Chapter 4: Saratoga Performing Arts Center
Saratoga Springs, NY (7/2-7/3, Shows 8 & 9)
“If you would only stop to live one moment at a time…”
It’s time to head to the next stop, Saratoga Springs, NY, for shows 8 and 9 of 19 at Saratoga Performing Arts Center (from hereon referred to simply as SPAC). I have lawn tickets for both nights but keep hearing endless talk about how much the lawn at SPAC sucks. I am an “anywhere in the venue is better than outside” type of guy, but I decide to do some wheeling and dealing to get myself off the lawn and into the pavilion. TPhish is in the same boat — we both want access to the moat, and unlike Camden, you actually need pav tickets to get in there. I have success, and by the time I leave, I procure pavs for both of us both nights and an extra one for Mother of TPhish for night 2.
Tuesday’s drive upstate grows increasingly beautiful the farther I get from Lawn Guy Land. Greys turn to greens and mountainous structures morph into mountains the gods built. I reach Saratoga too early to check into my hotel, so I head downtown and into the library, my 4th of the tour, to catch up on work and writing. After a couple of hours, I mosey over to the main drag of downtown Saratoga Springs. Within minutes, I am in love with this town and ready to move here. I pop into a few shops and leave some flyers around for Island Girl’s Sunflower Alley festival, held annually in September right down the road.
At a crosswalk, I recognize a familiar face, one of those ones I seem to always spot at shows. We met on line (and sat next to each other) at both Ghosts of the Forest NYC shows and ran into each other again at a Trey Band show in April, We decide, after all these “random” rendezvous, that it is time to exchange names and numbers. Lo and behold, we discover that we share the same first name. This calls for a picture! Chance encounters like this are one of my favorite things that can happen in the Phish universe — there is so much potential for wonderful and new relationships, all manifesting out of shared love and passion for the best band in the world.
Around 3, I head to the hotel to check-in and await the arrival of my roommate for the next two nights, the proprietor of this here site. He arrives around 4:30 and we grab a late lunch/early dinner before taking off for SPAC Shakedown, where we reconvene with TPhish. After a few strolls around Shakedown, we make way inside on word of increased security measure and a slowed entry into the venue.
Mr. Proprietor and TPhish give me a mini-tour of the breathtaking landscape of SPAC, a pristine, luscious green venue located within a state park. After a pre-show bathroom break and water refill, TPhish and I move down into the pav to await the show’s commencement.
I won’t pretend I’ve read The Book enough to know every song within the first two notes, but I’m usually on it within about 5 seconds. As it turns out, tonight’s opener threw just about everyone in attendance for a loop. Though we don’t know until word spreads much later, we find ourselves in the midst of a debut cover — Cathy’s Clown by the Everly Brothers. Phish, wtf??
After a clown joke about Mike’s pants, Phish tears into the Tweezer Reprise we were left without in Camden. Up next is a vicious Carini and I know we are doomed (and by doomed, I mean in for a doozy). My first AC/DC Bag of the tour follows along with the always slappy Moma Dance and Theme From the Bottom. Set 1 ends in an outrageous sequence of Meat, Home, Bathtub Gin, and Walls of the Cave, during which TPhish reminds me, “Did I not call that shit?!”
At set break, I do the standard bathroom and water drill and add some popcorn to the mix, catching up with some friends along the way while we all comment on the complete and utter randomness of the Cathy’s Clown opener.
Back in the pav moat (which, by the way, has nothing on Camden’s) TPhish and I scarf down some (pretty decent) popcorn before the opening notes of Kasvot Vaxt’s Cool Amber and Mercury. Down with Disease follows, spaciously heady and lengthy as per usual, before giving way to a beautifully executed Scents and Subtle Sounds. Twist and an oddly placed and abbreviated Wilson are next, and somewhere in this time, I find myself surprisingly running solo. Most of the time, I manage fine on my own, but on this occasion, I become distracted and anxious in myself. I find some alleviation during Scent of a Mule, a somewhat rare song I’ve eagerly been wanting to catch live. I meander throughout the remainder of Set 2, rocking out to the hilariously abrasive Fuck Your Face and finding more funky solace in Halley’s Comet. Harry Hood closes Set 2, and once again I find myself a bit scattered.
I wander out of the pav and up to the lawn by encore and my spirits are re-lifted when I run into some Camden moat rage partners — Mike and Bonnie. We rock encore together, laughing as Trey fumbles (most of) the lyrics of Fee, serenades Ghosts of the Forest’s Life Beyond a Dream, and ends things in Jedi fashion with First Tube.
Mr. Proprietor and I rendezvous quickly and grab some food on the way home. This recent stretch is the most time we’ve spent together in a one on one setting. The anxiety from the night still coursing through my veins, I decide to open up to him about how I feel, else I suffer the consequence of stewing in discomfort and confusion. He listens and helps frame the situation as an opportunity to practice and learn a lot of skills that are taught in Recovery beyond the foundation of abstinence. Mere moments later, after being on the receiving end of guidance, an opportunity presents itself to step over to the giving side when a young woman comments to us on account of Mr. Proprietor’s One Show at a Time sticker.
