120599 Phish, Rochester, NY

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This is going to be an easy one.

On December 5th, 1999 I drove to Rochester to see Phish with my good friend and fellow guitar teacher Doug, and a girl named Kyla who was taking the course I was teaching at the university.

We got pulled into the US border on the way and endured an hour-long useless hassle* before being released and sent forth, a common occurrence in the era before September 11th, 2001, a day when young, long-haired music lovers were suddenly no longer the droids they were looking for.

Anyway, we got down there and checked into some hotel and either by fluke or by design we ran into my Ottawa friend Jay and a couple of his buddies.

“Jay, this is Kyla,” I said, introducing the two.

They ran into one another again a week or so later at a bar back home in Ottawa, several years later I was honoured to attend their super-fun wedding, and here it is a decade or more on and they remain one of the nicest, best-paired couples I know. 

And all because of me.  And Phish.  No wonder I keep going to see the band.

Anyway, getting to the show itself (which is an afterthought really, given the momentousness of my serendipitous introduction) there is really one major moment that stands out in my mind.  It was late in the second set and Doug and I were on the floor together – Kyla was probably off getting acquainted with her new friend, I don’t know – when the band started into one of my favourites of their songs, Maze.  

Now, this was back in the days when I had seen Phish only a handful of times, and I had seen them play Maze only once or twice before.  In a word: I was very, very interested in the band at that precise, exact moment.

And that was precisely, exactly the moment that Doug turned to me and said, “The crowd is really getting to me man, I gotta get off the floor.”


Taking a last glance at the band just as they launched into the first verse I absorbed a short, longing look before turning around to lead my friend off of the floor.  I led him all the way up to the walkway that surrounded the upper bowl where we would have plenty of space; indeed, when we got there the only other people up there were the spinners.  Remember spinners?

On our way up we stopped into the bathroom where Doug had an odd encounter with some guy who was probably just spun out, but it really freaked Doug out.  So once we got upstairs he was suffering from both claustrophobia and weird-dude-itis and he was kind of raving.  So there was the band down there going into their cool time-signature overlay bit that I so, so wanted to pay attention to, meanwhile there I was trying to appear like I was paying attention to my good friend as he narrowly avoided a mid-concert meltdown**.

Anyway, we paced back and forth up there for a while and just as the song ended Doug got himself collected and we found ourselves a pair of seats in the bowl for the last few songs (specifically: Fluffhead, Chalkdust Torture, Frankenstein, and a Character Zero/Hello My Baby encore), which were awesome.

But of course the main point here is that I am forever honoured to be the person who introduced one of the world’s great couples to one another and I did it at this show.

And Phish is a fantastic band.

*God, I love this story: During the rather extensive search one of the border cops had discovered a pack of rolling papers in the front pocket of Doug’s ubiquitous jean jacket.  Though Doug never once took off his jacket, he somehow hadn’t noticed that the border cop had discovered his semi-contraband, nor was he even aware that he had papers in his pocket in the first place.  Anyway, when they were finally done all their poking and prodding the one cop summed things up to the other.  “That guy has a record but it ain’t him [there’s another me out there who is a scallywag in the eyes of the law] and the other guy has a pack of papers in his pocket but other than that they’re clean…” 

“”Waitaminnit,” Doug says, “…I don’t have any papers in my pocket.”

“Yes, you do,” the officer said matter-of-factly.  “No. No I don’t,” Doug replied adamantly.  Of course I’m standing next to him going through every Three Stooges-like action you can imagine – zipping my lips and quickly drawing my finger across my throat and the like – trying not-so-subtly to get Doug to just shut his mouth before he got us held up for real.

“Look buddy,” the guy said with way more patience than I expected.  “You have a pack of papers in your pocket but it’s not a big…”

“I’m telling you,” Doug said, interrupting the border cop.  “I do not have rolling papers on me.”

With a sigh of exasperation the cop took two steps towards Doug, and to his utter amazement the cop reached into Doug’s breast pocket and pulled out a pack of Zig Zag whites.  He displayed it to the room for all to see.

I would pay a lot of money to have a picture of Doug’s face at that moment.  I would pay even more for a picture of my face looking at Doug’s face at that moment.  

Without a word the cop tucked the papers back into Doug’s pocket and dismissed us with a wave.  We were frozen in time for about two and-a-half seconds and then we bolted, trying our best not to actually break into a run.

**Of course he was a-okay during the debut of Jennifer Dances (the most reviled and mocked song in Phish’s entire catalog, and one they have sworn to never play again), so at least I was free to enjoy that one to the fullest.

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