011516 Phish, Riviera Maya, Mexico

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As the millennium marched onward concert experiences started getting more and more creative and exclusive.  Different pricing tiers had become standard at all arena and stadium concerts and it started to seem like just about anything you could buy a ticket for offered a VIP option.  Heck, I’ve seen concerts offer up to a dozen VIP categories, going right up to meet-and-greets and attending the soundcheck.  

One concert trend in particular that I had been keeping my eyes on was the proliferation of resort gigs.  The concept of seeing your favourite band in a beachfront setting with the usual all-inclusive trappings of a Caribbean resort was mouthwateringly attractive to me, and obviously I wasn’t the only one; eventually these things exploded in popularity.

But as common as they had become, it took until Phish finally announced their first-ever resort run that I finally pulled the trigger.  

(Which took a little deciding.  You want to talk about different pricing tiers?  With four or five different resorts hosting phans – each with at least a dozen different accommodation levels of their own – the options were legion.  And all of them were expensive.  Like, if-we-didn’t-do-this-we-could-go-to-Europe-for-two-weeks kind of expensive*.)

And so it was that in January of 2015 I visited Mexico for the first time, and I loved it.

We had booked into the actual resort that was hosting the concerts (at my insistence; the last thing I wanted to do was to pile onto a shuttle bus at the end of each show when the other option was to stroll barefoot down the beach to my room) and had the foresight (and the budget) to book an extra night on each end of the standard four-night stay that came with the ticket.

Which sure made checking in (and out) a whole lot easier.

When we first arrived the place looked pretty normal; families and couples and bachelorette parties lounging by the pool and crowding into the dinner buffets.  As a matter of fact, I couldn’t find anyone who had even heard of Phish.  I vividly remember striking up a conversation with a couple who was getting married at the resort that very Saturday.  They had no idea that a concert was scheduled at the resort that same weekend, and when I tried to tell them what to expect, well, let’s just say they continued to have no idea.

Betcha they have stories…

Finally the 15th came – show day!  By then the Barcelo was teeming with Phish phans, many of them personal friends of ours (though that first year there were plenty of non-phans at the resort too).  Despite being onsite for a couple of days already it wasn’t until we joined a mid-afternoon crowd gathered at one end of the beach to listen to the soundcheck that it sunk in just how awesome this was going to be.

Walking on a cloud, m’lady and I enjoyed one of the specialty restaurants for dinner and started towards the concert site with plenty of time to spare.  We arrived early enough to maybe get a poster, which meant there was actually a lineup to get in.  No worries, resort staff were handing out daiquiris and margaritas to us as we waited.

Gold.

Inside, I joined a packed merch line and was shut out when the guy in front of me bought the last seven posters (which should be – and usually is – against the rules.  Even if it’s not against the rules it’s always bad form).  Ah well, I saved $50 (though the poster resells for over $400 now).

Standing barefoot in the sand with wonderful decorations, attentive staff and good friends all around, we waited for the band to emerge.  With the beautiful weather and unlimited food and drinks it was pretty easy to be patient.

When the band came onstage and picked up their instruments they started what was to stand as the greatest concert experience of my life (to be fair, I’m referencing the entire multi-day event and everything that accompanied it, not the concert[s] in particular**).  Phish dished out a first set that was rife with water references (and one that, in retrospect, was secretly a brilliantly selected song-by-song tribute to the recently departed David Bowie***) while trippy spotlights lit up hundreds of phans that were frolicking in the ocean.  Waiters continually walked by with huge serving trays full of everything you could want and more, all of it free of charge, and I could only gape and stare at how wonderful the whole scene was.  

It was all so glorious.

By the second set I too was taking in the show from the sea, standing waist deep in the gentle waves with a plastic cup in one hand and m’lady’s hand in the other while one of the greatest live bands in the world raged through an excellent string of songs just a few dozen yards away.  Sigh.

And then when it was all over it was just a lazy beachfront stroll to join any number of afterparties – what am I saying…the entire resort was one gigantic afterparty – and all of it accompanied by unlimited food and drink with a string of swimming pools, hot tubs, and beachfront at our disposal.

And this was just night one.

*A fact that m’lady and I proved when Phish skipped a year in Mexico and we went to Venice and Slovenia instead.  In two weeks we spent a little bit less money than we’d spent on Phish Mexico.  Crazy, huh?

**Phish is a great band that plays great shows, but I think almost everyone would agree that taken on its own the actual music played over the Mexico run doesn’t stand as the band’s greatest achievement, not by a stretch.  Not that the shows were bad (far from it), but I think it’s fair to say that Phish barely hit their usual stride over the whole of the weekend.  Good times though…really good times!

***A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing>My Soul, Martian Monster>Ya Mar, Halley’s Comet>Fuego>The Wedge, Theme From the Bottom>Free>David Bowie

You figure it out.

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