COVENTRY Coverage:Why I’m Coventry Bound
Both days of the Coventry Courier newspaper featured essays that we solicited via our "Why I’m Coventry Bound" contest. We ultimately received more than 100 entries. Some of them we really enjoyed but we were unable to run due to space limitations. So here we offer four- two of which ran in the daily papers and two of which did not. Find yourself a copy of the Courier to read more…
Gina Elliott Proulx
I was standing in the entryway of my house, struggling with grocery bags, a dog and 3 cats, as my husband read Trey's announcement over the telephone. Coventry was to be the last, presumably ever, Phish show.
I nearly dropped the milk.
I was so stunned I didn't know what to say. Hadn't the hiatus just ended? What about the brilliant performances I'd just seen four days in a row in Miami? My husband hung up to get back to work — and I stood in the kitchen for nearly ten minutes before thinking to move again. Like a robot, I walked to my laptop to read the announcement for myself. The groceries sat on the counter in the kitchen, ice cream melting and lettuce wilting.
Alpine Valley was quickly added to our already planned trips to the Mansfield shows and Coventry. I was recently able to add a trip to the good spaceship Hampton too. To cover the costs, I canceled a 3rd wedding anniversary trip to swim with dolphins, and a July 4rth trip to Key West. THEN I told my husband. I already knew he'd agree….. And he did.
Suffice it to say, I am going to miss Phish. I feel like Monica and Chandler just told everyone they were divorcing. Or maybe that someone unexpectedly DEMANDED that I (finally,) grow up. For the record I KNOW I sound pathetic. But I don't care…
I'm going to miss it ALL.
Aside from the obvious – I think I'm going to miss some very specific things the most. And it's really an attempt to enjoy those things once more that has me Coventry-bound.
Things like — stepping onto a plane and immediately seeing others headed for the same musical destination trading a secret smile of mutual recognition as I walk past them. Or driving through the night and counting the like-minded bumper-stickered cars of others making the same musical trek to the next show.
And of course, I'll miss the taper section at a Phish show.
I bitched about it at the time. But know now that I'll miss sitting cross-legged at the taper tickets entry door at venues all over the country, waiting hours before the show in order to get a good spot to set the mic stand. Or — silently guarding mic stands with someone I'd never met, waiting till set break to make first introductions. Making a friend before ever actually speaking to them is a very beautiful experience.
I'm gonna miss being surprised by a performance. Being surprised is a pretty rare thing for me anymore. Remember that show in Merriweather Post when Phish covered The Beastie's "Sabotage"? Now THAT'S what I call a surprise.
But I'm really going to miss that feeling of connection. For me those moments usually happened when I was really grooving and then stopped to look around the venue at the faces of the people also there. I didn't know them they didn't know me. But we were part of the same musical tribe. I often tell people that I'm most comfortable and relaxed amidst thousands of people at a Phish show. That's why.
In the weeks following the announcement I watched the Charlie Rose interview with Trey. I'm almost Trey's age so I appreciated some of the things he said about wanting to live a full and perpetually creative life. I still felt a bit like an outside force was demanding that I "cut my hair", so to speak. But after the shock wore off I did understand.
Like The Band, Seinfeld, or M*A*S*H, a classy goodbye is always better than one held too late. I see that now. Watch The Last Waltz or rent the final episodes of those shows and you'll know what I mean. They knew when to take their last bow. And for all eternity, their records remain unblemished by mediocrity. I want that legacy for Phish.
So here I am, preparing for my last summer tour. Luggage piled to the roof of the car, stereo blaring. I intend to send the boys off with a bang. I am Coventry-bound to feel those feelings one more time. I am Coventry-bound to say thank you to the band, and to everyone that has made those feelings possible.
Andrew C Weaver
It was Fall 1991. I was a sophomore in college. I looked like the polar opposite of the kid who entered as a freshman a year before. That year could fill a book, and the cast of characters that passed through my life is worthy of the great American novel. But for the purpose of this essay, the defining moment in that year was the discovery of Blues Traveler's first album, played by the guys below my dorm room when they paused between showings of Pink Floyd's The Wall, whose dive bombing planes woke me at the same time every night. That album was my entry into the scene we now call "jambands." Until then, I had a basic freshman classic rock vocabulary, with a pretty decent MTV knowledge of current pop (this was when MTV played videos.) But at that point, the Grateful Dead belonged to another generation, and the world of real, live music was yet ahead of me. We heard that Blues Traveler was coming to a college near us, and we were the first ones in line. Inside, we met the real live Gina, who gave us matchbooks advertising NYE in NYC, a proposition that went from impossible to must-go in about two hours. That was Nov 17, 1991.
