GET OUT: Diving into the Phish bowl

By on September 10, 2014

Editor’s note: Chatting the other day with the writer of this Get Out dispatch, I learned she was gearing up for what has become a source of divisiveness here in Jackson Hole: a Phish concert. It’s difficult for me to name another band that elicits such strong admiration and condemnation from people here. 

So I tasked this Phish neophyte with documenting her experience (maybe the first person to jot down coherent notes during a Phish show?) so that some of us might learn what draws thousands of people to Phish concerts again and again. – RV


Jackson Hole, Wyoming – As an open minded individual with diverse musical tastes, I have journeyed far and wide to enjoy electronic music, bluegrass, classical, reggae and good ole rock and roll. Through the years I’ve heard a lot of hype about Phish. It’s hard not to – the fans are obsessed. People actually quit (or lose) their jobs to follow the band. I think I can liken the hype to my Burning Man experiences: It’s hard to put into words what you feel when you attend an event, but you anticipate dissecting every moment.

Still, I know very little about Phish. My first introduction to them was a video of a New Year’s Eve performance of the song, “Meatstick.” While the band flew around on a giant hot dog, a dance troupe sporting multicultural costumes sang about meatsticks in different languages. Any band that goes to such lengths to entertain its audience is worth seeing in my book.

Phish was slated to wrap up their summer tour with a trio of Labor Day shows at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park near Denver, Colorado. I was advised that I had to see at least two shows to get a feel for what they bring to the table. Embracing the weird and the unknown, my friend Gina (who has seen Phish more times than she can remember) and I donned Alice in Wonderland costumes on Saturday night. Gina went as Alice and I as the White Rabbit. I considered diving into the rabbit hole in the style of Hunter S. Thompson, but didn’t think it would be fair to experience my first Phish shows in that light. Or would it?


The crowds at Phish shows are almost worth the price of the ticket. Shakedown Street –the party in the parking lot outside the venue – is colored with a special breed of kats selling items to quench your thirst, fill your belly, adorn your body and free your mind. It’s almost mandatory to take a lap before and after the shows. Phans also enjoy breaking down every detail of the concert here, including set lists, recaps, statistical rundowns and even what the weather was like.

Saturday night sold out with 26,000 people (!) filling the stadium. The weather was a comfortable 76 degrees and there was a looming storm in the midst that would soon make way for a beautiful sunset. The Vermont band started the evening with the song “Free.”  As they hit the chorus, droplets of rain descended and I knew I was exactly where I needed to be. The barbershop quartet style intro of “Halley’s Comet” got me excited for the different sounds I already heard in just the first few songs. “Sample in a Jar,” had me reminiscing on drunken days past, and put a little “Sparkle” in my step. Already, they were shedding some “Light” on their “Fuego.” Phish made my weekend when the song that originally piqued my interest, “Meatstick,” came on during the second set. No costumed dance troupe or hot dogs, but a welcome sound of familiarity in a new scene. The show on Saturday left me “Silent in the morning” as I smiled knowing I would have one more night to delve deeper into the Phish pool.


On my way to the venue on Sunday, a homeless guy looking for vegan handouts stopped me. I wondered if he was also gluten-free and wanted a joint for dessert?

A rainbow greeted us as we walked up to Dick’s. This time, instead of trying to analyze the music, I decided to just listen and dance. The sets they played on Sunday felt more funky and dirty than the night before, not better, just different. As they sang “Joy,” I held the hand of an old friend who surprised me earlier in the day.

I guess Phish has a way of getting you; if you enjoy music, you have to appreciate what they do as masters of musical improvisation. They intertwine myriad musical genres, inviting concertgoers to imbibe on an interactive experience.

My inaugural Phish weekend sent me through a wave of emotions; I danced, laughed, sang and cried. Oh, what a beautiful buzz.

About Brandy Borts

You must be logged in to post a comment Login