Ring In The New Year, Phish Style

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I spent my New Year’s holiday among 75,000 people, all with one thing in common, love for the band Phish. I went 44 hours without sleep, and when I did sleep I awoke in a pool of sweat. Not bad for a celebration! Not bad if you were about to witness the wonder of four men and a large crew providing you with 14 hours and 15 minutes of some of the best music you will ever hear.

The four member band from Burlington, VT created the largest NYE concert in the world. Held on Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation in the Everglades in southern Florida, Phish created a city out of vacated cow-pasture replete with post office, two Ferris wheels and a general store.

The night of the 30th, the band played three unusually long sets starting at 5:00 p.m. and ending just after midnight. The band opened the first set with Water In The Sky from the band’s newest studio album. The band members, Page McConnell (keys), Mike Gordon (bass), Jon Fishman (drums) and Trey Anastasio (guitar), could not hide their emotions when the 75,000 spectators cheered with enthusiasm after the line Filter Out The Everglades.

The set traveled up and down the Phish spectrum with older songs like Suzie Greenberg, Possum and some newer ones including Limb By Limb, Farmhouse and Ghost. After a short greeting from Trey, he asked the audience to join in thanking the Seminoles for allowing the event to occur, and then invited Chief Jim Billy to play a couple of songs with them. Phish ended the set with Character Zero that, with its heavy-metal-like jam, gave the audience much to look forward to in the next 15 hours and 10 minutes of music.

After an hour and 15-minute break the band reclaimed the stage to finish one of the longest sets in the band’s history.

The band opened with Wilson which brought everyone right back to the exact place that they had been left an hour earlier and continued with multiple crowd favorite jams like Tweezer, Wolfman’s Brother and Harry Hood. A captivating scene accompanied The Hood as many audience members flung glowsticks toward the center of the crowd, creating multi-colored streaks across a crystal-clear night sky.

In the early evening of the 31st, the band took the stage for the longest set of the event. For an hour and 45-minutes the band picked and chose from their endless song list, playing something for everyone. Phish opened the set with Runaway Jim, Funky Bitch and Tube. The catchy I Didn’t Know came next, with its characteristic vacuum cleaner solo by drummer Jon Fishman.

Once again, phishheads were free to do whatever they pleased. However, they were expected back for the mid-night set at just before 12:00. Some decided to stay put as to not lose their seats, some slept, and some continued doing whatever it was they were doing before the first set. I don’t think anyone could really appreciate yet what was in store.

During the first set the previous night, Trey explained what was going to happen. From just before midnight until the sun rises in the eastern sky, the band was not going to stop playing. A port-a-potty was going to be brought on stage, and, other than short minute or two breaks between songs, the music was not to stop.

After everyone filtered back into place inside the venue, just near 11:30 p.m. a curtain dropped on stage revealing a giant clock powered by Father Time on a stationary bike. Father Time pedaled as the speakers reverberated with the sound of the bike over-powered only by the ticking of the clock.

When the clock struck 11:55 p.m. Father Time collapsed in exhaustion, and the clock stopped. A large grumbling came from the woods to the left of the crowd. What soon emerged was a fanboat resembling the one used as a trademark throughout the ticketing process. The boat exploded, revealing the band in their infamous hot-dog used in a previous NYE concert. While the speakers began to emanate a previous recording that the band had done of their song Meatstick, the band floated in their giant weener towards the stage.

As the clock struck mid-night, the band began Auld Lang Syne accompanied by an impressive fireworks display and the releasing of hundreds of gigantic balloons. The band directly transferred the energy from the welcoming of the new year right into “Down with Disease” and followed that with an intense “Llama.”

The next 31 songs of the night revealed a talent unmatchable by any popular music band from the past two decades. In order to keep the crowd alert, the band kept their jams very soothing with the occasional tease of real get-down, dancing tempo, but just short enough to pick the audience back up if they began to drag.

After about a half-hour of music, the lights came on and Trey explained that since we were the biggest concert in the country, we were going to be featured on ABC’s millennium concert coverage. Phish spread their musical wings, flying through songs almost effortlessly.

With stellar versions of Bathtub Gin, Twist Around, Rock and Roll, You Enjoy Myself, covers of The Talking Heads’ Crosseyed and Painless Neil Young’s Albuquerque, Fishman’s vocals on Syd Barret’s Terrapin, and captivating jams Sand, Slave To The Traffic Light, Reba and David Bowie, Phish proved their unique and unbelievable skill.

Just as the sun began to rise behind the audience, the band broke into a phenomenal version of Also Sprach Zarathrusto.

After a soothing Wading in a Velvet Sea, the band segued back into Meatstick which the band appropriately used to wrap up this momentous feat.

As The Beatles’ Here Comes the Sun tuned up on the speakers, the audience stood completely still for a second, then slowly began to mill their way back to their campsites, having witnessed what, in terms of rock `n’ roll history, should not and will not be forgotten.

As we packed up our tents and left the New Years Day, you could not help but get choked up. We had experienced the complete construction and destruction of a city, in the middle of nowhere, with a $150 price tag, 13 hours of traffic, severe lack of sleep and, other than in the venue, not even a trace of trash on the ground anywhere.