On July 19th, 2013 I woke up in a cheap motel after much too little sleep and completed my drive to Chicago. I arrived to a city full of traffic, as most travellers to Chicago tend to do.
Sometimes seeing that many cars gives me pause (pun intended) – it makes me think about just how big the world is. Funny, I don’t get that sensation when I’m standing in a crowd of people, but cars are another thing for some reason.
I was in town for three nights of Phish so there were a lot of people to meet. I had been invited to stay with a friendly couple who of course had invited multitudes. When I arrived I found the party in full swing; handshakes and hugs were being thrown around like loose change in a penny arcade. Friendships were reignited or made outright, snacks were snacked, drinks were drunk and soon we were too.
When it came time to go we left en masse like some demented kindergarten for tie-dyed adults as we were led almost holding hands to the subway. I remember someone had loaded up a subway card and he zapped us all in. I thought that was pretty classy.
The show was on Northerly Island, a museum park on the water. The stage was set up big and tall on asphalt that was marked with lettered rows. I really liked that; you could easily find your way back to your spot by following the grid painted on the ground.
The band started and all was happy-happy-joy-joy. As the first set plowed on one could see an ominous darkness approaching from behind the city’s skyline, but no worries, from where me and my crew stood it was a lovely evening. The day had been brutally hot but the beer lines were quick – even at setbreak – and when the second set started I doubt anyone in the crowd imagined the show would soon get canceled due to weather.
Early in the set Trey started into Prince Caspian when Page tried to get his attention. “A major storm is imminent,” Page tells him and then us. “We’ll be standing right backstage and hopefully we’ll be back on soon.”
Then a stagehand took the mic. “Ladies and gentlemen, there is a storm coming. Hopefully it will blow over quickly and the show can resume, but for now we all have to evacuate the grounds immediately!”
Blink, blink, went thousands of eyes. Nobody moved.
Five minutes later the same guy comes back onstage.
“Okay everyone, we must leave the venue RIGHT NOW! Phish is 100% not coming back onstage tonight!”
That got people moving.
With a collective shrug we all started out of the venue towards a thousand homes. Huge raindrops started falling; sporadically at first and quickly increasing. As we were heading out through a break in the weather a thought occurred to me.
“Coventry,” I said.
“At Coventry they told us all to go home too, but the show went on after all. What if we’re being Coventried again?” I implored.
That gave us pause as we all remembered. This wasn’t the first time Phish had told us to leave. So we all stood there allowing forces to pull us in different directions. Meanwhile the drops got fatter and more frequent. Unspoken, we all agreed to race for cover within earshot of the venue and bolted.
We found ourselves jammed into a concrete roofed area near the marina, squished in with about a hundred and fifty others. And then the rains came, and they came hard.
Huddled together, dry and drunk and watching it pour down, somewhere behind me a sole voice began. “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide…” and then someone else joined in, “…No escape from reality…” The next line caught a few more people and the next a bunch more, and by the time we got to the “…easy come, easy go…” part we were all in, 150-strong and singing our hearts out. We even sang the solo together à la Wayne’s World. It was glorious and something I’ve tried again without success.
By the time the rain started to let up it was clearly too late for any more Phish so back into the subway we went. When anyone mentioned how lame it was that the show had been cancelled I would try to convey the horror of watching the stage collapse on top of Cheap Trick at The Ottawa Bluesfest.
I was fine with them cancelling. As far as I’m concerned with a three-night run there’s little reason to sweat it if one of the shows goes a bit wonky. That’s what the other two nights are for.