When I was a Phish head for the weekend

Although I’m a seasoned backpacker, I’m definitely not a camper. After a long day of traveling, getting caught in the rain, being stuffed into crowded bars and wandering dirty streets, I appreciate a hot shower, a warm bed and indoor plumbing.

The only time other time I went camping before last weekend, I went with three other people and we all stuffed ourselves into a two-person tent and ate hot dogs for every meal. It wasn’t exactly ideal. So, I was a little hesitant to go camping with my boyfriend, Mike, and his friend Adam to see Phish for three days in Saratoga Springs while camping at Lee’s Campground, about seven miles away from the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC).

Mike and I before the show.
Mike and I before the show.

The modern hippie 

Although to me, sleeping in a sleeping bag in a tent is about as real as camping gets, but to Mike, this isn’t real camping since we weren’t in the deep woods with no resources and there were showers, some real toilets and porta potties available. To me, as I longingly looked into other people’s tents with air mattresses, their eight-person tents adorned with white-picket fences and colorful tapestries, our three-person tent was super legit.

The campground itself was stuffed full of hippies and their tents, as well as their campfires, beer cans, dogs and vans, forming its own little neighborhood. On one strip of dirt path was a few food vendors as well as shopkeepers selling clothes, jewelry and hippie junk under tents.

I was surprised, when hanging out in the real bathroom to shower, how non-hippie some of the so-called hippies were, putting on lipstick and blow drying their hair. I thought I would be the only one who wanted to shower everyday, but judging by the hour-long lines to stand under the pathetic shower that had two settings – freezing cold and scalding hot – I was not. I guess the 2016 hippie is a bit more refined than the originals from the ’60s and ’70s.

Phish heads

Although I’m definitely not a Phish head, I would have fun at any concert, and I had fun when Mike and I saw Phish in Philadelphia last summer. So, I knew that even though I was in the minority when I have seen less than 20 Phish shows compared to all the Phish heads in Saratoga last weekend who have seen 100+, I would still have a good time. I wasn’t wrong.

There aren’t many things better than drinking some beers, hanging out with your friends and dancing to fun, upbeat music in the cool night air. Phish songs are catchy, simple and fun, and it’s interesting to see a band that has never played the same show twice.

Plus, it’s fun to hang out at the show and meet people from all walks of life – not just those who are strung out on God knows what with dreadlocks hanging down their backs. Instead, Phish heads are athletes, parents, firefighters and pretty much anyone else you can imagine.

Shakin’ down 

One of my favorite parts of any jam band concert is its Shakedown Street, which is usually located in a venue parking lot and is where vendors set up shop to sell awesome food truck grub – like meatballs, kabobs, pulled pork and grilled cheese – as well as the usual clothing, jewelry, pins, paintings and more.

The Shakedown Street at SPAC is the Shakedown to rule all Shakedowns. People literally flood the five-or-so rows of vendors and the lot is complete lawlessness, with people buying and selling every kind of alcohol and drug anyone could want from stands and coolers, with not a cop to be found.

There isn’t a better way to get pumped for a show than to grab some rare Heady Toppers, buy a cheap t-shirt from a hippie, check out some cool artwork and drink with your buddies.

Troopin' it out in the pouring rain before night 1.
Troopin’ it out in the pouring rain before night 1.

The good and the bad 

Being from New Jersey, I’m used to not even getting a half-smile from passerby – and to be honest, I like it that way. I don’t want to make small talk or stop and chat, I want to get where I’m going. Phish heads and hippies are generally not akin to this behavior.

Instead, walking around Lee’s Campground, hanging out at the show and crowding onto the bus home, you can expect to chat with everyone who walks by you, and maybe be offered a shot or two from the lady sitting next to you. At first, this was extremely off-putting. By the end of our three-day weekend in Saratoga, I kind of liked being able to get any person’s backstory that I chose and having a friendly face to talk to whenever I felt like. It was like one big dirty, hippie family.

That’s not to say they were all good eggs. Obviously, there’s a lot of people at these shows who are strung-out, poor and pathetic. One girl, after I offered her an extra hot dog, hung out at our campsite for a good hour, tried to snag the best beers we had and couldn’t refrain from showing us her thigh tattoo over and over again. Immediately after, another girl came by and asked for a free shot. People who follow these bands around for months obviously aren’t exactly employed, and their freeloading and rude attitudes show.

All in all

At the end of the day, I had a lot of fun at Phish weekend in Saratoga. It was fun to sleep soundly in a cool tent, get a little dirty, dance at a show (even when it was pouring and muddy on Friday), eat some bad food and make friends. I definitely won’t be going camping again anytime soon – unless it’s camping at the local Hilton. Quite honestly, I feel a little old to force myself to do things like that when I have the money I need to stay in a nice hotel after a long night. But even I can appreciate a few days hanging with hippies in the sunshine.


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