Boogieing on to Birmingham

I can’t think of a better way to kick off the first weekend of the fall semester than seeing live Phish.

That Friday afternoon, after classes, I rode up to Pelham (just outside Birmingham, a short distance up the road from Tuscaloosa) with a friend to see a show I’d been anticipating for months – my third of the summer tour. We met up with a big group and headed to Oak Mountain Amphitheatre. It was Phish’s first appearance at the venue since 1999, which was pretty exciting for Alabamians like me. We arrived a good while before the gates opened, so we had several hours of the lot experience – always a good time – complete with booze, food trucks and hordes of phans. For those of you who have never experienced it, it’s essentially a heady version of a football tailgate. The excitement in the air was almost tangible.

I was very pleased with both the first and second sets. Phish did a fantastic job of keeping the crowd engaged throughout the show. They came on strong with a high energy “Possum,” a fairly typical opener for the band, followed by their own interpretation of “Cities,” a Talking Heads original. My memory of the first set is pretty hazy, but I know they played some good tunes, including “Back on the Train,” “Down with Disease,” “Julius” and “Gumbo” (and this time, I was actually in the stands to see it). They ended the set strong, thanks in part to an impressive Trey guitar solo, with The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

The guys kicked off set two with a lengthy version of The Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll” (another repeat from my previous Phish excursion in Wantagh), complete with a tease of Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die.” Afterwards came “The Lizards” – the second of the summer – and it’s been stuck in my head ever since. Following “Halley’s Comet,” a spacey “Sand” gave way to “Twist,” which featured a tease to Santana’s “Oye Como Va.” Next was a lively “Birds of a Feather,” succeeded by another cover, “Boogie on Reggae Woman” by Stevie Wonder – another one I witnessed in New York, but always such a fun jam. The second set came to a close with “Also Sprach Zarathustra” > “Waste” > “Slave to the Traffic Light.”

Phish ended the show with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s traditional rock ‘n’ roll tune, “Good Times, Bad Times.” I think all in attendance would agree the night was a success, filled with plenty of old school jams and a dynamic energy felt throughout the venue.

I had mentioned to a friend that I hoped to hear an “Ocelot” or “Bathtub Gin,” and ironically enough, he got to hear both of those in Charlotte just two days later. Needless to say, I was a little envious. They seem to have been on a bit of an “Ocelot” kick lately, performing it the last 3 shows out of 7.

It seems that each time I see Phish, they just get better and better. I had hoped to make it to another stop before the second leg of the summer was through, but I am anticipating the release of more tour dates. The sooner, the better!

Taken on an iPhone. Sorry about the subpar photo quality.

Friday, August 24 –
Set 1: Possum, Cities > Sample in a Jar, Timber (Jerry) > Back on the Train, Lawn Boy, Down with Disease, Gumbo, Ginseng Sullivan > The Wedge, Julius > Cavern, While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Set 2: Rock and Roll -> The Lizards, Halley’s Comet > Sand > Twist > Birds of a Feather, Boogie on Reggae Woman > Also Sprach Zarathustra > Waste > Slave to the Traffic Light
Encore: Good Times, Bad Times

Next stop: TBD


Furthur afield, but closer to home

A few days after flying back from New York, I rode over to Alpharetta, Ga. with my dad to attend my first Furthur show. Considering it was the closest thing to a Grateful Dead concert I’ll ever get to experience, I was pretty stoked.

We had some issues with the shuttle from our hotel to the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, but we eventually managed to find a ride over there. Just a half-hour before the show was underway, it began to thunderstorm. Once at the venue, we took shelter beneath a booth until the band started playing. Thankfully, the rain stopped just in time for the beginning of the show. Due to the inclement weather, not too many people showed up right on time, so an usher let us in under the pavilion. (We had originally bought lawn tickets.) We ended up getting a much nicer view of the stage, so it worked out well.

As we headed towards our seats, Furthur launched into an upbeat “Promised Land,” a Chuck Berry classic, followed by “Bertha.” They then played a long and unhurried version of “Sugaree” – a much slower tempo than usual. Next was “Big Bad Blues,” the only Furthur original that was played the entire night. Several more Dead covers followed – “Loser,” “Pride of Cucamonga” and “The Music Never Stopped.”

