010203 Phish, Hampton, VA

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On January 2nd, 2003 (yep, that’s 010203) I saw Phish play at the Hampton Coliseum all the way down in Virginia.  The band had just come off a 26-month hiatus; having played a reportedly triumphant comeback show at Madison Square Garden on New Year’s Eve a couple of days previously they were kicking off their 2.0 era with a trio of shows at a venue that fans have come to longingly refer to as The Mothership.

The band’s return was so rabidly anticipated that I took it upon myself to drive solo all the way from Ottawa to Hampton, Virginia to meet up with some friends who assured me a bit of carpet in their hotel room and a ticket to at least the first concert.  I generally love a nice long drive so I hopped in my Honda Accord and down I went.

It was my first time seeing a concert at the Hampton Coliseum and I remember little about it aside from thinking the show was so blatantly meh that it made me feel like a fool for coming.  As one mediocre, under-rehearsed song after another went by I felt dumber and dumber for having undertaken the time and expense of making such a big trip.  I actually got kind of mad at the band.

Which in retrospect was pretty silly, and if I took the time to listen to the show again with the same retroactive perspective I probably wouldn’t find it so bad after all.  But at the time I did, and I guess that’s all that matters because I bailed on the next two shows and got out of there.

I do remember seeing a full-grown, real-live elephant in the parking lot of the hotel after the show.  When I mentioned as much upon returning to the hotel room everyone gave me a hearty guffaw and accused me of hallucinating, lying or worse.  It was with great satisfaction that I threw back the drapes and pointed out the very-real pachyderm (who was standing just below our window) to the room full of astonished afterpartiers, all of whom were forced to immediately retract their nasty accusations.

So there’s that, I suppose.

However, no amount of convincing was going to get me to stay for any more Phish, and despite assurances that I would easily find tickets for the next two nights (no surprise there) and that they were bound to be better shows (again, no surprise there) I packed up and drove out of town in a huff (and a driving rainstorm) first thing the next morning.

The rain was bad – really bad – and it didn’t relent until it finally changed to snow and became a bona fide blizzard, and still I drove on.  The little traffic that was on the highway – mostly snowplows and crazy people – was slowed to no more than twenty-five miles per hour and still, driven by the invincibility of anger, I drove on.  I very nearly stopped in Albany and tried booking in to a friend’s place but in a fit of further foolishness, I drove on.  I remember gripping the wheel with steely fear and determination as I laid fresh tracks in the passing lane for what seemed like hours.

In all, the twelve-hour journey took almost twenty, and in no way did I feel it was at all worth it.

Can’t win ‘em all.

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