Student fans follow Phish for emotional farewell

Natasha Allen

Phish fans have long been known for their dedication. So when the 21-year-old band announced at the end of May that summer’s tour would be its last, several Phish-loving Western students decided to spend their vacations soaking up its final performances and bidding farewell the best way they knew how: being dedicated fans.

Charlie Briggs, a Bowling Green junior, and Liz Cutchins, a senior from Louisville, are two of several Western students who spent their summer following the band on its farewell tour. The tour closed with a “homecoming” concert held on August 14 and 15 in Coventry, Vt.

The two attended three shows together. Cutchins saw the band a total of four times and Briggs went to six in June and August.

Briggs started planning to tour with the band when their summer tour dates were announced this spring. He scored one of approximately 70,000 tickets for the Coventry show by swapping tickets for another show a couple of weeks prior to the August concert.

“We drove up and it took us 22 hours to get there,” Briggs said of Coventry. “And once we got there on Interstate 91 in Vermont, we hit traffic. I’d say we moved about two or three miles total in about 38 hours. We didn’t have anywhere to lay down and sleep. It was horrible.”

In the meantime, Briggs said about a quarter mile from their car, people were grilling everything from chicken quesadillas to half-pound hamburgers and veggie wraps right on the side of the highway to try to deal with the situation as best they could.

Still stuck in traffic on Saturday morning, the group heard an announcement on the radio saying no additional cars were being let into the show. It was incredibly muddy and there were not enough parking spaces.

Briggs said that after a day and a half of waiting in 20 miles of traffic, people were really upset when they were told they wouldn’t get in.

“This is something people had been waiting for all year long,” Cutchins added.

Briggs said most of the people decided to pack up what stuff they would need for the two day festival and walk. They walked the remaining 13 miles in 80 degree weather to the gates.

The group arrived just two hours before the show, but the troubles did not end there.

Later that night when Briggs and one of his friends returned to their tent, they found some of their stuff had been stolen – including a couple of backpacks, shoes, extra clothes, a digital camera and a Phish compilation CD given to concert goers featuring eight songs from different shows they played this summer.

For faithful followers like Briggs, such roadblocks were not a deterrent in enjoying the last sounds of a band many consider a musical relic.

Briggs has been a Phish fan for years. But even having listened to albums like Billy Breathes in high school, he wasn’t a self described “hardcore fan” until a year or two later.

“I guess what really got me starting to seek out more and listen to them more is Story of the Ghost,” he said.

Although it rained on the group all day Thursday and Friday making the entire concert area “just a big mud pit,” according to Briggs, the weather cleared up for the three set shows on Saturday and Sunday.

Briggs said the band played “The Curtain” as their last encore. During the second and third set on Sunday he said keyboardist Page McConnell started crying while singing the first verse of “Wading in the Velvet Sea” and the band had to stop playing for a couple of minutes because they were all choked up.

“Everybody kept on cheering,” he said, “so they gave a little speech about how they were real emotional and they were having trouble getting through some of their old songs.”

Although they couldn’t make it to the actual show, Briggs said several of his local friends took full advantage of the nationwide simulcast of the show at the Opry Mills theater in Nashville.

Briggs said he feels like Phish’s music embodies many different musical genres and attributes this to the fact the band had such a massive and loyal following.

“With Phish, at every concert you go to, sometimes they’ll jam out on a certain part (of a song) that’s completely different than what you’ve ever heard before,” Cutchins added. “It’s really interesting to get to hear those different things. A lot of people like to get their live CDs because of that.”

Tyler Skelton, a junior from Louisville, went with Cutchins to two of the band’s shows. Although her love for Phish seems to be equally deeply-rooted, she keeps her explanation simple.

“I like Phish because Mike is sexy,” she said.

Four years ago Phish went on an extended hiatus from recording only to return to it two years later. As for the likeliness of a reunion this time, the three hesitate to guess.

“I don’t really care if they do or not,” Skelton said. “People are like ‘oh, they’ll be back in 10 years,’ well who cares if they’re back in 10 years? They’re just another band that’s done. I hope when we’re adults, our kids aren’t going to Phish shows and are like ‘woohoo!’- it’ll be lame. I’d be like ‘they suck now, and shut up. You missed ’em.'”