Get In The Van
        Drifting on (and off) the road with Phish
        by Kevin Wilkins

        Where do you want to go today?
        Want to leave it all behind and play with the populace, serving them
what you wish someone would serve to you (and vice versa)? Or would you
care to know one of those ever-slippery defining moments, then a couple,
then a hat trick? How would you feel about rolling through several days
and nights considering things you haven’t, tasting things you shouldn’t,
being things you were and will be, and hearing what you can’t? If any of
the questions just elapsed have even the slightest grab on your soul,
you are one of three things: a Phish fan, a future Phish proselyte, or a
member of Phish. 
        Could that be?
        Are the strings that bind the Burlington, Vermont quartet and those who
feverishly tag along on their global trot laced as loosely as suggested
here? Oh, you bet. And that’s the only way each and every one of them
would have it. Any night they play, whether it be in Hamburg, Germany
(where their latest live album Slip Stitch and Pass was recorded) or New
York City (where, this past New Year’s, the earthy ensemble sold out
three consecutive shows at Madison Square Garden), Phish and their
audience show up to the party precisely for the uncertain introduction,
the awkward moment, and the uncomfortable silence. Then they all smile
and wriggle around together for what can only be explained as a
three-hour fall down a padded flight of stairs—each bump and bonk a
welcomed event in the cycle of uncertainty that composes any mischievous
evening with the improv-proficient platoon.
        Get it?
        No. No one really does, but just in case you want to research why you
feel the way you do after a Phish presentation, there are tens upon
hundreds of Web sites devoted to the history of the band, effectively
documenting every move they’ve made since their humble
beginnings—breaking it down to important tidbits such as their first
gig, the day they named themselves and why, and their respective first
kisses. 
         So how does one explain a phenomenon such as this? One doesn’t. But
what one can do is experience the unexplainable firsthand. 
        Yes, thank you, I will. 
        Over the course of the most recent summery and autumnal days, a troupe
of friends aided me in following what only a small number of thinly
stretched years ago I would have considered not worth pursuit. Why now?
Why them? And why get in a van and spin from the short side of one day
to the long side of ten in order to be in the same city any band is
playing, let alone one called Phish? It’s beyond me, but the number of
individuals willing to tour in the wake of patchouli mist and burnt
motor oil is surprisingly high—living proof present in our vehicle’s
ever-waxing population. But the question “why?” is not the one on the
tips of these tongues. Rather, the four other famous Ws and their
equally famous friend, the solitary H, are the most asked. Not because
the answers to the whos, whats, wheres, whens, and hows are more
important, but because for most folks on this journey the “why” question
has already been answered. Lucky for us, the answers are as widely
varied as the number of people who have posed the silent inquiry to
themselves over the last decade and a half. Variety, as they say, is the
spice of life, as well as the spice that flavors an ensemble such as
this. 
        But Phish’s is a calculated variety, ranging from thoughtful and
endless discussions on how to deliver new material to their audience, to
the elaborate listening and improvisation exercises the four members
routinely put themselves through. Practice procedures require the
members to listen to each other during improvisation with a wide focus
on what the others are doing, instead a tight one on the self. This
erases the ego of the individual musician and enables Phish to achieve
the seamless and spine-prickling live performances that have helped
build their following to fill the extra-large venues and parking lots
they’ve been exiled to in the past few years. 
        Another thing they say is that the trip is as important as the
destination. And when you’re grouped with a colossal cluster of heads as
single-minded in their pursuit of what lies ahead as the folks lamely
tagged as Phishheads (a boring variation on the Deadhead designation),
it makes for a stimulating pilgrimage, to say the least. This is the
journey where we all learned to travel together, and together we
traveled to learn. The most life-changing epiphany lying in our
discovery—the road to the next show is not paved with good intentions,
as everyone thinks, but with asphalt—a perfect surface for driving our
overworked and undercooked van. 
Here’s some stuff we did:
        We rented a van. 
        Sounds simple enough, but this ingredient is crucial to the
continuation and enjoyment of the trek. Not just because it’s nice to
have a way to get to the next show—which can be anywhere from eight
hours to three days away on any given tour—but because everyone requires
a place to call home away from home (sigh). We all need a ride! The
vehicle is where you can sleep, it’s your safe-deposit box, your
dresser, your kitchen, and your sanctuary. It’s also the only good place
to watch the world
(as                                                                                                                                
seen through dirty safety glass) fly by on your way to the next port of
entry.
        It’s a comforting sight to wake up from a night of auto-slumber and see
a road of cars composed of grubby Phishermen and women heading forward
along with you. Do it and you’ll be vacationing with a thousand busloads
of friends; the entire movement chartered directly to the next show, but
piloted by certain uncertainties. There are friends you’ve never met
filling up at the gas station and familiar strangers getting snacks at
the AM/PM. Kindred unknowns are everywhere, replenishing their water
