a leap of faith, as well as a lot of trust in other people. I call being able to travel and make do and make it happen a pretty good set of Life Skills.

Escape. Music is often about liberation, be it a country drinking anthem or a “five middle fingers in the air” metal creation, and Phish culture seems able to take it even a step further. The well-spoken young woman who is now studying taxation in graduate school, told me that a Phish show offers a few hours free from the details, the grind, and the pressure. I think we could all use that, but it was the story a young man, Jeff, who made this more than just a chance to get groovy. Wearing his own version of drummer Jon Fishman’s outfit that he made himself – right down to the awesome Converse sneakers, he told me that a Phish show was a chance to be himself, free of society’s restraints on what he was supposed to be. Let’s face facts, society wants us to follow the cookie cutter rules so the majority is nice and comfortable. At a Phish show, you get to be who you are, and everyone is comfortable with that. His story broke my heart and made me happy at the same time.

Sure, I’m making it sound heavenly, but this was fun and the music hadn’t even started! I ended up at the rear of the venue enjoying the view from the Darling’s VIP tent, Thank You! by the way. When the band did appear and they hit the first couple of notes of “Possum,”  Phish 47the crowd sent up a shout, started to dance, hands immediately went into the air, and Bangor had an oasis of Happy and Free for two sets of Phish and all the love that comes with it. No, the Phish experience isn’t for everyone, because let’s face it – the music is great, the fans come from all walks of life, and everyone is pleasant and easy to talk to. That combination will never appeal to everyone. That was sarcasm, by the way. I for one had a great time at my first Phish show!

Thank you to everyone who answered my questions and shared their Phish thoughts and stories. You were wonderful! I’ve been in nearly every sort of music crowd imaginable, and Phish has the best of fans. Enjoy the rest of the tour if you are heading off for the summer. Be safe, make sure you know where your ticket is, and remember that I am with you in spirit!

Check back with Maine Music News in a day or two for Phish Part II when our guest Phish experts weigh in on the concert.

About the author

Ann James Joles


You’ll know her when you see her – Ann is probably the only person at a live show scribbling down notes and guarding a camera case. With a long time career in higher education behind her, she is more at home at a rock show with screaming fans than in an office.