Phish Superball IX Review
I can’t believe it’s already been a week since Superball IX.
The Phish festival, held over Fourth of July weekend in Watkins Glen, NY., was the ninth festy hosted by the jam band, but the first that I’ve ever attended.
Initially, I was skeptical– could one band really keep me entertained for an entire weekend? No late-night music, multiple stages and headlining acts?
Not only was I entertained, but having no agenda and no obligation to see certain bands at different stages made the trip feel like a true vacation. It was hands down the most relaxed I’ve ever been at a festy.
Watkins Glen campground was an absolutely gorgeous place to hold the festivities. I would probably camp there even if I wasn’t listening to uber heady jams, brah. Our site overlooked sprawling green mountains, and the cool breeze of the finger lakes kept our temperatures down during the weekend’s 90-degree heat.
The camping areas were sectioned off as states (all states that Phish haven’t played in). Our large posse rolled in Thursday night, and because we wanted to camp somewhere with lots of space, we chose a spot that was unmarked on the festy map and decided we were in Canada. Except Canada sucks and our site was totally badass.
Inside the actual festival grounds was a lot of cool stuff, including a Beers of the World tent, a pinball lounge, a ferris wheel, interactive art displays, and a butt-load of everybody’s favorite burrito and gyro vendors. And that new jumbalaya vendor that was at Strange Creek (which I ate that weekend and was disgusted by). My only complaint is that the “general store” the festy boasted was more like a post-apocolyptic 7-11. I mean, no sunblock? Seriously?
Throughout the weekend there were events taking place, like the Running of the Bulls and a softball tournament that my friends participated in (go team Atsu Maka Shock!). Around the Watkins Glen raceway I watched the Runaway Jim 5k race, and even thought really really hard about participating in it.
Security was pretty lax, save for the woman who was perched on top of the gate at the entrance of the music area. Holy shit was she crazy! She kept yelling in a megaphone to “take your hats off!” and to “chug those beers before you walk through the entrance because you can’t bring them in!” to which everybody started yelling, “YEA! Chug those beers! Chug! Chug! Chug!”
Also, can we talk for a second about the nitrous situation? Or lack-thereof? One of the best things about Phish are their phans, who are generally really normal, chill people like me or you. So it’s no surprise that after the whole “Nitrous Mafia” thing a few years ago, that sweet N2O is becoming more and more scarce at Phish shows. Not saying I was looking for balloons, but if I was, I would say that I was not only appalled at the suuppper sketchy douchebags selling it for 10 dollars a pop, but at the behavior of the people buying it. Rushing, pushing, yelling… it was like when that woman got trampled at a Wal-Mart during Christmas time when everybody wanted to buy a Tickle-Me-Elmo. HIPPIE CRACK!
Phish played two sets on Friday, three sets on Saturday (well, four if you count the secret late-night “ambient” jam), and two sets on Sunday. I thought it was cool that depending on where you stood in the crowd you had a different music-listening experience.
When you’re up close, you have the privilege of actually getting to watch the band play their instruments. When you’re on the left or right side you have room to dance, and when you’re in the back center you get to stare wide-eyed at the epic light show going on in front of you. (One thought on being in the back, though… can we spring for some big screens next time, boys?)
Friday I was nice and close, about 10 rows from the front, which was perfect for the fun, upbeat, crowd-pleasing sets. For me, some of the highlights included the Life On Mars? cover, Roses Are Free (which I hadn’t ever heard them play and really really wanted to) and Weekapaug Groove. And, as cliche as it might be, there’s something poignant about standing in a crowd of 40,000+ people all asking in unison, “can’t this wait ’till I’m old, can’t I live while I’m young?” during a ripping rendition of Chalkdust Torture. I honestly don’t even remember Friday that well, I just know that I was really stoked to be there and that Trey makes shredding the guitar look way too easy.
Saturday was all about endurance. It was a hot hot day, and in the morning was the 5k race and later the softball tournament, so when Phish took the stage around 3:30 people were pretty rowdy. Good thing they opened with Tube and followed up with my fav, Kill Devil Falls! Hell yes.
The first set was a perfect mixture of chilled out songs that make you want to sit on your porch drinking lemonade and smoking a doobie (re: Lawn Boy), and then spike that lemonade with vodka and start square dancing with your neighbor (re: Boogie on Reggae Woman), because apparently you live on a farm.
After opening the second set with Runaway Jim, Trey brought the winner of the race of the same name onstage, which was probably the coolest friggin’ experience of that person’s life. Not long after, the crowd was treated to a Birds of a Feather, which felt particularly meaningful because 1. there were a shitload of seagulls “flocking outside” earlier that day, and 2. we kind of all felt like a bunch of birds dancing “a curly-queue dance” together on the field. Trippy, man.
But as cool as Phish is in the daytime, I much prefer watching them at night so I can fully geek out at their amazing light show. They were not effing around on Saturday night, and played a pretty rip-roaring set from start to finish. Some personal highlights were Golgi Apparatus, A Day in the Life (OMG a Beatles cover), and Loving Cup, which I’d never heard them encore with before.
The third day of a festival is always the hardest day to rally. You’re tired, sweaty, mentally exhausted, and your dirt-laden hair has almost completely dreaded from a weekend of not showering. And then Phish opens their second-to-last set with Soul Shakedown Party, followed by AC/DC Bag, and you’re like, “oh yeaaa, this is why I’m here.”
Throughout the weekend, the music always seemed to match the vibe of the crowd. I can’t tell if it’s Phish doing a good job of reading the audience’s energy, or if the energy of the audience is dependent upon the music Phish is playing. Either way, both sets on the final night were the perfect combination of chilled out, slower jams and long epic dance numbers, finally ending with a touching rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, a long list of Thank Yous from Trey, and an awesome fireworks show.
So that’s Superball in a very very small nutshell. I honestly had a really hard time writing this because my brain still hadn’t fully recovered yet from the festivities, and I just remember it all as a big blur of awesomeness. The weekend at Watkins Glen just felt like one giant 72-hour day, and not only was the music amazing, but the people, weather, and overall vibe was one that will not easily be topped.
It truly was a big, dirty, bouncing Super Ball. Now pass me the Gold Bond.
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