That was the beginning of the jamband journey. After spring break, I was dragged into a dorm room by my friend Matt who said "just sit there and listen to this." It was the first concert bootleg we ever heard, and we were mesmerized by the songs we didn't know from the album, and the variations on songs we thought we knew. Soon came the discovery of Relix magazine and the classifieds section. By 1993 we were immersed in the live music scene. I started seeing the same people at shows, and as soon as my school got it, I had this thing called email, and was swapping stories, tour schedules, and tapes with people all over the place. The lingo of live show taping and trading was my new college major. Spring and fall tours took up many a weekend, driving 4-5 hours more than a few times from the middle of Pennsylvania. We found new excitement as new bands entered the scene all the time, and as bands who were always there became known by some of us outside the early circles. Phish emerged as the king of all jambands, and we were there. Before the world wide web really burst out, before CDR trading was cost-effective, before Sugarmegs, before e-tree, when we bought new tape decks every year to replace burnouts, and listed shows by analog generation, we were there. Before Bonnaroo, there was HORDE, and we were there.
Times don't change, they evolve. College turns to grad school, girlfriends turn into wives, and nights spent seeking out local live music now are spent singing the Elmo’s World theme song to giggling baby girls. Friends have lost contact, gotten married, gotten divorced, moved to China, some have even died. And I'm only 32. But in that amazing 13 years since the intensity that is being 19, one thing has been constant: live music, organic music. Beyond all labels, what we in this tribe seek is real, handmade, from the soul, warts-and-all, music. Organic, like produce that may not be perfect in shape, or shiny and glossy, but tastes so much sweeter.
Coventry is the close of a 13 year chapter in my life that has involved not only Phish, but so many other bands. And with all the people who have come in and out of this part of my life, the one constant has been my friend Matt. Our lives have taken divergent paths, but the one factor we could use as an excuse to touch base was always the music. He was there when we got those matchbooks, he was the first one I called whenever I heard news of a bass player from the scene who died, or a whole band who took a "hiatus", and he and I will say farewell to this chapter in our young lives together at the farewell party to beat them all. What makes this event so perfect for us at this time in our lives, is that it's a deliberate goodbye, on good terms, with a desire to leave a legacy of positive energy. We're here to celebrate what Phish wants to celebrate: the appropriate and intentional ending of an amazing journey.
And we'll return home to wives who understand our love of the community that will never die. We'll return to baby daughters who will alter our tour schedules until they're old enough to take along. We'll teach them that no matter their tastes in music, let it be positive, life-giving, inspiring, and above all, ORGANIC. And when our girls tour some day with their post-fusion-neo-jam-folk-progressive-funk ensemble, we won't be backstage as VIP's, we'll be out in the lot, meeting the people who come for love of the groove. So in about 25 years, at the next show of this magnitude, look for the tall skinny Jewish guy and the fat tattooed preacher. We'll be hard to miss. Just look for the smiles.
Ajay Singh Chaudhary
London, UK 12:39pm –
Tomorrow I fly home to New York. I'm on word 8743 of a 15,000 word master's dissertation that is due in a few weeks. I'm moving nearly 200 pounds of luggage first from my girlfriend's apartment here in London to Heathrow airport and then to my mother's house in Westchester, NY and finally to my new apartment on West 120th Street in Manhattan. This is no small feat as, beyond weight and baggage limitations, and the inevitable trip to the interrogation room ("ummm sir, we've chosen you at random for a security check. Yes, please stand in that line behind 12 other randomly chosen people who look exactly like you"), my girlfriend's apartment is currently occupied by her very conservative and very paranoid mother who is unaware that I was living there until a week ago, and whom I've never met.
That's the next two days, and then only a handful more to finish my dissertation, buy furniture, and get to registration for my Ph.D. in New York by mid August. So, what would a reasonable man do in my situation? Of course he would take 4 days off to go to Vermont. To see a band. A band that he has already seen 40+ times.
