In 2002 I flew to Virginia for a few Phish concerts. In the winter of 2003 I drove through New England, then flew to North Carolina for a series of Phish concerts. That same summer I flew to Washington for a pair of concerts, and on my way back to New York I scheduled a layover in Kansas City for a Phish concert. Back in New York I drove down to North Carolina then back up through West Virginia to New Jersey for a few more concerts. Then I flew to Miami for the 2003 New Year’s run. And his last summer I drove first from Brooklyn to Wisconsin and then a month later back down to Virginia for a concert, then up to Boston for a pair, then continued north to Vermont for Phish’s final festival. Not counting any transportation time or road time or hotel time, only time spent in the parking lot before the show or inside the venue itself, I’ve spent over eleven days of my life at Phish concerts.
PhanSite Note: This post is excerpted from the book The Last American Gypsy, originally published in 2004. The second edition, some 12 years later, was just released and is available now at Amazon.com.
And of the twelve shows I saw during the summer of 2004, I arrived at only one with a ticket. Of the eight shows I saw during the summer of 2003, I arrived with only four tickets. And each afternoon I arrived without a ticket was an afternoon I spent separated from my friends, comfortable with their tickets in their back pockets. While they drank and celebrated, I more often wandered through the parking lot with a finger in the air, hoping someone would be kind enough to sell me their extra ticket.
Some shows were easier to get than others. In Miami for New Years, people couldn’t give away their extra tickets. There were tickets covering the sidewalk in front of the gates to the venue. On the other hand, at the first Brooklyn show last summer, no one had extra tickets. It was the tour’s kick off show and the band was playing at Coney Island it was raining and the lot was full of wet miracle-seekers, myself included. That afternoon I ended up paying the subway fare and cutting all the miracle-seekers at the turnstiles so I could hit the incoming pedestrians first. Eventually, I bought a ticket for just under face but it wasn’t for trying, and standing in the rain, and desperately running into the train station, and cutting ahead of a dozen other ticket-less hippies.
I got into the venue just as the band took the stage. I had bought a floor-seat ticket. And that concert was amazing.
It was a similar experience finding a ticket for the second night at Coney Island. No, that’s just not right. I remember now. Brian sold me that ticket. And that was the night Jay-Z joined Phish on stage for a couple of songs, including “99 Problems.”
In Burgettstown two summers back Tim bought four tickets off a guy for a hundred dollars flat so he gave me one, took one for himself, and sold the other two for fifty apiece.
And at The Gorge that summer I bought a ticket for ten bucks.
But this last summer, it wasn’t that easy. I paid seventy dollars for a fifty dollar ticket in Saratoga. Sixty in Virginia.
Seventy for the first night in Mansfield, Mass. And seventy for the second night in Indiana.
But it was that second night in Mansfield that really worried me.
We got to the lot real late, maybe only two hours before show time and Tim had his ticket already so I was on my own. I ran around from friend to friend, asking all of them if they knew of anyone and when they each said no I asked for them to keep their ears open.
Walking along the entrance with my finger in the air, I counted over twenty other miracle-seekers. We were everywhere.
Almost as many people had their fingers up as didn’t.
Someone was singing, “Birds of a feather… Are flocking outside…”
“This looks pretty grim,” I told a girl with her finger in the air.
“I know,” she said, genuinely concerned. “I’ve never been shut out of a show,” she said.
“Me neither,” I said.
“Tonight might be that night,” she said.
I couldn’t accept that. “Good luck,” I said.
“You too,” she said. “And if you can’t find one we’re all gonna rush just after the second song.”
I made my way back through the lot and around again but most everyone parked was inside the venue by this time. A steady stream of cars still poured into the lot but all the miracle-seekers lined both sides of those cars from entrance to aisle.
I walked back to Tim’s car and grabbed a few packs of cigarettes. I had given up and figured I should at least work if I’m not going to get in the show.
I hit the gates and stood with my back to the entrance holding up in one hand a park of Camel Lights and a pack of Marlboro Lights. I held my beer in the other hand. I sold a few packs instantly and then just as quickly a pair of police officers approached me, took my packs and my beer and handcuffed me.
I didn’t ask any questions and they didn’t say a word and after about ten minutes they unlocked my cuffs and sent me on my way.
I stepped into a rather densely foliaged area and took a piss, thinking I shouldn’t give up and that I’ve never been shut out but the show’s about to start and it doesn’t look good so maybe tonight was the night I stayed in the parking lot. Zipping my fly, I accepted that.
But coming out of the bushes I stuck my finger in the air anyway and I held up my last pack of cigarettes too. Making my way across the stream of incoming traffic, a driver called out to me. “Cigarettes,” he said.
I walked up to his window. “Five bucks,” I said and handed him the pack.
“How’s this?” he asked, holding out a ticket.