Throughout the show and during the set break, especially, I couldn’t help noticing the wide age range of the crowd. Perfect example: we were seated near a kid who looked to be about 9 or 10, who was accompanied by a man likely to be his grandfather. My dad expressed surprise at the number of young people in attendance – a new generation of heads. The overall atmosphere was laidback and pleasant, and I saw at least a few people dancing like they were on a completely different sphere. Though not exactly a flashback to the ‘60s and ‘70s (or how I imagine that time period, at least), there was an air of positivity and general “good vibes,” which I’ve picked up on at virtually all of the jam band shows I’ve attended.

The second set kicked off with a commendable rendition of Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle,” which many know as a Black Crowes song. I enjoyed everything that followed, but it was especially nice hearing “Born Cross-Eyed,” “Lady with a Fan” > “Terrapin” and “King Solomon’s Marbles.” “Turn on Your Lovelight” was an impressive finish to the second set, with its lighthearted, carefree vibes – very characteristic of the Grateful Dead era. Furthur encored with Bob Dylan’s “The Mighty Quinn” (also called “Quinn the Eskimo”), which is always a fun song. It was the second show in a row that I got to hear that cover – Phish had played it less than a week prior at Jones Beach.

With such a large repertoire to choose from, I’d had no idea what to expect out of the guys. The setlists from the previous shows of the tour looked pretty phenomenal, in my opinion. I was hoping I’d get to hear “China Cat,” “Sugar Magnolia,” “Scarlet Begonias” and “The Wheel,” just to name a few. I didn’t get any of those, so I guess that’s just incentive for me to keep going to more of their shows. Despite their slightly disappointing setlist (to me, anyway), it was a stellar performance. The sound was very crisp, and I was impressed with their musicianship. It was nothing less than I would have expected from Lesh, Weir, Chimenti and company.

After the show, while we waited an hour and a half for our shuttle (which, as luck would have it, never came for us), the bottom dropped out. As we were standing outside in a torrential downpour, the power inside the venue went out, and we were left in the dark, completely soaked. My camera got ruined in the process (I think I’m now on my fourth one of the year), but thankfully, I was able to salvage the memory cards containing my photos of the previous few weeks. Things like that happen, though, and I now know the true meaning of “rain or shine.” It was still a great musical experience, and I’m glad I got to share it with my dad.

Tuesday, July 10 –
Set 1: Promised Land, Bertha, Sugaree, Big Bad Blues, Loser, Pride of Cucamonga, The Music Never Stopped
Set 2: Hard to Handle > Wharf Rat > Born Cross-Eyed, Lady with a Fan > Terrapin Station > At a Siding > Terrapin Flyer, He’s Gone > King Solomon’s Marbles, Black Peter > Turn on Your Lovelight
Encore: The Mighty Quinn

Next stop: Phish in Pelham, Ala. (a mere 60 mi. from my hometown, Tuscaloosa)

Phishin’ on the Phourth…and my first trip to NYC

My initial post-festival plans were to ride up to New York City from Rothbury with my Electric Forest group. A good friend of mine is living there for the summer, and we had made plans to head over to Wantagh on the 3rd and 4th to see Phish. But my ride situation fell through, so as lines of cars were filing out of the festival grounds that Monday morning, I found myself without a way to my destination. I ended up staying the night in Detroit (never again…), booking a last-minute flight and then waking up early the next morning to board my plane. It was my first time ever flying, I was by myself, and I didn’t tell any of my family (thanks, Mom and Dad, for not freaking out after the fact). It also happened to be my first time in The Big Apple, not to mention the farthest north I’ve ever been. But things went smoothly after arriving at the airport, and I was able to hail a cab to the place we were staying, a great studio apartment on Park Avenue.

Of course, being in Manhattan, our only viable option for getting to the show was public transit. We took the subway, followed by the train (more firsts for me) and, after what seemed like hours, hopped on the bus to the venue. Phish played at Jones Beach Theater, which, as its name implies, is located at Jones Beach State Park on the south shore of Long Island. The view was very tranquil and provided the perfect backdrop for my first Phish experience (a first that was long past due).

Phish launched into Tuesday night with some Little Feat, playing “Skin it Back” for the first time in twenty plus years. The guys paid homage to The Beatles with a completely unexpected “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” a song they have only covered twice in their history. The evening was filled primarily with covers and commonly played crowd-pleasers, save a few exceptions. “Joy,” somewhat of a rarity, was beautifully played and sung, with its soulfulness expressed through Trey’s heartfelt vocals and Page’s sinuous keyboard playing. In the second verse of “Fluffhead,” the lyrics were altered to “Fluff came to New York” to fit the occasion. They performed a long, feverish version of “Antelope,” always a fun tune, before closing with “Character Zero.” Overall, it was a nice way to start off the two-night holiday run, but I couldn’t help feeling that they did not quite play to their full potential. Thankfully, they saved up most of their energy and creativity for the night of the 4th.

