Having just finished up yet another great Christmas with my family back in New Brunswick, on December 28th, 2010 m’lady and I pushed our hangovers aside and drove from Moncton to Worcester, Massachusetts to see Phish, who were warming up for their nearly annual New Years Eve run at Madison Square Garden. The east coast had just received a big dump of snow which made the drive through rural Maine (is the phrase “rural Maine” redundant?) extra-pretty though it did slow us down a bit.
As we were running just a bit behind schedule I wanted to be sure we were going in the right direction so when we stopped just outside of Marlborough to fill the tank I checked with the gas station attendant just to make sure.
But. One has to realize that Worcester is not pronounced “war-chester”, it’s pronounced closer to the way the sauce is pronounced, “worster,” but with a bit of a Boston accent. So, when I queried with the attendant I slipped into the local tongue and asked:
“Is this the right way to Woostah?”
The lady looked at me over her glasses and said, “What did you say?”
“I asked if Woostah is this way,” I repeated, confused.
“Woostah?!?!?” she exclaimed, shaking her head. “What’s ‘Woostah’?”
“Um…” I started, before m’lady piped up from behind me.
“He wants to know if this is the highway to Woostah,” she said, eyeing me oddly.
“Yeah,” said the lady, eyeing me even oddlier. “That’s the way to Woostah.”
To this day I can’t hear the difference between how m’lady (and everyone else) pronounces “Woostah” and the insane, clearly very wrong way that I try to pronounce it, and to this day m’lady teases me about the entire affair at every opportunity. Which is shockingly often.
I suppose if I had been on my own I might never have gotten to the concert but due to m’lady’s knack for the vernacular we did indeed get there, and we had a great time too. We were sitting full-on Fishman side in the 100 levels which made for an interesting vantage point; a lot of insight into how much the drums inject the music and get it driving. From the get-go there was so much stimulus input; the lights, the music, the crowd; all three elements working together to create a sensory onslaught that is rarely rivalled in live rock and roll.
About ninety minutes before the 43rd anniversary of my birth Phish played their birthday song Backwards Down The Number Line and the show started to feel like it was my very own. I got my Stash and a nice Harry Hood taboot and the band even played Neil Young’s Albuquerque. Limb by Limb contained a truly excellent jam* and the Hood jam was exquisite, as the band brought the song to the brink of the “You can feel good, good about Hood…” part and pulled back three times. I was in bliss with my eyes tightly closed when a dude behind me screamed, “This is why I go to Phish shows, mother****ers!!!” I knew exactly what he meant.
After the show we joined about a dozen of m’lady’s Phishy friends at a bar across the street for my birthday shot. I was born at 12:02am so every year I do a shot of something or other (usually tequila) at two minutes after midnight. I ordered tequila and watched the clock. By 12:03 or so we were out on the sidewalk, walking back to the hotel where the company of a whole lot of friends and even more pizza was on offer.
It was a little olde school squishing so many people into one hotel room but the fact that it was a suite (and again, a pretty nice one at that) bumped up the classiness of the situation considerably. Snorey-guy me took one for the team and benevolently slept in the closet, my standard wookstack M.O.
In the morning I awoke nice and early to find myself forty-three years old. Crazy world we live in, huh?
This was back when I was just getting to knew m’lady’s American crew of friends, and I vividly remember hitting up the free breakfast way too early that morning with the only other person in the suite who was also awake, a nice fellah I had just met (also) named Todd. We each had a bagel and a coffee in a paper cup. Todd was shocked to see me put pepper on my bagel; he said he had never heard of such a thing before and tried it himself. I was pretty surprised. Putting pepper on one’s cream-cheesed bagel is fairly common, non?
Anyway, for one reason or another Todd has remained near the top of my list of favourite Americans ever since that bagel-and-bad-coffee birthday breakfast. Todd tells me that he always puts pepper on his bagels now.
*There’s an improv exercise/technique called “Follow The Leader” in which musicians morph between one of three roles: Leader (aka soloist), Accompany The Leader (rhythm), or Follow The Leader (mimic/counterpoint the leader). In this game any musician can play any of the roles at any time regardless of what’s going on. Say Trey considers Mike the Leader and decides to Accompany. Meanwhile Fishman considers Trey the Leader of the moment and Follows. Mike might be Accompanying Trey while Page off by himself Leads away. Twenty seconds later everything could change. I’m utterly convinced that the band was playing this game during the Limb jam. They are crazy good at that kind of stuff.