I’ll do anything with my dad. He might even be my best friend.
One thing I haven’t done with him in a long time is fishing. He loves the sport and is very good at it. In fact, he went fishing today. It’s the first of January.
What I love is Phish. You see where I’m headed. When my dad offered to join me at the Dec. 30 Phish show at Madison Square Garden in New York, I didn’t know what to think. Did he really want to go? Did he just want to tag along so I wouldn’t be driving home from New Haven at 3 a.m. by myself? Whatever the reason, it was a touching gesture that I took him up on.
And so Friday afternoon we left our humble abode in central Connecticut and headed to New Haven to hop on Metro North, which would take us straight to the heart of New York. On the car ride there, we passed a truck with an ominous sign: Anastasio & Brothers. I was feeling good.
I still had no idea what he was expecting. His younger brother, my uncle, was a Deadhead growing up in the 80’s. He understands the “scene” and he’s heard the music before. He never seems to mind me listening to it in the car and I think I once caught him listening to the band’s Little Feat cover set from last Halloween. He himself doesn’t listen to much music, although I’ve at times seen albums from Jefferson Airplane and The Monkees in his car before. Nevertheless, I’m not sure how he’d react to being in the thick of things at a New Year’s run show.
Before the show, which would be just my seventh since I became a fan in 2009, we checked out the city. He knows his way around, I don’t. Him and my younger sister go often. In fact, they were just there on Tuesday making a day out of my sister’s birthday celebrations. I followed him to all our destinations – Heartland Brewery, Modell’s to check out some New York Rangers gear – nothing good – and so on.
Because I can’t stand walking in groups of large people, we did our best to avoid Times Square until after the show. Mission completed. Still, it’s New York on the day before New Year’s Eve. It was going to be packed. We made our way to the Garden at around 6 p.m. With doors opening at 6:30 p.m. we had time to kill. We wandered around the streets outside the Garden, my dad commenting on the number of fans with their finger in the air looking for last-minute ticket miracles. We saw one guy get busted for something. These are father/son experiences, people.
A few minutes later we headed to the front of the Garden, where the traffic of miracle searching was at a much higher rate. Fans were walking back and forth with signs and fingers held high in hopes of getting a ticket to that night or the next night’s show. It didn’t seem like very many had any luck. In fact, when someone was just about to make a deal, and a large group of bidding fans crowded around him, an undercover police officer stepped in. I’m not sure of the ticket selling laws in New York, but this guy, who definitely looked like a cop, was giving the guy a ticket. At least he’d be able to see the show that night. My dad did say he felt bad he was going to see the show tonight while these other fans were probably going to get shut out. I told him that’s their bad luck.
We finally made our way into the Garden, the world’s most famous arena and one of Phish’s most stories venues. For me, this was exciting. It was a day I’d been waiting for since luckily snagging two tickets on Ticketbastard. I’d never been to a New Year’s run show or anything even close to it. I’ve been to Hartford, Providence, Amherst, Worcester and Mansfield. But not New York City.
My dad had a quick chat with an usher and asked him how the fans are at the shows. The usher, British accent and all, said it was a mix of young and old and that they were friendly people, which is certainly true. He also told my dad that they let them smoke their pot and dance in the aisles, something that wouldn’t happen at a New York Rangers or New York Knicks game.
As the place began to fill, the energy was growing. I was anticipating the lights going down like nothing else. It was the only thing on my mind. Once they did, the place exploded with cheers. Launching into Punch You in the Eye, things were off. With the opener, a good feeling was instilled in the arena. Song selection-wise, the first set was sort of odd. It was highlighted by a commanding Divided Sky, which led to my dad’s first comments of the night. During the pause, which yielded huge cheers and applause from the audience, my dad said all that was missing was the noise meters they always put on scoreboards at professional sporting events. He was right.
Onward, the first set lost some of its mustard it had sustained with Sand, which followed Divided Sky, but was redeemed with a crowd-pleasing version of Quinn the Eskimo to close things out. My dad remembered the Manfred Mann version. But the entire first set I was simply wondering what was going on in his mind. He was taking photos and videos with his phone. At setbreak, he said it was good. He liked the bluegrass selection of the night, Nellie Kane, and enjoyed what he heard and saw.
Then my dad’s style of humor, which is one of the best traits he passed on to me, kicked in. He showed these two fans from Pittsburgh sitting next to us a photograph of a fish he caught on his phone. They laughed. Before we had even left for the show he joked about wearing a shirt with a picture of a trout on it. The play on words was beginning. What a guy.
Set two started with a bang. I must say Wilson and Axilla, even if guitarist Trey Anastasio did flub the opening chords of the latter tune, are always welcome. Feeling the building literally move during Axilla was an incredible feeling. After the heavy rock, Phish dived into what would be the highlight of the night and arguably the best jam of the entire run, a 15-minute Piper, a complete and full band jam, not a Trey-led shred fest (but those are fine too). The band moved from the song’s core and brought the jam into space. Chris Kuroda’s lights, which my dad expressed appreciation for later on, helped maintain the patience needed for the band to really open things up. Bassist Mike Gordon played a note I’ll never forget, as it thundered through the arena and straight into every fan’s chest and the band carried things off into space.
The jam turned into Twist, a favorite of mine, and I couldn’t have been happier. From there, the band changed paths by going into Julius, reprising the early portion of the set’s heavy rock. The rest of the show was higlighted by a fun and spacey 2001, which had some great start/stop play towards the end and a standardly awesome David Bowie, as well as an unexpected encore featuring a great version of the Stevie Wonder song Boogie on Reggae Woman, featuring a sweet bass solo from Gordon, before closing things out with the Led Zeppelin classic Good Times, Bad Times.
As the show ended, we hustled out of the Garden, hoping to make the 12:15 train. We had plenty of time, but we still walked through the streets of New York like we were running in the marathon. We made it with time to spare,which meant water and hot dogs from a sidewalk stand. Either I was really hungry or those hot dogs were actually good.
We talked about the show on the walk back. With my dad saying he liked it, I was happy. He couldn’t remember the songs he enjoyed, but that didn’t matter. “I don’t like songs without words,” he quipped. He also commented on the incredible amount of pot and cigarette smoke that fills an arena during a Phish show. “They can smoke all the pot they want,” he said. “But they shouldn’t be able to smoke cigarettes.” I happen to agree. Of course, we both know there’s no enforcing that.
Other post show comments had him reminiscing about the number of glowsticks being thrown around. He didn’t understand where the fans got them from and why they would throw them at each other, but he agreed at how cool it is to see from the 300 level seats we had. “I could see myself getting pelted with one of those,” he said.
No matter what my father’s intentions were in coming to the Phish show with me, I was touched by the offer. We’ve gone to countless baseball, hockey, football and basketball games. But this was different. This was a new experience for us both. He dived into a world I love so much. He came with me to see a band that has meant so much to me over the last two years. Maybe I’ll go fishing with him sometime.