If the Greek was a venue where everything seemed to be just a little harder than it should have been, Telluride Town Park was the opposite. After parking in Mountain Village, we first got to ride a series of gondolas up and down the hill. It’s a dramatic 2000 foot drop into the town from the last station. Before we even managed to exchange our tickets into wristbands – itself a surprisingly quick action with absolutely no line whatsoever – the trip felt surreal.
One block away from the entrance to the venue is a mountain stream. We sat there for a while, dipping our feet in, listening to the pre-show music over the PA and just relaxed. There might be a better way to putting yourself into the perfect show mood, but I don’t know what it is.
Finally we wandered in, about an hour before show time to discover plenty of room. The 9000 ticket limit was the capacity that the town could absorb, not the venue. Behind the soundboard there was little visibility of the band, but plenty of views of the mountains – no matter which direction you looked, you saw one – and enough space that people formed a hackey sack circle in the middle of the first set. All Phish had to do was not have a repeat of Coventry and it would be epic. We got far more than that.
No, we weren’t quite going to get a repeat of the madness of leg 1, but the first set had quite a few treats, including my first “Light Up or Leave Me Alone” since Big Cypress. Still it was the second set that would be remembered.
It all started, oddly enough, with “Prince Caspian.” The jam section went almost immediately into weird places, with Trey playing the vocal section on his guitar. The jam quieted and something amazing happened. In Telluride, Colorado on the 15th anniversary of Jerry’s death, they somehow found themselves in a jam akin to the “Mind Left Body” theme that the Dead played. Upon listening to it, it seems to be an accidental sort of thing, not an intentional homage, but for a minute or two it felt like Jerry was there. There are some moments that you just have to be present for.
While that wasn’t the absolutely best played song of the night – that award would go to the incredibly powerful “Piper,” it was going to be the moment that everyone who noticed would never forget, a perfect, subtle nod. However, the Deadheads in the audience were about to get a second treat, as Phish came out for the encore and played “Quinn the Eskimo” for the first time since 1999. One of the few shared covers with the Dead (“Johnny B. Goode” being the other obvious one.), choosing that song on that night was a wonderful hat tip. It was the perfect end to an incredible concert, a moment that I will never forget as long as I live.
They probably appreciated the encore selection.
A quick reversal of the gondola -> drive up the hill – this time with the extra obstacle of deer to avoid – brought us back to the campground. The night sky there was only slightly less impressive than that along I-70. We sat up and watched as long as we could, but ultimately the bitter cold got the best of us. You have to prepare for anything up there as the next morning showed.
The sun came up on a beautiful morning, but it wasn’t going to last for long. A few ominous clouds started rolling in. They were rapidly joined by friends, and they brought in some friends of their own. August is called monsoon season for a reason. Our tent was blown around in the hour long downpour, but the waterproofing acted like a champ. The storm meant that we wouldn’t get a hike in, but if you’re going to be outdoors in Colorado, your plans have to be flexible.
After spending the day exploring the town, making sure to cross Colorado Avenue many times carrying various objects, it was again time to walk to the show. For the second straight day we were about to be given the treat of a perfect moment.
According to the liner notes of the original tape of Junta, the “Divided Sky” chant is part of an ancient ritual. They eat a root from a base of a mountain and then, “venture into a vast field at sundown,” as a way of, “paying homage to the gods of the night.” While few people ever read that, there still was always something extra powerful about sunset “Divided Sky“s as anyone who ever saw one of the Gorge versions knows. If there was ever a place that just felt like it was in Gamehendge, it was Telluride Town Park. While it might not translate on tape, this was yet another unforgettable moment.
There were still other highlights of the show – such as the “Carini” with Pink Floyd quotes and the apropos “Shine a Light” encore – it was those three moments that will come to mind when I think of Telluride. I know there were people who were somehow disappointed in the shows, but it was a perfect combination of scenery and music. The energy from the mountains made every song special. This is a show that I can never feel quite rational about, and I’m more than fine with that.
How good was the Telluride experience? On the long drive back home, across Utah, through Idaho, swinging around Oregon, and back through the Washington desert, one thought came to mind. If I were inclined to do so, Telluride would make a perfect final show. There was a serenity that never will be matched. Venturing back into the hell of ticket fights in order to fly into Atlantic City seems a little crass after seeing shows in Gamehendge. Come October, it might feel differently, but the spirit of Telluride will be hard to ever match.
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 Capital Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at www.ihoz.com/PhishStats.html and he’s on the board of directors for The Mockingbird Foundation. He occasionally posts at the Phish.net blog and has a daily update on the Phish Stats Facebook page.