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Published: 2004/08/29
by David Steinberg

COVENTRY CoverageThe End of The End

It's hard to believe that it ended like this. Picturing an end to a
fifteen year obsession is difficult enough. If I had to picture it
all being over though, I expected it to go calmer somehow.

The insanity started, of course, with the Hampton announcement. I
didn’t want to rearrange my plans and I really didn’t want to pay $400
to change my plane ticket over, but there really wasn’t that much of a
choice. There are two shows that I regret missing more than all
others combined. One is Phish playing on the anniversary of Jerry’s
death in Virginia Beach. The other was the Grateful Dead playing a
stealth show in Hampton, one that I blew off because I had tickets to
the next five shows. The Hampton addition was the perfect storm of
missed opportunities. If I blew it off, clearly it would be the most
amazing show ever and I’d never forgive myself.

So plans were changed. Flights were shuffled – which had the amusing
side effect of setting off terrorist flags. I completely rearranged
my life because if I didn’t, it would have been amazing. Of course
by choosing to go, I pretty much made sure that the show wouldn’t be
all that spectacular. I apologize to everyone else, but I made the
sacrifice twice already.

Providence to Hampton to Boston to Camden to Coventry. Just looking
at the itinerary was enough to make me wonder about the sanity of the
tour. Lord knows that I would get my fill of I-95.

The plan – which had changed quite a few times on the way – was to
stay at the Motel 6 in Fredericksburg, VA before the show. It also
was a likely place to stay after the show, depending on how much we
liked it. Even if my room didn’t come with some insect pets, even
if we were willing to ignore the slum that the motel was in, there was
no way that we were going to stay there post show. Why? Because
the management decided to engage in sketchy – if not illegal – activity.

At 10 AM (checkout was noon) I get a knock on my door. "Management!"
I didn’t feel like dealing with the it, so I ignored it. The manager
then proceeded to use her pass key to open all of the locks on the
door – even the deadbolt was bypassed that – to allegedly inquire as
to if I were checking out or not. She tried to take on southern
belle mannerisms, but it was not taking. With no warrant or any
security reason, she went to every single room in the motel to harass
people hours before checkout. I’m far from convinced that she can
just enter my room like that without any security rationale. At
least I can write a chain off of my places to stay on future trips.

The advantage of this annoyance is that we hit the road early.
Apparently there was a massive accident in Richmond that we would have
hit otherwise. Instead of being stuck in traffic, we arrived at the
coliseum an hour before the lots opened. It was weird being in
Hampton and not seeing masses of people in the hotel lots. The
lateness of the announcement coupled with the shortness of the stay
kept everyone off of the strip. The speculation of a three quarters
filled venue turned out to be false though; there were even people in
the upper deck behind stage.

Any fears that the first set was just going to be a warmup were
destroyed with the opening Chalkdust. This was a long, mindbending,
brain destroying version which was followed by an equally intense
Bathtub Gin. Runaway was just a quick breather – which sounds odd
considering it was ten minutes long – before morphing into an intense
Walls of the Cave. Everyone assumed that that was going to be the
set closer, but we got one more treat with Loving Cup.

This was one of those sets. All of my stress about getting to this
show, all of the financial hardships, all of the annoyance about the
Motel 6 and stress about the post-show drive faded away. People were
running around and screaming and going on and on about it. Just
think – this was the first set of the first show of the run. Imagine
how much better the rest of the tour will be.

I don’t think anyone at that moment would have expected that this
would be the last great set of Phish’s career, but (at least
from the perspective of this reviewer) that’s indeed what it was.

There were rumors going around the venue focusing on Jerry’s death.
Phil and Bobby were there. The soundcheck contained both Bird Song
and Dark Star. Right before lights went out, the second rumor was
debunked at the Waterwheel table, but still the anticipation was high.
The band came out and tuned for a while. Some people heard Dark
Star. Many many people heard Fluffhead. People rushed to their
seats to make sure that they didn’t miss the first notes of what was
going to be an incredible opener for sure. Finally the band got on
the same page. Here it comes. The last indoor set opener will
be…

...All of These Dreams!?!?

Unlike many, I actually like this song. I think it works well as a
mid set change of pace, a chance for us to catch our breaths between
massive jams. As an opener though it doesn’t work very well. Ok
though, that just was a warm up. The next song will be great and
exciting and… oh ok Limb by Limb. That’s a bit of a placeholder
song but the next song will get everything started. Here we go.
Lifeboy – another ballad that works best after a massive jam.

