The Phish Is Cashed: A Blazer’s Story

As the last sounds of Trey Anastasio’s guitar faded and the stage was emptied, a mass of 70,000 who had been followers of Phish stopped and wondered what they would do with the rest of their lives. It had been Phish’s last show at their final festival, and even the schlumpy presence of Danny DeVito in the audience wasn’t enough to console the Heads. Among them was one Michael Vankoski, a young man from Burlington, Vermont’s upper-west side. He had deserted his place at Hampshire College to pursue what for him had real personal meaning: other people’s music.

“You have to understand,” he used to say to his Professor of Independent Studies, “this music is more than just music. It cuts to your soul, man. It’s in the dirt of life. And the flowers play instruments.” Michael’s friends murmured stoned assent.

Michael and his group of friends made their way toward the festival gates. Some were musing sadly over the loss of their favorite band. Others were musing sadly over their newfound need to get jobs. Selling veggie burritos in the concert venue parking lot just wouldn’t work anymore, given that there were to be no more concerts, and therefore no more venues, and thus no more parking lots in which to sell their wares. Still other Phish fans were musing sadly over the need to take showers for the first time. Without a crowd of Phishheads around them, their aromas had become conspicuous.

“At least we still have String Cheese Incident, and moe., and the Big Wu,” one fan said. Michael nodded, but without any real conviction. Those bands were all pretty much synonymous. Phish, in Michael’s opinion, was the Mozart of the 20th century. Michael’s great-great-grandfather had followed Mozart’s tour-horse-and-carriage all over Europe when the young genius gigged as a child. For the past 15 years, Michael had followed in his great-great-grandfather’s footsteps by following Phish’s tour bus. Michael respected his ancestor’s way of life, but he was convinced that there was no way Mozart could have jammed the way that Trey and Page could. Sure, Mozart could write an Alberti bass, but could he play a convincing cover of Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein?”

“At least I still have my friends,” Michael said to himself, looking around him. The faces he saw, however, weren’t those of his friends. He had been following the wrong cluster of white guys with dreadlocks and girls with intentionally patchy-looking, earth-toned clothes.

“Wow, we all look the same,” Michael thought. “But that’s because we’re such nonconformists.” Michael scanned to crowd for his friends. He finally found them packing up their tents at the festival campgrounds. Nearby, a lone fan continued to spin in circles, unaware the concert was over.

“We need to have a powwow, man,” said Michael’s friend Richie. “Everyone’s so bummed right now. OK, so maybe the setlist wasn’t perfect. Will’s drowning his sorrows in bongwater because he was sure they’d jam ‘Fluffhead’ into ‘Colonel Forbin’s Ascent.’ Sally’s upset because she felt that when Trey was shredding on ‘Chalkdust,’ it never really climaxed. But hey, we couldn’t expect a perfect show.”

“Well, it was certainly no 12/3/94,” said Gabe.

“No, and it was nothing like 4/8/91. But those shows were mind-bending. Transcendent. I just feel bad for all the poor kids who will never get to experience that, ’cause they’re too busy with petty problems like making a living. The flow from the band to the audience that night was amazing—it was like I could touch the stage.”

“You were sitting in the front row.”

“And also I had a really good ganja grilled cheese before that show.”

Michael and his friends continued to reminisce for hours. They spoke of better days. That night when the band arrived via a giant hot dog. The secret language of Phish in which they communicated with the audience via particular instrumental licks, relating information to the crowd such as the announcement “there’s an asshole in the front row.” The Halloween performances of other bands’ entire classic albums, a precedent which bands ranging musically all the way from Guster to Dashboard Confessional, had now picked up on. The glow-stick wars amid the crowd.

“Really, all joking aside, Phish was a very good band. Certainly, they are easy to make fun of. But their realization of the Self, as I wrote about in my current academic bestseller, Phish and the Id, their sense of identity as a band, was fairly unprecedented,” said renowned Harvard Professor Helen Vendler, turning on the oven for the fourth time that day. “They placed a new emphasis on the instrumental aspects of rock’n’roll. The culture surrounding Phish and the music itself, both of which have now been imitated many times, brought something new to popular music.”

“Huh,” agreed Michael.