[Phish.net thanks Noah Eckstein, freelance journalist, for this recap. His work has been featured in The Guardian, The Daily News, PBS, Variety, and DoubleBlind Magazine. He also assistant produced and co-wrote the first two seasons of Osiris Media’s podcast Undermine. Twitter: @NoahEckstein. Phish.net: @SOLARGARLICAFICIONADO. -Ed.]
Dairy cattle have given their bodies to supply humanity with labor, leather and beef for 2,000 years. And, let’s not forget about milk. Without which, the classic Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food ice cream would be, well, it wouldn’t be.
On July 23, 2022, the sacrifices of past, present, and future dairy cows and their revered spirits were honored with auditory splendor, a cosmic “thank you” from the band and from the crowd.
The Guernsey cattle that were the reason Max Yasgur had a farm in the first place were memorialized on Saturday night, their collective sacrifice and memory honored by Mr. Jon Fishman, (aka Moby Dick, Dick, Dick) who sampled their fabled utterance, the good ol’ classic “moo” throughout a rocking show that concluded an epic two night run at the Bethel Woods Arts Center.
It’s impossible to enter Bethel Woods without thinking foremostly about the town's history. In August of 1969, almost 53 years ago, some 400,000 folk, similar to cattle only in their determination to graze freely, and their proclivity for grass, made a pilgrimage from far and wide to attend a music festival, billed as peace, love, and music, on 600 acres of farmland nestled in New York’s Catskill Mountains.
The spirit of Woodstock calmly settled over the Bethel Woods Center for Arts amphitheater, a reimagined venue adjacent the same hallowed ground where the most culturally impactful music festival in the history of the world happened. When Yasgur lent his dairy fields to Michael Lang, and the other co-creators of the Woodstock festival, it is safe to say that they had no way of knowing the musical history that would remain long after the crowds disappeared. And Yasgur certainly didn’t know that more than half a century later, his efforts would be honored by a band named Phish that would bring some 16,000 people back together for an evening of profound musical distinction.
The night started intensely. I brought friends and my partner together. The five of us, three writers, a photographer, and a musician, convened on the lawn, Page side, intent on securing more physical space than the night before. Friday was a very different night - a night which I found filled with a chatty crowd, more concerned with setbreak activities, Easter plans, and lunch than the contents of the music.
7/23/22 was different. Maybe it was because my group’s collective energy was spent on purchasing lawn chairs to ensure we had a reasonable and respectable amount of space to dance. We immediately darted for a group of families, mothers, fathers, and their young children, adorned in light necklaces, gems, jellyfish earrings, and all around good vibes instead of prioritizing proximity to the band. When in doubt, if you are looking for good vibes at a Phish show look for women with their children. “That’s right the women are smarter,” and they are better at dancing.
Waiting for the first song to start, I watched as the sky started to darken. With each wicked breeze that passed, I hoped that the set would start. I found myself more focused on securing my space before 6pm and yearned to connect with my group of friends, all of whom were on their own journeys.
When “Evening Song” started, the band was warning us. “Approach the night with caution,” Trey sang. As if he knew my pent up anxiety about having the perfect amount of space was somehow missing the point. Phish fans, myself included, take the music and the scene so seriously, and this song showed me that maybe a little levity goes a long way. Like a big, “Take It Ease.”
The sentiment of the show’s opener felt similar to what either Wavy Gravy, an entertainer and peace activist, or Chip Monck, Woodstock’s Master of Ceremonies said to a rained-on, half-naked, crowd at Woodstock, "To get back to the warning that I received. You may take it with however many grains of salt that you wish. That the brown acid that is circulating around us isn't too good. It is suggested that you stay away from that. Of course it's your own trip. So be my guest, but please be advised that there is a warning on that one, ok?"