I probably first heard of Phish when I was 11 or 12 years old. My eldest brother was a jazz, Zappa and contemporary compositional music fan and had brought a copy of Junta into the house. One day while in his room for a rousing game of TankWars (you remember, little pixilated blobs shooting smaller pixilated blobs at other pixilated blobs) he was playing the tape. The song that I heard was "Dinner and a Movie." I listened. I was not impressed. This, I thought to my 11 or 12 year old self, is pretty damn stupid.
My next real encounter with Phish was in high school. Phish shirts, tapes and especially bumper stickers were ubiquitous at my school. The tie-dyed Phishheads wearing wool socks in their Berks wandering the halls were not the best ad campaign for the band. However, there was one problem, delivering a crippling blow to my plans for easy derision. The music, contrary to the opinions I had formed in my brother's room so many years before, was absolutely brilliant.
Now, at the time, I was a punk. At least I thought I was. My middle brother was a punk, and he was pretty damn cool, so I thought, I can do this, this'll be great. The only problem was that I was a lousy punk. I always had trouble keeping my hair short, and as I walked around with my absurdly gigantic wallet chain, low slung pants, skater shoes and NOFX patches, I was listening to tapes: one side Operation Ivy, the other Rift. I've studied music all my life and so, hanging around music people, some of my friends had slipped Phish tapes into my possession, and try as I might to maintain my ever withering punk cred, I knew this music was something I had been looking for since I ever started looking for music. I started buying the albums and A Live One, and my appetite was more than whetted.
The thing about this music was that while being everything in broad stylistic terms it was all of a voice. A very amusing, intelligent and moving voice. I sat with these albums and live tapes from friends and was just blown away. Not to be too dramatic, but as F. Murray Abraham says in Amadeus, ‘This, was a music I had never heard before.’ The part of me raised on classical music was entranced by the neo-baroque fugal elements in songs like Reba, the part of that had listened to Zappa laughed at the absurdity in both form and lyrics of the same song. My inner jazz nerd rejoiced in the chord subsitutions and ‘out’ playing in songs like "Stash." And above all, I knew that I had never enjoyed any music, in a life full of music, as much as when I first heard, blasting out of my parents’ stereo, the Hood jam off A Live One. There it was, this uncontrollable moment of joy and every second seemed better than the last; each note written exactly of the moment but as if it had been carefully scored in a great compositional labor of love. When I first heard Trey sing out of those speakers, ‘you can feel good’, I’d never known a lyrical moment more true. When I would cool down by listening to the second half of Billy Breathes, an album which even the indie purists at Pitchfork listed as one of the top 100 of the 90s, I would stand amazed. Inside of all this humor, all this composition and complexity, all of this sheer primal energy that Phish can exude, there are also moments of simple beauty. Enough beauty that fans like me come back again and again.
These days I don't listen to a lot of music associated with Phish or the jamband scene. I play trumpet and listen to a lot of edgier jazz and 'indie-pop' (whatever that means), as well as traditional jazz and even country albums. Heavy metal and hardcore make it into my line-up for more often than the latest jam offering. But I love music, and I can't get enough of it and Phish has always been a constant. I've been living in the UK for graduate school, and here people have either never heard of Phish or would never listen to all that 'jazz wankery.' When I'm hanging out here or back home in New York I take a perverse pleasure in slipping Phish songs into the middle of playlists while amongst friends who profess to 'hate that Phish garbage.' 'What is this they ask,' as I slip the Siket Disc in the middle of post-rock playlist, ' Tortoise outtakes? It's great' They remark. 'Oh that, that's Phish. You hate them.' I've even snuck Phish on at parties here with international students dancing away to Eurotrash house music. It's fun to watch Germans dance to the Suzie jam from Darien Lake.
So why do we keep coming back for more? Why, when I should really be doing a million other things will I pack up my life to drive to Vermont to see these four middle aged men just one more time. Walter Benjamin once wrote that each moment was 'pregnant' with possibility, each moment can bring about a sudden shift and sudden explosion. It was an idea he had borrowed from Jewish philosophy; you never know when the Messiah is coming. Benjamin said that to perceive these moments one had to take in the 'constellation' of one's position in time and space. Each little bit, scraps of paper, the table you're sitting at, the moment of history you're in, the clothes the girl you're staring at is wearing. We, the crazy people who come again and again to see Phish, are willing to drive all that way, spend all that money, jump through burning hoops over fields of razor blades for tickets to hear sometimes out of tune singing or a botched lick here and there for the possibility of one of those moments, where the 'constellation' of music in that time and space explodes and a whole new experience appears with us, if only for that one 'pregnant' moment.
