On October 19th, 2008 m’lady and I drove the three or so hours from Ottawa to Burlington, Vermont to see Trey Anastasio at Higher Ground. In a bout of frugality we opted not to get a room at one of the many budget options across the street from the venue, choosing to drive back to Ottawa after the show.
This was back when Phish was still broken up so we were both pretty pumped to hear what their former frontman was up to, and so were the hundreds of people shivering in the chilly lineup. When we got in I bee-lined to the small front room of the venue where there was a poster sale going on for charity. I shelled out $40 for that evening’s poster and was handed a tube. When I got back to Ottawa I found out that a) I got the colour variant I wanted despite the shrug-style guessing game that the merch dude was playing and b) my poster was signed by Trey. Obviously the dude handed me the wrong tube (for charity), but what’s a guy gonna do?*
The main room was pretty busy and we squeezed up against the wall about halfway back where a crew of m’lady’s friends were huddled. I was introduced all around and promptly ignored. As a matter of fact the whole group of guys spent the evening looking down at their cellphones and seemed to be ignoring us, each other and much of the show. I’m anti-cellphone at the best of times but I thought these guys were being ridiculous.
Soon enough Trey came out and was greeted with enthusiastic cheering as he guided his great band through a long set of mostly non-recognizable (to me, anyways) solo material, sandwiched between two Phish songs, the set opening Gotta Jibboo and the set closing Sand.
At this point Phish had been broken up for about four years and they had recently announced their reunion. The whole scene was pretty ecstatic about the band’s pending return and at setbreak most smalltalk centred around the upcoming Hampton shows. Who was going? What would they open the first night with? Would the band be rusty, or champing at the bit to rage again?
Of course most of this chitchat was wasted on the crowd of new acquaintances I found myself among, all of whom were consistently looking down at their social media and offering up only the occasional, very distracted, “Huh? Oh yeah, that sounds great…” before getting back to their important digital lives.
The second set was as much fun as the first, Trey even took a request for a song called Moesha that he hadn’t played in so long he assured the crowd he wasn’t going to get it right and they should prepare to slam him online for it. I suspect that my new friends were a couple of steps ahead of him.
The show encored with First Tube, an instrumental time-twisting two-chord rage-a-thon that I’m happy to hear any day. This day was no exception, and as awesome of a night-ender as it was, the actual night-ender (the drive back to Ottawa) wasn’t quite as awesome as it could have been. Between m’lady and I we had 50% consensus that we should just take the hit and grab a hotel room after all – there were definitely some “woo”’s and “yahoo”’s scattered in the debate, but somehow soberer heads prevailed and the original plan was adhered to. It turned out being a pretty long drive after all; since then we always stay over when we go to Higher Ground.
Along the way I mentioned the phone-i-ness of the crew in the bar and was told it was because there had been some big NFL game going on. Turns out the guys were just keeping their eyes on the score and checking highlights. I was very happy to find that out.
*It occurs to me that there’s a fairly good chance that they threw this poster in with the unsigned ones for free because Trey’s signature is barely legible due to a fading Sharpie.