supplies at the grocery store, fixing their cars, sleeping in their
trucks on the side of the road, and eating beans and rice with you. If
you’re out and about on a winding ramble to the elusive mecca, this is
the only friendly crew who will get you through. Hang tough.
        We sat in parking lots. 
        Sounds simple, too—almost tedious. But you can’t always judge a parking
lot by its cover. These expanses, these impromptu city-scapes whose
skylines are dominated by converted school buses and camper van
pop-tops, are far from mere tailgate parties. They are communities. And
like every legitimate community on this round rock of ours, Phish show
parking lots are as self-sufficient as they are self-conscious. What do
I mean? Well, what do you need? Kind veggie burritos? Kind vegan
beverages? Kind handmade hemp clothing? Kind bracelets, necklaces,
paraphernalia, clutch cables, tools, grilled cheese, conversation,
places to sit, dogs to pet, melodies, tire pumps, jump starts,
shitter/pissers, kind words, and most anything else ranging from
T-shirts to the unmentionable is readily available from any of the
sleepy-eyed road warriors who populate these migratory metropolises and
peddle their wares to the mass of motherf—kers and their minds. 
        This scene however, transcends the label of subculture phenomena. Not
only because the population in and around a particular venue is as big
as a good-sized Midwestern town, but because of infrastructure. Theirs
is a self-policed society of the ethical and etiquette-concerned,
complete with a parking-lot maintenance squad. The self-appointed Green
Crew picks up after each tour pause so that at later dates the thronging
mob might be allowed to return to any particular whistle-stop on Phish’s
big train ride, thus making the “venues and locals happy, Mother Nature
stronger, and the history of Phish longer.”*
        We listened to music. 
        Once again, it’s simple, and it’s on. Music is everywhere at these
events. Out it comes from all cars, trucks, and buses—hissing out of
other people’s headphones and pumping dense from booming DJ setups. It’s
in your head, it plays for hours before the band ever takes the stage,
and it’s as varied as all the mutt and purebread faces that bob around
atop skinny, limber necks. If the days and miles and situations
surrounding a Phish tour is the solar system, music is the sun, beaming
bright and lighting everything just perfectly. Smiles all around. 
        While it’s true that what Phish does is unique and special, it’s also
something that cannot be experienced by purchasing and listening to a
CD. They do have plenty of buyable material out there, but Phish is who
they are because they allow taping at their once-in-a-lifetime shows.
This has lead to a bumper crop of expert recordings available for the
price of a blank cassette—they are not for sale. These magnetic ribbons
and the mumbles of their beholders is what gets people to Phish shows.
But even these coveted gems are nothing but lowly
facsimiles—substitutions for the real deal. 
        So why even bother making recordings? Because they are, in effect, the
massively distributed Xerox flyers calling people to hear what there is
to hear. Without them, fans wouldn’t go ape shit over a tempo switch,
the order of songs on a given evening, a simple note, or the absence of
one. It’s all about variations on a theme, my friend—that’s why we go,
and that’s why we’re here. 
     That’s also what got me and mine to seven West Coast dates this
past year. I might not know much, but I can tell you each show was
completely different, glee filled, and inspiring. By showing up to a
Phish concert we added to the whole, varying the mix, bettering the
performance, and adding to its fluidity (or lack thereof). 
        But enough about me. How’ve you been lately?
    If you happen to be one of the privileged who’ve broken through the
distracting maze of stereotypes and shit talkers, and emerged on the
other side at a Phish show, you know what I’m talking about. Whether
you’re playing at or just at a performance of these
spur-of-the-moment-wise minstrels, it’s hard to explain and unclear
exactly what’s going to happen. It is certain, however, that something
will go down, and when it does, it’ll be nice. But how do you define
this for the rest of the universe not lucky enough to know of the
phenomenon firsthand? Many say, “Don’t even tell ’em at all. If they’re
supposed to find out, they will.”
        I say, “Push ’em along.”
        Show them exactly what it is that has gotten this thronging mass of
road freaks and hapless seekers of freshness to this point. A group of
smilers, a collection of collectors of moments, flashes, and twinklings,
a pack of sharers of velocity and holders of hands. A dehydrated bunch
of human beings who, from a lack of conscious design, have become the
good map by which others are guiding tiny parts of their own realities.
A group of  individuals who allow each other to roll with the punches in
the relative safety of the tribe, but who also allow you to see, touch,
taste, smell, and hear a Phish show through them—composing what may be
the biggest organic amplifier of experience ever plugged in. 
        Show them a population so together, its members can predict where
they’ll be 80 out of the next 365 days and may actually be the only
people who really know where they want to go today. They want to go.
They want to see. They want to Phish. Go see Phish. 
        Wanna go?
        

anyone interested in getting the issue (June Vol 7#2) in which the
article was published. It's $5.00 >> that just covers the printing costs
and postage. 
        They go like this:
        
        margot@twsnet.com

or

        Warp magazine
        attn: Margo
        353 Airport Rd.
        Oceanside, CA  92054
        
        Or they can call Margot @  800 788 7072 ext 110
        
        My e-mail, too:
        kevinw@twsnet.com


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