Their Independence Day show began with a strong “Alumni Blues,” bridging into “Letter to Jimmy Page,” its usual companion. Unfortunately, towards the middle of the show, I left our seats for a short while and missed “Gumbo,” which I would have loved to hear, and a couple others, so I don’t have as much an opinion on the first set of the night as the second. I did get back in time for a rather quirky and psychedelic “Susskind Hotel,” recently composed by Mike and only played a handful of times since. In celebration of The Land of the Free, the first set concluded with the quartet gathering around the microphone to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The guys came back ready to jam second set, with what I thought to be a phantastic, phunky version of Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie on Reggae Woman.” It was definitely one of the highlights of the night for me personally. It was followed by an enjoyable (albeit overplayed) “Tweezer.” The “Quinn the Eskimo” > “Julius” > “Rock and Roll” segment of the show certainly warrants mentioning, as well. A more sentimental facet of the band was displayed with “Silent in the Morning,” as well as their rendition of The Rolling Stone’s “Shine a Light” and a Phish original, “Show of Life,” before delving into a terrific version of “Slave.” They encored with “Sleeping Monkey” and an intense “Tweezer Reprise.” The show was also laden with plenty of “tucking” by Fishman (an inside joke among Phish and fans alike). I’m sure I failed to mention some key moments during both shows, but my memory is a little foggy. (It’s been several weeks.)

Ultimately, I was impressed with Phish and New York, and I hope to revisit both. Phish did not disappoint, and Kuroda’s light shows were pretty spectacular, as well. Though I didn’t get the chance to explore the city as much as I would have liked, I was pleased with everything from the architecture to the cuisine – at least what little of it I experienced. I’ll be making a trip back one of these days to do some more sightseeing.

For those of you interested in the setlists, here you go:

Tuesday, July 3 –
Set 1: Skin It Back > Possum, Tube, Happiness Is a Warm Gun, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Halley’s Comet > Axilla > Ya Mar, Joy, Jesus Just Left Chicago > Backwards Down the Number Line > Golgi Apparatus
Set 2: Chalk Dust Torture, Sand > Golden Age, Wolfman’s Brother > Walk Away, Bug > Fluffhead > The Wedge > Run Like an Antelope
Encore: Character Zero

Wednesday, July 4 –
Set 1: Alumni Blues > Letter to Jimmy Page > Alumni Blues, Head Held High, The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Avenu Malkenu > The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday, Kill Devil Falls, Bittersweet Motel, The Moma Dance > Gumbo > David Bowie, Alaska > Susskind Hotel, Hold Your Head Up > Purple Rain > Hold Your Head Up, The Star Spangled Banner
Set 2: Boogie On Reggae Woman > Tweezer > Twist > Taste > Quinn the Eskimo > Julius > Rock and Roll > The Horse > Silent in the Morning > Harry Hood > Shine a Light > Show of Life > Slave to the Traffic Light
Encore: Sleeping Monkey > Tweezer Reprise

Next stop: Furthur in Alpharetta, Ga. (approx. 870 mi. from New York, N.Y.)

Electric Forest: My take on the music (from backstage)

I’m way behind on posting, I know. But here are the rest of my photos/thoughts on Electric Forest.

Up close and personal: String Cheese Incident before heading onstage the last night of the festival.

My view from backstage.


Keith Moseley on bass and vocals.

And again.

Billy Nershi and Michael Kang.

String Cheese, though generally categorized as a jam band, spanned into various other genres throughout the weekend, as they are prone to do, including electronic/dubstep (with the incorporation of some EOTO-type jams), country, funk, psychedelic rock and of course bluegrass. On Friday, they really set out to show this versatility by continually switching genres, keeping the crowd guessing the majority of the night and never settling into one particular category of music. Kyle Hollingsworth went absolutely crazy on the keys in “Rhythm of the Road” during set two. They also debuted their first single in seven years, a light, upbeat song titled “Can’t Wait Another Day.”

