The Daily Ghost

Phish and The Emotional Rescue


Most days I float through life on autopilot. Work, chores, reading, eating, sleeping, and repeating it over and over again. The majority of days are indistinguishable from any others.   

So, I try to find something that charges my emotions. I seek the extraordinary. I want to feel things other than monotony. 

Music is usually the quickest escape.

On the good days, Phish injects all of the emotions I crave directly into my veins. One of those good days occurred at Alpine Valley last Sunday.

My license plate reads “20MINJAM” and certainly improvisational music is the most direct route to my soul. As I become wiser and listen more carefully to who I am, I realize my soul is more complicated than that.

I’m certainly an interesting case. I’m a mega Phish nerd.  Think Star Wars nerd, crossed with a Star Trek nerd, crossed with Dr. Who nerd, and add glasses and a helmet.   I can rattle you off stats that nobody on Earth should allow to occupy space in their brain. It’s similar with sports for me. Knowing completely useless information and numbers appeal to me.    (You must be tons of fun at parties Memo)

I’ve listened to more hours of Phish than most normal human beings will listen to music in their lives. I can rattle off top versions of almost any song, and have become somewhat of an expert on some of them. I make quite a few Phish opinions and defend them like they are my children.   Since I don’t have children, these horrible opinions are all I have. 

I guess you would consider me as a Phish critic.

But there is a dichotomy to me.  

I can sometimes be overly critical of the way a version of a song is played, or show song selection, or the overall performance of a show.  Yet other times, I am Phish’s biggest cheerleader.

So, what’s with you Memo?

I’m 39 and live a life I’m pretty happy with. I’ve done okay and never gotten myself into too much trouble. I drive a Subaru Outback and live in the greatest city in the world… Buffalo, NY.  I have an incredible family and  cherish a group of super close friends that I love with all my heart. I have an extended group of Phish friends that grows by the year.   On all almost all accounts, it’s a pretty sweet life.  

Yet I still feel that autopilot and empty feeling.

I have a lot of love to give. I want to hug everyone, dance with them, and tell them how great I think they are.   

There is no place like Phish tour to do that.

Most days while going through the daily grind, I’m overflowing with love.  I have all this love to give away and sometimes it’s hard to find someone to give the love to. Sure, my family and friends are there, but the majority of the random encounters in life don’t want the love. Instead, they want to try and fight me with darkness. 

On Phish tour, not only are most of the people ready to receive that love, but they are also ready to give it back ten fold. It’s addicting. We all feel it. The reciprocation. That’s why it is also jarring upon re-entry into the real world.

I’ve been to enough Phish shows to realize that each show is a sacred place. At least for me. I know the feelings that I am going to receive from it, whether it is a great show or not. It’s an escape. 

I know the joy of taking in a show with my friends, because each show strengthens our bonds together. I know the fun of traveling to a new city.  I know the fun of returning to a city I have already made MEMOries in. I know that during a three day run, I can have fun every second of every day.  As Scott Bernstein recently said, “Never take that for granted!”  

Even a seriously below-average Phish show is still my favorite thing. I roll with friends where just being in their presence makes it impossible to have a bad time. I hope Phish stays healthy, happy, and plays forever. Nobody provides a vehicle for having a good time and emotional experience like Phish.

But then….

Every once in a while, Phish plays a scorcher like Alpine Valley last Sunday and all the things I wrote above affect me like I am on steroids. Not normal steroids you get from a doctor, but the good shit. Like the Alex Rodriguez and Lance Armstrong kind.   

As much as I can recite you stats and all that crap, “bustouts” or adding something to “my stats” isn’t what gets me off at a show. I don’t need to brag about what I have seen. However, I simply enjoy hearing rare songs. “TMWSIY” is one of my all time favorite Phish compositions as is “Pebbles and Marbles”.  Early songs like “The Landlady” and “Glide” were important in developing my love for Phish. I recently covered “Olivia’s Pool” on an episode of my podcast, The Daily Soundcheck, so that was really cool to see Oilivia resurface.   Being a Buffalo Bills fan when they play “Buffalo Bill” is pretty epic! 

Phish, especially Trey, never wants to be a nostalgia act. On the other hand, I sometimes yearn for that. Sunday’s first set made me feel 17-years old again at a time when most days I’m trapped and teetering on the brink of a mid-life crisis. A huge reason many of us go to shows is to feel young again. When Phish plays older tunes, it’s an emotional explosion. They transport us back to those formative years when we discovered all those old songs for the first time.

Playing all those songs in the first set also created one of my all time favorite feelings.

Anything could happen at this Phish show…

And it all happened!!

You don’t need me to tell you about the “Ruby Waves”. Nor do I have the time to do so. Just know that I think it’s one of my favorite jams in the Phish catalog. I re-listened about 20 times and I’m still getting a full grasp of it..   

Many of us have a soft spot for goofy Phish and that goofiness took hold of the rest of the second set in the best way possible. I laughed and hugged so many people, both friends I love and strangers, in pure disbelief. Everything happened.

Night one and two at Alpine Valley were also an amazing time. I caught the shows with 20 people I deeply care about.  I met hundreds more.  Most importantly, I saw the Alpine run with my best friend, Noid, who never gets to travel anymore. Noid made 20 new best friends, and they yelled at me for not bringing him around earlier. It was beautiful to watch old and new friends connect.  Building relationships is what it is all about.

But sometimes Phish goes another level.  And on Sunday, Phish played a show that in my opinion has it all: songs I love, a jam I can barely comprehend, and a level of fun that is hard to top. When I go to shows, I hope that one of those three things happen. Well that all happened Sunday at Alpine. And days later, I’m still riding the wave.

Phish means more to me than ever before, because the older I get, the more I know how difficult life can be. So, when the magic happens like on Sunday at Alpine Valley, the all-encompassing feeling hits me harder than it ever did in my youth.  

It’s a blissful feeling to be a middle-aged dude knowing that no matter how bad things might get, I will always have Sunday stored away. I can play it anytime, and in my mind revisit all the incredible feelings I felt during those three magical hours at Alpine Valley.

Phish truly gave me an Emotional Rescue.