I have the good fortune of living directly off of I-91in Vermont, just south of the Canadian border, a mere 1.5 hours from Coventry on any normal day. We had the luxury of staying at home and keeping an eye on weather updates. We, and the two friends of ours who drove up from Virginia to go to the show with us, scrapped our plans to drive up early Thursday morning and waited for the weather and traffic to clear. Or so we thought. Based on our experience at IT the year prior (which also had a little problem with rain and mud) we figured, the later you leave, the less traffic you will have. Following that logic we decided to leave later that night.
Little did we know how much worse the situation was this year than it was the year before at IT. 38 hours later, stuck in one of the biggest traffic jams in the country that weekend, on Saturday morning, we called the police hotline and they told us that there was still a 25-mile backup on 91, but only a ½ mile backup on 58. So we bailed out of 91 early, and jumped on rt. 58. After driving just a few miles on 58, we were excited to get to what we thought was the beginning of show traffic. But it was weird. People weren't really sitting in traffic. They seemed to be all pulling over to the side of the road. And a few people were turning around. It was then that we tuned into the radio and heard the news.
"WHAT?!?!" we all screamed.
Is this for real?!?" We were absolutely devastated. We didn't know what the hell to do. We and our friends behind us pulled off to the side of the road to try and figure things out. We happened to be parked in front of the yard of a local woman who seemed to be letting people park their cars and camp there. It was a mere 3 miles to the venue, people told us. We could setup our tents there and walk back after the show. That's what a lot of people were doing. But we soon found out that this woman was asking $100 per car!! No way were we paying that. There were also a bunch of people who were just abandoning their cars on the side of the road. That was free. I was all for that, but a couple people in our group were concerned about our cars being towed.
There was also the fact that they kept telling us on the radio “Do not abandon your car. Do not walk in”. We actually considered leaving, possibly looking into a simulcast in Burlington (we weren't even sure if there was such a thing) or possibly camping somewhere within broadcast range of the sites radio waves, so that we could listen to the show. After all, with the majority of the people being forced to turn around, there was no way this could be the last show. Surely they would play one more for all those who were turned around. Before we did that though, I thought we should at least take a little walk and ask the state trooper down the road if they were going to stop people from walking in and if they were going to tow cars parked on the side of the road. He told us that no they weren't stopping anyone from walking in, but he recommended parking in someone's yard, because anyone on the side of the road would be towed.
But that still left the dilemma of not wanting to pay $100. Then, our guardian angel, a kid on a bike, rolled up and told us that there were these nice people just a ½ mile down the road charging $5 a car to park, and an additional $5 a head to shuttle us in. We were all over that!
Starting the hike in - Coventry, VT 2004
So we did that, and soon discovered that we were not 3 miles from the venue, but 12. Those poor kids who paid that woman $100 and set their tents up thinking they were coming back there at night were in for a huge surprise. I'm not sure if she's the one who told them that it was a 3 mile walk, but she certainly didn't say anything to diffuse that rumor. That is just so wrong in so many ways.
So anyway, the nice woman who was only charging us $5 told us that we were going to be shuttled in 9 miles to the farthest point that they were allowed to drive and then would have to walk the last 3 miles.
That estimate turned out to be wrong as well. We actually ended up walking 6 miles. We had to abandon most of our stuff: all of our beer, most of our water, our camp stove, cooking utensils, and all the food we were going to cook so as to avoid having to buy food. Rumors were abound that water trucks couldn't get in and food vendors couldn't be re-supplied. This was a very worrisome thought. But I chose to believe that Phish would cancel their festival before they allowed their phans to starve or go without water. So we took our chances with very little water and only a few snack foods to eat. And of course the rumor turned out to be false.
It was too bad because we own great backpacks and a nice small backpacking stove that would have been perfect for this situation, but we had left them at home because we had not the slightest clue that we would need them.
So we had to make due with one small backpack and two canvas grocery bags, plus our tent and sleeping bags. And it was really freaking hot. It was quite a task to walk 6 miles like this, unprepared, but we knew it would be worth it. We couldn't miss Phish, especially if it really was going to be the last show. I knew also, that we didn't have the worst of it. I'm sure that right now some people reading this are playing the world's smallest violins for us, because there were those that drove from all the way across the country, sat in traffic for 40 hours, and THEN walked 15+ miles with all their gear. We were really, really lucky to live so close. And for that I am grateful. As bad as it was it really could have been much, much worse.
When we finally reached the venue after a long, arduous walk, we heard a guy say "Not a single person here arrived the way they planned.
" We laughed. It was the truest statement I'd heard all day.
By the time we had picked a spot, set everything up, and walked to the concert area, they had just started 1st set. I won't bore you w/all the musical lingo that only someone who truly understands and appreciates Phish would comprehend, but I will say this, the YEM contained the saddest moment of Saturday's show. Trey gave away the trampolines (props used on stage for many years past). This was it. There would be no makeup show for those who got turned away. This was the end. They were never going to use the trampolines again. This hit home...hard. So sad.
At some point in this set, I don't remember when, Trey thanked all of those who walked in and expressed his deep deep love for us. That made us feel better that at least we were appreciated. I really wish he had said something about those people who actually listened to what the cop on the radio was saying and turned around. Those people got the worst of it, especially if they drove long distances and sat in 40 hours of traffic only to turn around. I hope the band hasn't completely forgotten them just because they are in the minority.
Overall the first night of Coventry was a solid although not spectacular show, and one that I probably would have enjoyed a lot more if not for the fact that every bone in my body was sore, aching, or stiff in every way imaginable.
I think a lot of people felt the same, because the energy was very low. Second night is a tale for another time...
But an amazing weekend altogether. Although, I admit, if you are judging it just based on musicality, it was not as they say "a top ten show." But nor was it bad as some people make it out to be. Musicly, I'd say it was average- a show with a lot of ups and downs, some great jams and some not so great playing. However, there was so much more to this show than just the music. Believe it or not, it was one of the most profound, most memorable Phish show experiences of my life. For better or for worse. I am so grateful to have had that one last experience with the band I love.
Thank you so much Phish for 146 of the greatest nights of my life.
Final Bow, Mike Reluctant.