On December 1st, 2003 I drove with a couple of friends from Toronto to Albany to see Phish at Knickerbocker Arena. nero must have just finished up a run or at least had a few days off in their relentless touring schedule that freed me up for a show, a relatively rare opportunity during that era of my life. Either way, I had a chance to catch some Phish and I took it.
The drive to Albany should have been a cakewalk, especially compared to the constant epic driving of the nero bus I was very accustomed to at the time. But it was storming the whole way, and it was storming bad.
A good eight to ten inches of snow had accumulated and it was still coming down fiercely. The traffic on the interstate was down to one lane in each direction and moving slow, the lengthy parade of cars stuck behind the salt-spewing snow plows that crawled along at no more than thirty miles per hour. We had a show to get to but even more pressing was the fact that my friend had an extra ticket to sell, and he was very worried that we would be late and he would have to eat the ticket.
Back then I was driving a pretty solid Honda Accord. It wasn’t a four-wheel-drive but it had winter tires and seemed up to the challenge. I pulled out and reclaimed the I-90 passing lane, flying blind past the snowplows with a steady hand and an iron nerve and wouldn’t you know it, we made it to Shakedown Street just in time to sell the ticket and get in to the show (albeit a bit late; we walked in during their second song, Stash).
The concert that followed has become infamous due to an extended sit-in by long-lost original member Jeff Holdsworth who, as I had heard it, walked off into the mountains one day during an early Phish tour and never came back, never called or wrote…nothing. I heard he just disappeared, found religion or something like that and nobody had heard from him since that day*, and here he was stepping on stage at Knickerbocker midway through the second set and strapping on a guitar.
Just because nobody does, I’ll reference the first set, which was great. As I mentioned we walked in during Stash (having missed the opening Chalkdust Torture), then it went: Guyute, Thunderhead>Sparkle, Wolfman’s Brother>Good Times Bad Times. And so you didn’t need a crazy sit-in to make this a memorable show, but I suppose it helped.
Not that Holdsworth’s participation was musically transcendent or anything. Though notable for being historic, the second set won’t win any awards in the “killer jams” category. It was a fun event to be at though, no denying that, but when they started into Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress Dave Hendrick and I rolled our eyes pretty hard, silently (I hope) urging the band to abandon their nostalgic romp and get back to rocking our faces off.
They didn’t though. They even encored with Fire.
I’m guessing we drove back to either Toronto or perhaps on to Ottawa after the show, maybe even dropping off or picking up a passenger or two along the way, I don’t remember. The storm must have abated though as I don’t recall the post-show drive at all.
*Curiously, it ultimately came to my attention that Jeff Holdsworth had actually been hunkered down in the Ottawa area during his absence from Phish and more: he continues to live there. Hiding in plain sight of the very few: clever.
We could have driven down to the show together.