080213 Phish, San Francisco, CA

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When I woke up on August 2nd, 2013 I wiped the magical pixie dust of live musical bliss from my eyes and found myself in a dingy motel room on the outskirts of the outskirts of San Francisco.  M’lady and I had joined a pile of friends for a Phil Lesh concert at Phil’s very own clubhouse/venue Terrapin Crossroads the night before, a lifetime highlight kind of show that came with a buffet dinner, a lengthy sit-in by Phish bassist Mike Gordon, and a dreamy campfire singalong that brought tears to the eyes of many.  It had been so amazing that we couldn’t stop ourselves from driving straight back to Terrapin Crossroads the moment we checked out of that dingy motel.  We were hoping they might be open for brunch where we could linger and reminisce about the previous evening but alas, they only opened for brunch on the weekends, which this wasn’t.

So we drove into San Fran brunchless.  It was my first time visiting the city and I found the steep winding streets quite unnerving.  It’s odd to be surprised when confronted with a well-known cliché, but I always am.  I was shocked to discover that there were really canals throughout Venice, astounded at the proliferation of slot machines the first time I visited Vegas, and amazed that the impossibly steep streets that Steve McQueen raced through in Bullitt were actually impossibly steep.

But they were.  M’lady was shocked too, but for a different reason.  “What is wrong with you?” she asked with a smidgen of actual concern.  “I’ve never seen you drive so slow.”  I suspect this was the only time she ever saw me white-knuckle driving.

We had arranged an unbelievable deal at the very fancy-shmancy Fisherman’s Wharf Hyatt, one that included full breakfast every day and very expensive valet parking.  We checked into our luxe accoms and had a drink or two to celebrate before setting out to explore the wharf.  When we did we found an olde-schoole penny arcade museum filled with an astonishing array of coin-operated delights, all in working order.  There were fortune telling machines and juke boxes, pinball machines and video games, horse racing machines and strongman challenges, but most fascinating were the coin-op marionette scenarios.  We dropped a coin into one and the curtains opened to reveal a mob cheering on a hangman.  The trapdoor dropped, a little puppet dangled from its little puppet neck, and the curtains closed.

Amazing what people did with their spare time before the internet.

After an early dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant (I had the burger) we hopped the bus to Bill Graham Civic Center for the first of a three-night stand of – you guessed it – Phish, Phish, and Phish.

We met a stranger in a park for a pre-arranged ticket trade and hung out with all the loco locals in a tiny Shakedown Street that had sprung up across the street.  Inside the venue we found some friends we had met at the Tahoe shows.  They had some extra seats saved so we joined them just as the lights were set to dim.

Of course this was my first time inside the Bill Graham Civic Center and I thought it was a heck of a venue.  Smallish, it holds maybe 8,000 fans, about half of which crowded onto the expansive square floor while the rest (like us) sat in balcony bleachers that surrounded three sides of the boxy room.  I loved it up there; we were treated to a great view of a great show for the whole night.

Drink trips were frequent and simple, as were the corresponding bathroom jaunts.  But most importantly, the concert was awesome.  The Tahoe show from two nights earlier had quickly become legend, mostly due to a 30+ minute jam (Tahoe Tweezer) that birthed an audience/band/back-and-forth/participation “Woo!” that was the talk of the tour.  At this show both the band and the crowd picked up where they had left off and got their woo’s in wherever and whenever they could.  Anytime the band even hinted at a millisecond stop in a jam the crowd would woo it up, which encouraged the band to put the little breaks wherever they could which in turn made the crowd woo more which inspired the band to…

Being so early in the history of woo we were still having a good time with it but let’s just say the woo thing got pretty old pretty fast.  “Woo” is almost considered a dirty word on tour nowadays.  

After the show we missed the bus by mere seconds and waited a half-hour for the next one to take us back to the hotel where we nightcapped in king-size luxury.  Funny to think back to the days when I would sleep in my car on some dark hidden road after a concert.  Crazy.

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