What follows is a 30-minute conversation wherein this kind stranger confides in us about her possible struggle with substances and her ongoing grieving process over her mother’s brain cancer battle. She admits that like so many of us have and do, she is seeking temporary relief from the hardships of being human by diving into the Phish pond. There is no judgment from Mr. Proprietor or me — we give her empathy, compassion, encouragement, and our ears. One of the greatest things about Recovery is being open and aware of passing, random opportunities to simply be there, whether for myself, friends, family, or strangers. In a night riddled with selfishly based anxiety, I receive a reprieve and “It’s going to be ok” feeling because a stranger reached out without even knowing it. These are the kind of graceful moments I was completely shut off to when using and can still be in the moments when I choose isolation over connection. Thank God for other people!
It’s the day before the 4th of July and patriotic spirit abounds in Saratoga Springs on this sweltering holiday hump day. Mr. Proprietor and I take our time getting up and about for the day. A venture across the parking lot to Death Wish Coffee leaves us bummed to discover the location is but a business office rather than a point of sale. We hit Panera for coffee and eats instead. Back at the hotel, we take a refreshing dip in the hotel pool and hot tub.
Soon my anxiety sets in regarding tonight’s ticket situation. The pair of pav tickets I procured via Cash or Trade for TPhish and Mom of TPhish was to be overnighted and arrive at the hotel today. Time is of the essence. Like checking WebMD for symptoms, constant refreshing of delivery status only exacerbates my nerves. In the early afternoon, I check with the hotel concierge and am disheartened to discover that the post has come and gone without my package.
Fortunately, I have a pair of pavs already in hand — the seats aren’t together but are off the lawn. I pass these off to TPhish and plan to catch N2 from the lawn. But first I reach out to the seller of the unarrived pair. Graciously working with me from Michigan, he’s able to contact the ticketing agency and make a transfer to me at will call. The ticketing “crisis” is averted and everyone gets the seats they want!
About 5ish, Mr. Proprietor and I make our way toward SPAC Shakedown and I rendezvous with my Vegas partner, EJ, to hand off his ticket. After a few laps around Shakedown (and a near bust by the police while about to Nature’s Toilet), we head inside to meet up with some friends at the Phellowship table.
Eventually, EJ and I head under the shade of the pav just in time for a classic and fan-favorite opening Fluffhead. Similar to Buried Alive, mentioned in the Camden N3 recap, an opening or early Fluffhead signals to Phans that all are in for one helluva musical reckoning. This 100% holds true as an 18-minute Fluffhead gives way to the incomparable and masochistic Guyute, a song about the pleasure our narrator derives from torture at the hands of a dancing pig. Set 1 doesn’t let up as Martian Monster, Llama, Steam, Poor Heart, and Crazy Sometimes follow. It cools down a bit with a closing sequence of The Horse, Silent in the Morning, Sleep, and Drift While You’re Sleeping.
Back at the Phellowship table during set break, I step out of my shell a bit. I don’t always (rarely) make the set break meeting, but I decide that after last night’s feelings, it might be a good idea. Taking it a step further, I decide to reach out for the iconic yellow balloon (think “sharing pillow”) as it floats my way. I share on my gratitude for the members of the Phellowship and for the sheer fact that I am here, not just tonight in SPAC, but walking this green Earth, period. I talk some more with some Phells, exchanging names and hugs, before heading back to the pav for Set 2.
Opening with a 3.0 staple No Men in No Man’s Land, I find myself cramped for dance space in the pav moat. As the somber ballad Dirt echoes through SPAC, I realize the uphill path between the lawn and pav is not only unregulated but also completely empty. The unfettered dance space more than makes up for the up/down hill layout. By the time Dirt gives way to Plasma, I decide this is the perfect spot for me to do my thing.
Somewhere amid the seamless (and I mean seamless) segue between Plasma and WACTOOB, Troy Pistachio (a new friend and Phell I have met during this tour) stumbles onto this space, seeking the same kind of room I had been looking for. Now I have a rage partner. WACTOOB silkily slides into an unexpected Tweezer Reprise and the crowd flips its collective wig. A recent favorite of mine, The Wedge, is next, before one of my absolute favorite covers and songs to get down to, Sally. At this point, Troy Pistachio and I are completely unencumbered, fittingly so, as after Sneaking Sally Through the Alley, it is time to Run Like an Antelope out of freaking control. I set the gear shift for the high gear of my soul and traverse up and down the hill for the chaotic 12-minute jam. The oft-maligned but solidly surprising More follows and gives way to a classic Set 2 closer, Slave to the Traffic Light. I catch what little breath I have left before encore brings another favorite cover, Lou Reed’s Rock ‘n Roll.
The finals notes crash as the lights set on the completion of my first SPAC run. The confusion and mixed emotions of N1 gave way to opportunities and learning and led to a more open-minded and open-hearted approach for N2, and because of this, SPAC goes down as the most memorable stop yet. Tomorrow is the 4th and it is off to Beantown to celebrate America’s birthday before The Phish takes over Phenway on the 5th.