As a Phish fan for seven years, I had seen 30 of the jam band's concerts in 10 states and two countries. So, when the band announced it would be breaking up and staging the curtain call at the mid-August Coventry festival in its home state of Vermont, I had to go. Not that it didn't take some convincing: This shit was gonna be expensive. Total estimated cost of the weekend: $900. Actual cost: somewhere over $1,000. It was one last amazing, not to mention messy, odyssey. And, like in those cheesy Mastercard commercials, the whole thing was priceless.
Arriving in Burlington at noon on Friday, Aug. 13, I met up with friends and collected the rental car. We hit the road at sundown with 80 miles between us and the concert. Taking side roads instead of the dreaded I-91 highway--where we'd heard rumors of 50-mile back-ups--we landed eight miles from the Newport State Airport, the site of the event, when the cars stopped. This wasn't a stop-and-go kind of I-5 traffic jam but a stop-the-car-and-break-out-the-beer kind of traffic jam. No one slept for longer than a few hours. Instead, we partied next to our cars until dawn.
Day broke on the highway and then, doom. Just after 9 am, Phish bassist Mike Gordon revealed that, after discussion with state and local authorities, cars still on the main highway would have to turn around. Shock hit the highway, and almost immediately, people began dumping their cars on the side of the road. Minutes later, state troopers screamed down the road, sirens blaring. One drove past our car to tell us that we were safe and that our car would make it to the concert site. Celebration began: Horns started honking. More beer flowed. The smell of weed signaled victory.
Forty hours after leaving Portland for Vermont, I set up my tent on damp, but not flooded, farmland. We fastened tarps down before our tents, strapped on Wellingtons to guard against the mud, and got ready for a two-day funeral for our favorite band. From our trench, there was still two miles of walking and hundreds of junked-out hippies selling hits of acid to get through before securing a spot 20 feet from the stage.
In the end, there were no torrential remnants of that nasty hurricane in Florida to ruin the end of Phish's 21-year run. Instead of a funeral for our favorite band, for two days 65,000 fans--some 5,000 of whom trekked 20 miles on foot to be part of the event--were rewarded with a celebration. After it was all over, one man said out loud what many of us were thinking: "It's time to get a real job."