072713 Phish, George, WA

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Whether or not one enjoys festival camping boils down to expectations.  If you expect that you might enjoy sleeping comfortably through the night then perhaps festival camping is not for you.  If you expect to lounge in bed comfortably anytime past 8:30am, or if you expect little to no fireworks set off in the general direction of your sleeping area, or even if you expect something as simple as a quick little hot shower in the late morning, well, maybe you’ll want to book a room.

Festival camping is generally for me.  I just set my gearshift to the ‘Hi’ gear of my tolerance and keep my hat on.  And I assure you, earplugs are an enormously useful supplement.  New to me this year was an eye-mask.  I turned myself into The Who’s Tommy for the night and it helped me get up on the right side of the air mattress come the early morning of July 27th, 2013.

M’lady busied herself making coffee after coffee and quesadillas for brunch while I sat around and did nothing but enjoy same.  Eventually I grabbed a guitar and found a nearby tarp commune with jammers and beers.  We rounded out the midday with some really excellent music and several cold beers in the hot, hot shade.

M’lady and I spent the rest of the afternoon hanging with our neighbour friends under their shade tent where we mulled the forest fire that had clearly been taking shape a few hills away, and all the thickening smoke it was sending our way.

Before we got too drunk the two of us extracted ourselves from the conversation and headed in to the venue.  I wanted to get a poster and find a closer spot for the show than we had the night before.  We got in early enough to get the desired merch but the terraces had long been cherry-picked, so we found a nice spot on the grass just above the floor area.  We had a few hours to kill in the hot sun but we had the remains of a bunky umbrella-cum-parasol with us – picked up for free at a booth at the Ottawa Jazzfest – and margaritas and chicken strips with curly fries to keep us contented.

I left m’lady to take a stroll and sauntered up the hill to the very centre of the venue.  As I was walking up the hill towards the barren spot I had selected in my mind someone else was walking down to the same barren spot.  We both got there about the same time and sat down a few feet away from each other, the only two people sitting on the vast, raked lawn.  We got to talking about the Dead and the Allman Brothers and general tour stuff.  Ten minutes later we stood and hugged, I went back down the hill and he went back up.  

Tour is fun.

Back at our spot m’lady and I got surrounded by a group that included two kids at their first Phish show with their dad.  I asked them what they were hoping to hear; the ten-year-old says Prince Caspian and his little brother wants Moma Dance.  Noobs.

As the show started the smoke coming in from the distant forest fire was palpable, and while there’s no benefit to having smoke in your eyes at a show, the haze gave significant substance to CK5’s light show.  Even while the sun was still up his beams of light shooting into the audience became thick shafts of colour.

The first set was a bit of a sleeper – I blame the kids who got both their calls – but the show overall was pretty great.  At one point the top of the mountain behind the stage (and across the river) was glowing red with fire; I’ve never seen anything like it.  The band should have changed the lyrics of Maze to Haze but I’ll forgive them, especially after the monstrous funk that was Sneakin’ Sally Though The Alley.

After the show I meandered up and down Shakedown looking to trade my extra poster for a night one poster but found no takers.  I considered looking for a jam but realized that people are generally way too messed up after a concert to be able to make and/or appreciate acoustic music very much.  Amplification rules post-show.

So I sat for an hour with a drink or two and marvelled at the fireworks.  Every highway sign for a hundred miles in any direction had the fire risk arrow set at “Extreme” and there we sat in a massive field covered with dry, mowed hay with smoke pouring over our heads from the encroaching forest fire across the river watching everyone and their brah lighting off boxfuls of amateur explosions that cascaded down onto an unspeakable amount of cracklin’-dry combustibles.

It’s truly a wonder that there has never been a lot fire at The Gorge, squawks old grey-beard.

Driving out the next day I was shocked to see a wheelchair piled amongst one of the vast camping-area garbage piles.  Someone certainly had a good show.  I also remember literally driving through burning forest fires on-and-off all afternoon as we headed south away from The Gorge.  That was something I had never, ever experienced before.

Thank goodness for air-conditioning.

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