It’s been ten years since my best friend and I drove through twelve hours of torrential downpour to get to Phish’s “final” show in Coventry, Vermont. It may not have been the best concert ever, but damn was it unforgettable. I remember the weekend as dark, depressing and generally unpleasant. My musical life-line was self-destructing, and all us fans had gathered to witness the band’s dismantling in the grossest of conditions. It had all the emotional trappings of a funeral, just with better music. But now, with Phish reunited and playing better than ever and Trey’s demons healed, I feel grateful to have been there. It was a cathartic and emotional – a fandom hitting rock bottom en masse. Below I revisit five moments from Phish’s “final” show that I’ll never be able to shake.
1. The Letter
I can still remember the nausea that swept through my body reading the break-up announcement email from Trey while stuck in my beige cubicle at work. It was worse than if every boyfriend I’d ever loved had gotten together to end things with me in unison. The “we’re done” part is what finally sent me to the bathroom to cry in a stall. As anyone who loves Phish knows: it’s not just a band, it’s a way of life. We’d already survived the band’s hiatus, but a break-up felt still too terrifying to imagine. And yet, there we were: dumped.
2. The Mud
The week leading up to Phish’s final show was filled with torrential rain, leaving the Vermont concert fields a slick, muddy mess. But describing it does it no real justice; the mud was truly a f*cking disaster. It was heavy and thick, coming way up over your ankles. Everything was covered in it, no matter what you did to avoid it. Cars, people, everything was slow-moving or stuck, lodged in the earth. Not to mention it was unbearably hot and humid, and the combination of elements was the most disgusting I’d seen at any Phish festival (and I’d survived the port-o-potties at the Clifford Ball). It turned what was already a somber weekend into a dark, apocalyptic mess, grating on everyone’s ultra-sensitive nerves.
3. The Fans Who Were Turned Away…And Those Who Showed Up Anyway
The mud rendered parking lots and campgrounds unusable, and so fans who had been stuck in traffic on the Vermont interstate for endless hours were suddenly told – by bassist Mike Gordon on the Phish radio station, no less – that there was no room for them at the show. Some dutifully did as instructed and turned around; thousands more parked on the side of the highway and hiked miles to the grounds. I can still see them, sunburned and shirtless, bravely lugging in coolers and camping equipment. Those who drove back home only to discover others had walked in were livid, and those who made it were exhausted to the core. It only added to the dark and depressed mood that overtook the whole weekend.
4. Trey’s rambling
Oh, 2004 Trey. Much like the music of that weekend, Trey was all over the place. His emotions spilled out most notably during “Glide,” which followed Page’s weepy “Wading In the Velvet Sea” (I’ll get to that). For me, Trey’s energy was and is always the light guiding every Phish show. Watching him up there with his guitar, bouncing like a Fraggle with his mouth agape, gives me such a jolt of joy. So to see – and hear – him so distraught and disconnected was heartbreaking. Nearly everyone in my section was curled up in the fetal position, crushed and crying as Trey wept openly in front of thousands of fans.
The band closed the weekend with “The Curtain With,” and it was the perfect encapsulation of what had taken place at Coventry: “As he saw his life run away from him, thousands ran along, chanting words from a song.”
5. “Wading In The Velvet Sea”
Look, Page is the undeniable heart of this band and I don’t wanna hear any opinions on the contrary, damnit! To hear this sweet lil’ piano man completely lose it when singing, only to turn his mic to the audience…let’s just say that us fans were wading in a velvet sea OF OUR OWN TEARS.
And also some mud. Did I mention there was mud?
[Photos: Getty Images, Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic.com]