If you attend enough big live shows featuring hippie bands, you’re bound to see people or cars wearing shirts or stickers that ask us all to “Be Good Family.”
After last weekend in Saratoga Springs, I think most members of my “family” can fuck themselves briskly.
The Wife and I had tix to see both Phish shows in Saratoga last weekend, and we both were looking forward to the trip. We found a nice private campground about 30 minutes north of town; The Wife found info about the local brewpub. And two shows at SPAC, which I had always heard good things about.
The show we attended was a nightmare, though, mostly because the folks who attended weren’t interested in being good family or whatever other happy-sounding hippie bullshit we (I do it too, for christsakes) like to throw around.
It’s as simple as this: we staked out a place on the lawn, but when the show started, we were swarmed, pushed, elbowed, talked, cellphoned and puked into submission. The Wife never did actually see the band on stage, thanks to the entire basketball team from the Sisters of the Poor High School in Fuckneck, N.J., who decided to park themselves right in front of us, even though I asked them to move on so MY WIFE WOULD HAVE A CHANCE OF SEEING THE GODDAMN SHOW.
She left, bailing as the meathead who was standing on our blanket shouted the lyrics to NICU in her ear. I asked him if he was cool with the fact that he had ruined my wife’s night; he looked as though he might have seriously considered this notion briefly, but he got over it just as fast. She came back down a song later and I joined her on a spot behind the lawn where we could sort of hear and could at least watch the show on TV.
That was fucking fun. Drive 500 miles to watch Phish on TV. Great.
And then, during the break, The Wife headed back to the beer garden in hopes of finding some liquid relaxation. I’m 37, and I was tired, so I sat down, in an area where no one can see the stage or clearly hear any music, during the set break. People walking by. I get stepped on. I get kicked. Finally, when some drunk asshole is so oblivious to my whereabouts that he STEPS ON MY CHEST AND FALLS ON TOP OF ME, I have had enough. I roll him, grab the collar of his t-shirt and he gets to hear exactly what I think of the experience I’ve had at the show so far. Fuckwad never said a word, never said he was sorry, just scrambled off as soon as I let go of him.
During the second set, I would occasionally wade back into the lawn a bit, far enough that I could hear the music and still see one of the televisions. I’d alternate that with spending time on the blanket with The Wife.
Phish played a great show that night: three or four tunes from my final tour wish list, ungodly jamming (Piper was a half-hour long!) … and I got to listen to muddy sound while I watched it on a video monitor.
Here it comes.
The part I didn’t want to write, but I will, despite the fact that it makes me sound like an AARP member shouting at the kids to “sit down so I can see the concert, goddammit.” I started going to Grateful Dead shows in 1984. Saw them somewhere in the neighborhood of 45 times. And while I freely admit there were plenty of assholes involved in that scene (I offer a torn-down fence at Deer Creek and mountains of fucking garbage outside Three Rivers after my final show in 1995 as evidence), I NEVER HAD AN EXPERIENCE LIKE THAT AT A DEAD SHOW. NOT ONCE.
In fairness, let’s consider a couple things. Could it be a difference in bands? Probably not — enough Deadheads made the transition after Garcia’s death, and Phish has always attracted the same kind of people. Is it generational? Possibly. Is it a New York/Boston crowd vs. the Midwesterners I’m accustomed to? Also a decent chance that this contributed, but then, I saw nothing of this at shows I’ve been to at Philly or Darien. Could it be that alcohol is the current drug of choice? Our favorite legal drug doesn’t exactly promote happiness and brotherhood, but it is good at making people aggressive and pukey, two characteristics I saw plenty of at the show.
Mass consumption of the brown acid? Hmmm.
To boil it down, I had a miserable time at a show that under any other circumstances would have been an all-timer for me, and it was largely because of the people I came in contact with that night. I can’t begin to explain how disappointing that is to me.
Some of this wasn’t anyone’s fault but the folks who run SPAC (ooop — that would be Clear Channel) and the state park that hosts it. The show was clearly oversold — it was impossible for everyone who had lawn seats to be in a position to actually see the stage — there just wasn’t space. I don’t have any idea about how many lawn seats were sold, but a good place to start would be cutting that number by at least 5,000 people.
And as good as the state park police were in getting people into the area, they were nowhere to be seen after the show. The Wife and I followed the advice of a cashier in the local Target and took the back way in, along a road that’s called Pine Littered Boulevard, or something of the like. We were directed to grassy area adjacent to a couple of tennis courts and near the golf course’s clubhouse. In the afternoon, it was gorgeous … but we discovered in the evening that there were no lights, apparently anywhere, on that side of the park. The Wife and I got turned around a couple times, but eventually found the courts, and by extension, the car. Victory!
My ass. We pulled the car to the driveway where we entered the lot, and sat. Turned car off. Listened to enough of a mix tape that these Canadians had put together that The Wife got out and gave them her email address, in the hopes we could get a copy. We didn’t move for about 45 minutes.
Eventually I noticed a line of cars snaking out the other side of the lot we were in. I turned around and followed, only to find that we were following the cart path alongside what I remembered to be a nice, fairly straightforward par four hole on the golf course. We drove around the fairway, the clubhouse and behind the course’s maintenance building. Made it to an actual road. Waited some more. Did pass a couple of state park police cars, whose occupants were sitting inside smoking or playing with the radio.
The show ended at 11:30. We left the state park grounds at 2 a.m.
At some point while waiting in the traffic, it occurred to me that if the exact same thing were to happen at the 6-20 show, I would have a much better time if I sold our tickets; we could spend a little time kicking around Saratoga, get something to eat, and actually have the chance to enjoy our kick-ass camping space that evening.
That’s what we did, with no regrets — not even after getting home Monday and seeing the Sunday set list.
So I’m not bothered by the fact that I didn’t go to the second show. But I am bothered that so many of my “brothers” and “sisters” just didn’t give a shit about anyone but themselves Saturday night.
And the fact that I’m apparently old enough to be concerned about having a place to sit down during a show? That’s even worse…
We still have tickets to the Camden show in August. And we’re going. In the interim, we’ll see some Dead shows. Those’ll be different, because they’re generally not going to sell out, so we won’t be dealing with crowds of the same size … or age. Based on what I’m not sure, but I still have faith that we’re not going to be that disappointed again.