The excitement for this show was so incredibly high. Between the
energy of the venue, the importance of the date, and the way that this
show was announced at the last second, the crowd was more amped than
I’ve ever seen. During the first 20 minutes of the second set you
could literally see the energy leave the venue as people got more and
more frustrated. It’s too bad about this show. If the sets were
reversed, people would have been raving about it for quite some time,
but instead it gets known as a letdown.

With Fredricksburg a destroyed plan and fears about traffic, we
decided to do the logical thing after the show. It’s only a ten hour
drive to Providence. There were three of us in the car. No problem.
I’d like to claim that I was an incredible help on this trip, but
I slept pretty much the whole way up. I did wake up long enough to
see the beauty of the northern Garden State Parkway. Lucky me!

The first night of Great Woods is kind of special. It was the last
show that just kind of was. Hampton had the roller coaster. Second
night GW had the wackiness. Everyone else gets sucked into the
black hole that was Coventry. This night though just was what it
was. Phish played two sets of solid music. People who attended got
to see Trey sing the 4 Seasons’ hit December 1963 (Oh, What a Night).
Dog Faced Boy was given a new surprising emotional depth when it could
be tied into the end of Phish. Ultimately though, this was the other
kind of night that we will miss.

Yes everyone will lament the lack of days when the band was on and
all you could do is look at the person next to you in complete awe
over what went down. However, there also are the evenings when
you’re with your friends and the band is playing decent versions of
songs that you love and everything just feels right. Maybe that’s
the nostalgia band feel that Trey is so worried about, but there are
good things about it.

If the first night of Great Woods was the last Phish show that was
just a Phish show, the second night was the last silly show. Part of
the joy of seeing Phish was that at any show something could happen
that had never happened before. On this night Trey started playing
the Smokey Robinson tune Tears of a Clown. He tried to sing it but
it quickly became apparent that he didn’t know the words. After
trying to pass it off to a bandmate to sing to no avail, a fan got to
live out the dream.

We’ve all thought about it. What if one day we got invited on stage?
What would we do? Would we choke? Would we do so well that we get
added to the band? I’ll never know what I will do – much to the
relief of the fan base – but this girl knows. It actually was
impressive; after she got over her obvious jitters, she sang quite
well. She even got to give a kiss to Trey on the way out. I
suspect that a large percentage of the female fans bought Motown
songbooks just in case there was to be a repetition in Camden.

In a tour defined by finality, Great Woods marked the end of a
gimmick. The final vacuum song was played this night. It seems
like the band knew that this was it. The Fishman annoying Hold Your
Head Up theme went on for a lot longer than usual. Afterwards Trey
quizzed the band on whether they thought the gimmick was a good one.
Mike got off the line of the tour with, "On a scale of 2 to 3, I
give it a 3." Trey might talk more, but Mike always gets the best
lines.

Great Woods could still have some distance about the meaning of the
tour, but there was none of that for Camden. The cloud of Coventry – both literal and figurative – was starting to lie over the tour.
Camden will go down in Phish history for being the last shed show, for
an amusing Maze->Catapult->Maze and the final versions of such
great songs as Pebbles and Marbles, Sneaking Sally, and Rock and Roll.
The main topic of conversation at the show though was Coventry. I
had checked my email on my cell phone and saw the announcement on
Phish Update to not try to drive up until Saturday. With the report
of another hurricane potentially hitting it on Sunday, there was real
talk of the event being cancelled. We might be at the final show
ever and not even know it.

With no additional news the only thing to do was to assume that the
show would be on. We crashed for a few hours in northern CT and
headed up to Vermont. There were three ways of going to the event.
The lemming path involved getting in line on I-91 north. The really
clever people took the Burlington route but that was risky; there were
reports of those roads being closed on occasion. We decided to be
medium clever and go round the back circle, round the back realized
and circle around the traffic jam. We’d get back on at exit 27, go
back south, and wait in a presumably shorter jam in that direction.

While we first were going to get off on a side road and drive around
the traffic, they were keeping the left lane open for through
travellers. We decided to just plow through the jam on the left and
go past the exit. The only problem with that plan is that the
people waiting in the right lane (for over 20 miles! That was our
first sign that something BAD was happening.) thought that we were
trying to cut in line.