Saturday night, in my opinion, was their most solid night. They began with a very funky “Rosie” in the first set, but by the end of the set had switched gears to a lively and fast-paced “Just One Story.” I was pleased to hear “Little Hands,” one of my (many) favorites. Their second set commenced with “Sirens,” a song that starts off with some darker riffs but transitions into an uplifting tune and message that is characteristic of Cheese. Pre-4th of July fireworks began going off during “Rivertrance,” a great instrumental that is evocative of an Irish jig, and girls in transparent spheres floated atop the crowd. They finished strong with a wonderful cover of “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash that moved straight into their ode to The Man in Black himself. It was an unexpected but well-received encore – the crowd got pretty rowdy.

Sunday evening was dedicated primarily to bluegrass and collaborations with Keller Williams and members of The Travelin’ McCourys, as well as Dominic Lalli of Big Gigantic, who brought a slightly different vibe to the stage with his saxophone playing. Cheese wrapped up their three-night run with a twist of reggae, playing a nice version of Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved.” As usual, the guys did not disappoint.

I believe this is Climb > Jam. Sorry for the shakiness of the vid – I can’t ever stay still for very long during shows.

An overview of the Incidents:

Friday, June 29 –
Set 1: Smile, Close Your Eyes > Orange Blossom Special > Caravan > Orange Blossom Special, Look at Where We Are, Pack it Up, Give Me the Love, Can’t Wait Another Day
Set 2: Climb, Jam > Rhythm of the Road, Colliding, Doin’ My Time, Valley of the Jig, Way Back Home, Texas
Encore: Desert Dawn

Saturday, June 30 –
Set 1: Rosie, Black and White > Indian Creek, Drive, Little Hands > Jam > Wake Up > Just One Story
Set 2: Sirens, Rivertrance, Shine, Windy Mountain > Bolly Munster, This Must Be the Place > On the Road
Encore: Ring of Fire > Johnny Cash

Sunday, July 1 –
Set 1: Minor Swing, How Mountain Girls Can Love, Six Days on the Road, Barstool, Porta Potty, Long Gone, Best Feeling > Search, Let’s Go Outside, Colorado Bluebird Sky
Set 2: Jellyfish > Eye Know Why, Bumpin’ Reel, Cats, Joyful Sound, Lonesome Fiddle Blues > Howard
Encore: Freedom Jazz Dance, Could You Be Loved

Here are a few more photos…

STS9’s new setup for their “Great Cycle Spectacles” tour.

The ferris wheel by night.

I couldn’t resist getting my picture taken backstage during SCI.

Katie and me backstage at Santigold. Fun festival buddy.

Poolside chillin’.

Overall, Electric Forest was a success. I highly recommend it to those who enjoy live music (and hopefully you do, if you’ve read this entire post). The abundance of heavy bass was enough to appease fans of the electronic/dubstep genre, while jam band and bluegrass enthusiasts got their fair share of upbeat melodies and extended jam sessions. If my plans permit, I will be returning to the forest next year.

Next stop: Phish in Wantagh, N.Y. (approx. 840 mi. from Rothbury, Mich.) – this was a pretty interesting adventure. Will post the next opportunity I get.

The woods are alive with the sound of music

Picture an Alice in Wonderland-esque forest filled with enormous neon trees glowing in every color imaginable. Glow sticks, hula hoops and LEDs galore. Impromptu performances by mimes and acrobats. A giant purple octopus floating above a crowd of tens of thousands. Fireworks exploding overhead, beach balls bouncing and confetti raining down. Festie-goers dressed up in the most ridiculous of outfits, grinning from ear to ear and dancing on top of the world. The indescribable feeling of 30,000 people from all walks of life coming together to share in their mutual love of music.

Peace, love for mankind and music, and good vibes. This is the essence of Electric Forest, although it really can’t be expressed through words – it’s something you must experience for yourself to truly understand. It’s one big, jovial, weekend-long party, and it never stops (not even at 6 in the morning).

I can’t fail to mention how incredible it is, the number of people (both young and old, jam band, bluegrass and electronic enthusiasts alike) who are drawn in from all across the country by Electric Forest. This was only the second year of the fest, and it still managed to sell out. Anyone in attendance could see why.

Set on Double JJ Resort, the festival is certainly not lacking in entertainment options. In the Sherwood Forest, thousands of hammocks provide a great place to hang out – literally – for those needing a break from the festivities. But, for the more adventurous, there are plenty of amenities available: the Gold Rush Water Park, Big Wildcat Lake, horseback riding, a golf tournament and glow-in-the-dark disc golf. Before the music begins, early afternoon yoga, drum circles and hula hoop workshops kick-start the day. And of course, it’s always fun to explore the campgrounds or check out the vendors on Shakedown Street.

