I spent the first half of August 3rd, 2013 touring the most famous prison in the world – Alcatraz – satisfying an itch I’ve had since my pre-teen obsession with prison-break non-fiction. Then, after a quick stop at our hotel for drinks I spent the rest of the evening fulfilling a promise I made to myself when I was fourteen years old.
I was in San Francisco (of course) to see Phish (of course) with m’lady (of course). It was the middle night of a three-show run at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium close to the end of what had been a heck of a tour following Phish down the western side of the continent, and as I sat in the Hilton or the Marriott or wherever (it was a nice place, I remember that) and cheersed my plastic cup of Jack and Coke against m’lady’s cup of the same I pointed out that it was also the thirtieth anniversary of my first ever concert: The Headpins opening for Loverboy at the Moncton Coliseum.
I had spent that night back in 1983 pressed into the rail at the front of the stage and had my life changed. I walked out of that show drenched in sweat, clutching a drumstick I had plucked out of midair and a setlist peeled from a monitor and swearing that I was going to attend every single concert I possibly could for the rest of my life.
And now here I was finishing up my drink and chasing down a bus headed towards my sixtieth Phish concert. Thank you very much Mike Reno, Darby Mills, et al.
We arrived at the venue too late to find any bleacher seats. We discovered that they get swallowed up fast and we realized just how lucky we had been to find friends with extra sit-down space for us the previous night. Instead, we found a different friend on the floor not too far back from the stage, a guy named Todd who I had first met in and around a Phish concert in Massachusetts. He had brought a friend to the show who was wholly unfamiliar with Phish beyond their reputation as a Dead-like hippie band and I had a lot of fun getting his fresh impressions throughout the set.
M’lady and I soon threw caution entirely to the wind when it came to overspending on pricey in-show drinks and we ended up inching pretty close to the stage on Page side. I somehow got lost in the crowd for a while but once I reoriented myself I discovered a portal that allowed for easy bar access even at such close stage proximity. I quickly rediscovered m’lady and we ended up whooping things up pretty good, right up to and including the Suzy Greenberg encore.
After the show we ran into a new friend that we had made a week before at the Gorge up in Washington and we brought him and his lady to our buddy Frank’s place where a rather epic afterparty ensued. How good was the party? At one point I approached m’lady who was dancing in a blissful frenzy, pumping her fists and her eyes slammed tightly shut. “I’m thinking about leaving,” I asked/told her.
“Are you crazy?!?” she responded, still dancing and not opening her eyes. “This party is raging!!!!” I pointed out to her that everyone had long ago moved into the kitchen and that she was in fact dancing in the living all alone, facing into the corner. She opened her eyes, looked around, took stock of the situation, closed her eyes tight again and went back to dancing with the wall. “You’re crazy,” she concluded, “This party is raging…” I went back to the kitchen and begged another beer.
Around 4:30am someone changed the music in the middle of a Neil Young song to some horrible dance music and that was it for me. I pounded my beer, flung my arms into the air, threw m’lady over my shoulder, flagged a cab and got us out of there. There are limits.
Meanwhile, somewhere out/in there in/out the space-time continuum a forty-five-year-old me is high-fiving a fifteen-year-old me. I suspect the younger me is confused and is awkwardly trying to find a way to hippie-handshake back.
(By the way, I am well aware that my first concert took place not on August 3rd, but rather on August 19th, 1983. But for some reason I had been confused back in 2013 and I did indeed celebrate my first-show anniversary at this concert. Must’ve been something in the San Francisco water.)