People had been in traffic for a long time. They were there for so
long that they had time to make up signs to hold up at the people who
were line scamming. "Left laners have bad karma." "Enjoy Canada,
eh?" Someone even threw Kool Aid bean bags at us. I think that was
supposed to annoy us, but we saw them as being showered with gifts.

It looked like our plan was going to work. The traffic jam we ended
up in was only 2 miles away from the exit. It was 5 PM on Friday.
Traffic would be its normal bad self, but surely we’d be in by 9-10
AM. I started the stopwatch and Elayne reset the trip odometer.
Here we go.

Or here we didn’t go. By sunrise, we had only travelled .2 miles.
I was getting worried as this was worse than Cypress. It though was
somewhat similar. We were stopped forever and then it started to
move when people figured out where to park us and we got in in plenty
of time. The rumor mill of the line – and here is a good time to
point out that The Bunny was completely useless the entire time we
were stuck. Rather than handing out information, they just told us
what they thought would keep us calm. A lot of the anger that
happened came from the powers that be deciding to not confront us with
facts that might upset us. It’s much more fun to stun people after
all – was that the southbound traffic was going to be blocked off
until dawn to help out the northbound people, but then it would be
reopened.

There was a real chance that that information was correct. Between 5
and 8, we were zipping along. About 20 hours after we hit the jam,
we had travelled an entire .5 mile. The sign giving the one mile
warning for the exit was just ahead. Morale was starting to pick up.

Then Mike made the announcement.

No one else was going to be allowed into the parking area. At first
I thought that the show was going to be cancelled, but it was worse.
The final show was going to be happening but I wasn’t going to be able
to see it. After all of the work I had put in over the years to see
the band, all of the sacrifices I had made to get tickets and to
travel to the next show, after changing all of my plans just a week
earlier to make it to Hampton, all of that was to mean nothing. One
of the major influences of my life was going away, and I wouldn’t even
be allowed to attend the farewell party.

At this point I more or less lost it. I made it through the next
hour due to two things. Melissa dropped everything to comfort me and
George and Elayne decided that they were not going to take no for an
answer. They walked up to the exit and talked to the police.
Apparently there was no problem with people walking in, despite what
the Bunny might have said. We went back to the exit north of
Coventry and started driving south. Right before the roadblock at
Airport Road, we found a person letting people park for $50. We
organized our camping gear, and started walking the five miles.

At this point it was exciting. We had overcome incredible odds
against us to make it to the show. Sure we were exhausted but there
was an rush from the roller coaster. We might have looked like
refugees walking up Airport Road, but we were going to have a story to
tell. We were at a Phish festival! There’s nothing better in the
entire world after all; surely all of our trials to get to the event
would be rewarded.

Once we got a chance to get settled down, we wandered into the venue.
It would make a much better story here if I could make Coventry out
into some incredible promised land. Unfortunately, I can’t. Maybe
the rain wiped out all of the cool plans. Maybe that’s why there were
so few portapotties. Perhaps the artwork couldn’t be trucked in.
For whatever reason, this was a festival done on the cheap. After
six of these, we now have certain expectations for a Phish festival.
i don’t think anyone expected Coventry to top the other events due to
the weather and the emotional considerations. To see it fall that
short though was stunning. If there were to be another festival in
2005, I’d have to think for quite some time before deciding to go.

The art is secondary at a festival. It was frustrating to not really
have anything to play with, but two good shows would have more than
made up for it. Unfortunately that also was not to be. While there
were some very nice jams mixed into things for whatever reason, Trey
seemed incapable of playing the most simple of songs. I’m not going
to get involved in the speculation as to why that might have happened.
It just would have been nicer if the final Chalk Dust was sung with
the right words and the final song ever didn’t have to be restarted.
It sucks to say this about the end of something that has been so
important to me, but on a scale of two to three, Coventry was most
definitely a two.

However much I might be upset over how things ended, the fact is that
things are over. We have to enter another phase of our lives now.
Our lives revolved around pursuing the amazing emotional, mystical
peaks, and now we have to find another focus. Our lives will be
simpler now, but less interesting. They’ll be better, but with much
fewer stories. Our vacations will be in places that we find
interesting, and odds are low that we’d have to walk miles with all of
our stuff on our backs unless we had planned to do so in advance.
Many of us have been pushing ourselves pretty hard since Phish have
returned; a few years of getting things back in order might not be the
worse thing. Maybe by then we’ll find something else that will
bring us that bliss. One can only hope.

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 www.ihoz.com/PhishStats.html
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
http://www.livejournal.com/users/thezzyzx.

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