There are only two ways to feel about The Gorge: “I go as often as I can” and “I really need to get there some year.” To me, it’s always just been what we do. It’s normal, this is our home venue. Sure, a 5-hour drive isn’t really “home” for most, but when you grow up in the Northwest, anything you don’t have to fly to is considered “close.”
Having lived in New Jersey just across the Hudson River from Manhattan for the previous 4ish years, I was able to witness so much that just wasn’t geographically viable to me before. The Baker’s Dozen, Magnaball, YEMSG, MPP, SPAC and all the other acronyms were no longer pipe dreams. I finally had a Phish pedigree that I could brag about to all my friends back in Oregon who had migrated West during the hiatus. I flew back for the run in 2016 but having just relocated to Seattle in November, this Gorge run was different. This time was bigger. This was a proper homecoming — 50% more PHISH!
Few things rival the excitement of the trip out to central Washington to me. The drive from Portland is spectacular & the drive from Seattle is even above average. Standing in the way of my traditional Thursday arrival was the stomach flu, not something you want to take to a weekend of Honey Buckets and trailer showers. Luckily, some wook definitely flicked a cigarette out the window and started a brush fire that closed down the one road heading out there and I got a little extra time to get myself back in the game.
After heading straight to our river spot to swim with the friends that did make it up the previous day, a quick setup and stroll through Shakedown, it was time. Pick the shoes/socks/basketball jersey combo and make the dusty, crunchy walk to the venue.
I could wax poetically all day about what’s changed and what’s stayed the same for better or for worse but let’s get down to business. House music cuts, band comes out, Trey hits the strings and the opening notes start. It’s… We don’t know. I can only compare it to what I imagine the first time movie previews were shown before a feature film. We knew it was Phish, we knew we would get some new stuff, but to open? We danced and enjoyed but it wasn’t the release we were hoping for, that would come later. This initial feeling didn’t age well for me, I’m almost embarrassed I didn’t totally enjoy the debut of “Set Your Soul Free.”
After “Wolfman’s” things were rolling and the sunset one-upped CK5 yet again before it was time for Night Gorge, fighter of the Day Gorge. Cue: “Chalk Dust Torture.”
You always know they’re going to reach back for a little extra when Trey yells the lyrics “I plug the distress tube up tight!” Well, they reached all the way back to the other side of the river where the windmills dot the skyline like celestial Christmas lights. This one was a banger and everyone knew it.
The song continues to the point where you start to wonder just how deep the rabbit hole goes and then the delay starts. Trey seemingly mimics the effects of a natural echo that wants to bounce off the walls of the Columbia River Gorge all the way to the Pacific and back up to Montana where the glacial flood that created this wonder of the world originated.
Settling in to a spacy Page-and-Mike-driven section, your eyes start drifting between the stage and the stars overhead as they start appearing like raindrops on a window. The calm entrancing theme continues paying homage to the vastness of the high desert where the sound will travel miles for all living creatures to enjoy. Trey then begins to personally thank the surroundings with an uplifting melody while continuing the deliberate relaxing pace of the song so far. Until one day…
The beat starts to pick up, and the realization sets in that not only is nature delicate and calm, it’s also fierce and unapologetic. With each subsequent measure, the intensity ratchets up just a single notch until we are seemingly transported to the stars that are so clear above us. Almost like this is what they do or something. Peak, peak, peak, peak, peak. Whale noises, closed-eyed sky-grabbing, aural fireworks.
Now, back to the spacey echo jam, which is a welcome change to make sure your feet are correctly oriented beneath your head. Though I’m typically an advocate for finishing songs (cough DWD cough), the slow descent sets the mood for the night and the rest of the weekend well. It’s going to be yet another stellar (pun intended) Gorge run.
I’m Jesse, from Oregon but then moved to NJ, then to Seattle and now back to NYC. Let’s grab a beer. Follow me on Twitter @jnumber1 and listen to Aqueous. RIP CITY! GO BLAZERS!