But, for me and many others, the best aspect is the sense of community. At one point, I got lost from my friends (typical, if you know me). I had no idea where to go or how to get back to our campsite, so I ended up tagging along with a group of folks from Colorado. They took me back to their campsite, fed me and offered me drinks until I was able to meet back up with my own group. I came across numerous people throughout the weekend who gave freely without expecting anything other than gratitude in return.

But let me backtrack a little. My trip to Rothbury, Mich. turned out to be even more eventful than I had expected. For starters, I was supposed to catch a ride from Tuscaloosa on Wednesday morning and arrive at the festival that night. Our trip stopped abruptly a few hours after we got on the road, thanks to some unforeseen (and chaotic) events that I won’t bother mentioning. Anyway, I finally made it to the campgrounds in time for a beautiful sunrise on Friday morning. I missed some good shows on Thursday, but my main priority was seeing String Cheese Incident, my favorite band and also headliners of the fest. Thankfully, they played Friday, Saturday and Sunday for a total of about 12 hours, so I got my Cheese fix. One of the girls I rode up with had an artist guest wristband for Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, so I stuck with her most of the trip. Thanks to her, I managed to find my way into the V.I.P. pool/artist lounge (with access to unlimited free beverages), gave up my tent for a night to sleep in a “Good Life” cabin (in an actual bed)…oh, and did I mention I ended up backstage for all three nights of String Cheese Incident?

I even briefly met drummer Jason Hann of String Cheese and EOTO right before he went onstage Sunday night.

On Friday, I met Hash Vyas, the bassist of Thievery Corporation, and I was also able to get backstage for Santigold on Saturday afternoon. Having V.I.P. access definitely made for a different kind of festival experience than I’m used to. Shout out to Katie for helping make all that possible.

Speaking of, someone from Young Girl Party asked to take a picture of Katie and me for their site – see here. I thought that was kind of cool.

Unfortunately, I missed quite a few acts I would have loved to see, but that’s the way it goes at festivals. Whether due to overlapping/conflicting sets, the heat or whatever else, it’s impossible to make it to every show you intend on seeing (and I was chilling poolside in the V.I.P. area for a good portion of the trip, so I guess that’s not a bad excuse). But I was fortunate enough to see, as mentioned before, all three wonderful nights of SCI, along with Santigold, Gary Clark Jr., Cherub, Zoogma, Paper Diamond, Two Fresh, Bassnectar, Big Gigantic and two nights of STS9. Cheese also brought members of The Travelin’ McCourys, Keller Williams and Dominic Lalli of Big Gigantic onstage for collaborations, so I was thankful for that, as well. Hopefully next year, I’ll catch more of the bands I aim to see, but I’m sure not complaining.

More to come later.

Follow the music wherever it may lead

Lounging around in Tuscaloosa this summer with no internship, no job (other than working one night a week at The Crimson White) and no classes to keep me occupied, I’ve come to a conclusion. I’ve had more than enough time to notice the inordinate amount of my Facebook friends who have landed an amazing internship in a big city or who are studying abroad, having the time of their lives, while I am doing nothing productive. Obviously, I am kicking myself for not being in the same boat. I’ve vowed to use my free time to do something that is worthwhile and that I love. Sadly, it’s too late for me to study abroad or get a kick-ass PR internship (preferably in the music industry) this year, although I’m determined to do so next summer. I have an ongoing list of what I want to accomplish, but over the next few months, I plan on dedicating myself to one thing in particular – writing. I’m thinking of combining my two favorite things (music and travel) by attending as many concerts and music festivals as possible and documenting my experiences along the way. My hope is that eventually, I can become decent enough to have an article or two published in a major music magazine. (Rolling Stone, anyone?) Though I may be leagues away from this actually happening, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have lofty aspirations. So, I am jumping in headfirst, focusing on reaching my goals and doing everything I possibly can to get where I want to be. The purpose of this blog is to give me an outlet for my ambitions and frustrations and to record my journey to wherever this path may lead (to some good shows, if nothing else).

First stop: Electric Forest in Rothbury, Mich. (approx. 850 mi.)

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind,
flight to the imagination, and life to everything.”