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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Published: 2005/07/07
by David Steinberg

When You Least Expect It…

Due to The Breakup™ and a shortage of bands that are inspiring me to travel, I’m taking a year off from flying to see music. If it’s not within driving range, I’m not going until Jamcruise; Vegoose, assuming it happens, would barely qualify. This is only a one year idea since my next year’s plans involve Jazz Fest and Telluride and whatever else strikes my fancy. I just wanted to see how the rest of the world goes on vacation.
So instead of camping in a muddy field in Manchester, TN, Melissa and I headed off to Alaska for a week. The trip itself was amazing. We saw all sorts of wildlife, went to a part of the state that still wasn’t wired for electricity, and had an entire week where it never got fully dark; Fairbanks on the solstice was most noticeable because sunset was immediately followed by sunrise. There weren’t even periods of dusk and pre-dawn.
That’s the reaction from the end of the trip. I now know things worked out. On the first day I wasn’t so sure. It was on that day that my story begins.
When you go on a trip that has nature photography as a primary purpose, weather takes on a increased focus. If the light isn’t good for taking photos of mountains – or if they aren’t even visible at all due to rain – it can get frustrating. So when it’s pouring down rain all day, it can be kind of depressing. Just to get out of Anchorage and do something, we drove south down AK 1.
The drive was a pretty one. We could see where there would be some incredible views if it weren’t raining, but that almost was more depressing than driving across boring terrain. We stopped in Girdwood to see what we wanted to do. An ice cream shop promised Internet access. We tried to get the machine to take our money but it kept rejecting all off our bills. At the time we were upset by that, but our day would have taken on a much different tone if it had worked.
We walked out of the shop and headed next door to The Great Alaska Tourist Trap. The store at least was honest about what it was. I talked to the clerk a bit while Melissa looked around. I complained about the weather. She told me not to worry. The storm was likely to pass later that day. She definitely was hoping very hard that that would be the case as her friend was throwing a bluegrass festival down in Hope and rain might mess with it.
Did you say, "Bluegrass festival?"
With a lack of other plans, this sure seemed like a good idea, especially considering that it was free. We weren’t expecting too much. Our guess was that it would be some old timer Alaskans picking away. You can then imagine our shock when we walked out of the car in Hope and saw people hooping. We accidentally ended up at a hippie festival.
Musically the event was fun – albeit nothing to fly up to Alaska to see – but what was really amazing was the scene. It wasn’t just the mountains peeking out from the clouds or the roaring river that was amusingly named Resurrection Creek. It was the people.
The place was filled with incredibly nice people. Admittedly, a lot of that comes out of the personality of Alaska, but it reminds me of what I was lamenting in my controversial column of a few months ago. [1] My memories of the scene weren’t made up out of whole cloth after all. I might have been romanticizing how things were and there almost definitely are issues involved with me aging and how that changes my behavior – is the reason I no longer feel comfortable picking up riders because the crowd has changed or because I have – but being in a crowd like that again did make me happy.
Despite how much fun the Hope Hoedown was, the problem expressed in my column still exists. Yes, if you fly far enough below the radar, you can keep the crowd controlled. A small festival of a few hundred people doesn’t inspire the leeches because there’s so little they can gain by crashing. The question that I wanted people to focus on might have gotten lost in the details – once a band (or group of bands) gets big enough to draw crowds in the tens of thousands, are our only options to discriminate against anyone who looks slightly out of the ordinary or to let anything go until the portable strip clubs and gun toting dealers scare away the families?
The answer to that is uncertain. However, the Hoedown reminded me of the loophole. If the big scenes are more annoying than fun, try to focus more on the smaller ones. It would be a long term solution but if you grow a small scene slowly and carefully, making sure to keep the character that inspired you to be interested in it in the first place, you might just be able to replace what has been lost.
[1] I received many emails on this topic. So many people wrote in long, intelligent responses, that I got intimidated. If I haven’t replied to your email, it’s not because I thought it was lame or stupid. Rather, it’s that I haven’t had the time to sit down and think through all of the issues that you guys have raised and come up with intelligent responses.
David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live music at the Capitol Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at
He is the stats section editor for
The Phish Companion and is on the board of directors for the Netspace Foundation. You can read more of his thoughts at

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