These moments, along with all those other little bits of the constellation, the humor, the intelligence, the history, are bringing me back to see Phish one last time. But I won't be coming up alone. With me will be a young French friend of mine who plays drums in my band here in the UK. My last show will be her first, and there's something great about that. Phish has given me something that will last, something that I can pass on and something that others, who just heard their first Phish song two months ago, can enjoy even after Phish has long gone.
So now it's 2:26pm. In an hour I'll be trying to fool my girlfriend's mother into believing that I'm John from Cali. In a day I'll be on a plane home. By Friday I'll be in Vermont for one more adventure with some old dear friends.
I call my mother. I go through the checklist. Dissertation not finished. Bags not packed. Furniture not purchased. I've only got about 10 days to do it all. "But, Mom, just so you know I'm going to spending 4 days in Vermont starting Friday."
Years of suburban dwelling have taken the edge of my mother's Bronx accent, but the somewhat weary voice on the other end of the line replies knowingly, "Uh huh. I figured as much."
You're in your father's Lincoln, or a minibus, or some other piece of shit that's on its last leg. Your goal is an ambitious one: Thousands of miles. You started in California. You spent the morning there and in Nevada where you squinted as the desert sun pounded through your windshield. It was the afternoon when I-40 finally spit you out of Nevada into red and dusty Utah, and you felt good but restless. The excitement in your stomach is like electricity and you think you might explode if you don't stick your head out the window and let out a war cry of some sort: A howl, or a yehaa, or a yahoo or maybe just a good old-fashioned scream. So you do and you feel better.
You're in Nebraska now. You've spent half the day staring out a window at a landscape of mainly flatness and you're starting to lose it because the view is the same as it was 21 minutes ago and the endlessly repeating scenery seems to protract each mile and push Vermont a little closer to the Atlantic. So you look at the sky. It's spotted with clouds, but it's still blue and lovely as the skies of road trips always should be. Then you look around at the RVs and civics and pickups that have been keeping you company on the highway and you start staring at a girl in a Pathfinder. She's a passenger like you are. You imagine that she and her shipmates are on their way to Epcot, or Yellowstone, or somewhere. You don't know for sure where they're going, but you know for sure where they're not going, because you can just tell. And then you notice the passenger glancing at the sky so your head turns upward once again. And though you and the passenger are staring at the same American sky the sky you see is slightly different from the one she sees. Because you're on your way to Vermont and you know that just beyond those patches of clouds is a secret sky. It's a sky of endless possibility and it belongs to just you and the others who couldn't resist the pull of Coventry.
And maybe you're in search of a spiritually radical experience so your going to Coventry because that's as good a place as any to search for the spiritually radical. Or perhaps your expectations are less quixotic and all you seek is pleasure. The sweet and simple joy that only good live music can provide, or the profound pleasure that comes from being reunited with a familiar face, or any of the other pleasure options that will surely be available in abundance at Coventry, but are too numerous to mention here. Or you're going to Coventry because if you miss the bust out that you know in your bones is coming you will be unable to stop yourself from locating the nearest breakable object and smashing it to smithereens when you find out they played Harpua or Gamehendge and you want to avoid that awkward moment that surely will follow when your date, or mother, or roommate asks you why you just smashed the remote control into tiny little pieces. Or you're going because following Phish is just what you do and you have no other place to be, or because Coventry is simply the next stop before somewhere else. Or you're going because you simply have to be there. You simply have to be there in person to say good-bye. And when it has just ended and the Vermont woods have just swallowed the last notes Phish will ever play you won't really know what to do with yourself. You'll be confused and overwhelmed and you'll sit down and take a deep breath of air that I imagine stinks of maple syrup and though you'll be sad you'll know that where you are is the only place you want to be.
As for me I'm not going to make Vermont this time because I can't quit another job, or blow off another exam, or break up with another girlfriend to follow a band across the country, although God knows I want to. But God has proven merciful and has made a terribly difficult decision a little easier. So on August 15th I'll be in Irvine an hour away from my home in Los Angeles and I'll be experiencing Coventry in a movie theater. I'll have a package of Sour Patch kids in my lap and 32oz. diet soda in the cup holder of my stadium style seat and it won't be the same. So every now and then I'll close my eyes, take a deep breath and pretend the air I'm breathing smells like maple syrup.