A quick segue, and “Turtle In The Clouds,” played succinctly, as an homage to the psychedelia of the 60’s where so many Woodstock attendees most likely saw a turtle or other moving creatures in the clouds from their wonky brown acid trips. “Vultures,” was strictly executed and a crowd favorite, devoid of a lot of synchronized crowd “wooing.” The sheer compositional complexity of the song, mixed with feelings that death is encircling around, and, somehow, “a potato to the throat,” was absurd and complex - everything phans want. For some reason, "Vultures," to me, signified a collective band understanding that the song selection of the night had to be extra careful. It’s always careful, but after Phish opened the show so powerfully, the momentum rode on the contents of the next song, on the power of their storytelling.
To follow, a fast “My Sweet One,” a Fishman tune with country twang and notes of bluegrass that got the crowd rowdy and dancey. Children with gummy bears and corndogs ran the lawn around me to the song’s upbeat tempo.
With “Undermind,” the set’s longest song clocking in at 14 minutes, came the first utterance of the night’s “moo,” a Fishman sampling debut, preceded by his crowd favorite “yeah”, followed by Trey’s delay and depth distortion magic, cruiseship Page (aka Wizard Papa) noises, and a spacey funk jam creating the standalone highlight of the first set.
In front of me, children no older than five years old bounced on their parents’ shoulders wearing mufflers to protect their sensitive ears. There is something so wholesome about seeing the Woodstock mantra, peace, love and music in real time. As if, amid all the bad news, there is still a glimmer of hope.
When “Fast Enough for You” came on, I was overwhelmed with positivity and a feeling that all things were calm, when raging-faced adults could be dancing alongside families and children. So much of the “Phish community’s” online presence is vitriolic, where phans nitpick shows, in a putting-down sort of way. A negativity, and a “this is mine and not yours” attitude, can sometimes overpower the collective mood and atmosphere for some newer phans. I get it. It’s overwhelming. "Fast Enough for You" offered the perfect mic-drop Phish moment that called nitpickers into check, while providing some slower depth to the set. Each member of the band played their individual melodies with simple and beautiful precision to form a meaningful rendition.
“Divided Sky,” was perfectly played. For some reason, maybe because I’ve heard the song so many times, I am not as excited when I hear it. Maybe I am growing cynical, or I’ve been listening to too much Phish for the past 10 years. Nevertheless, this “Divided Sky” slapped, as the kids say, Trey’s special Koa tone beckoning the crowd into a silent reverence.
“Suzy Greenberg,” also slapped. Played fast, and cheerfully, it’s another crowd favorite because of its catchy lyrics and fast pace. The set closer, “Ghost,” was heavy and dark. The jam was robotic. The band showed that they are cartographers of space and sound, charting new musical waters even in old familiar favorites.
Setbreak was setbreak, a lot of passing glances, general confusion.
“Prince Caspian,” reminiscent of the "Caspian" from Magnaball, opened the second set. Followed by a funky dance party “Crosseyed and Painless,” which the band returned to multiple times later in the set. Then, a shift occurred. The band went into “Miss You,” a song that was too difficult for me in the moment. The overwhelming focus on the theme of death is so real that I found myself shying away from digging deeper.
“Set Your Soul Free,” picked up right where "Crosseyed" left off, driven by Mike’s layered bass to create a deeply dark and spacey jam. Then back into "Prince Caspian," a full yet semi-rushed “Twist,” and a mean and feisty “Carini” to end the set. During "Carini" many of the children I so lovingly danced among throughout the night seemed to vanish, napping away in their strollers. Probably for the best. "Carini" is a lot.
This encore is a dream. “The Horse,” into “Silent in the Morning” was another reminder of the band’s effortless execution of technically demanding songs. I try to steer clear of singing along to the words, but couldn’t help it during these. “Fuck Your Face,” well did as the song is so aptly titled. Trey’s guitar did indeed scream. “Buffalo Bill,” was of course a welcome surprise as it has only been played a handful of times since it debuted in 1992. The song contained the overwhelming return of the Fishman “moo” sound. Trey signaled his love for Fishman, calling him “Moby Dick” and summoned the legendary drummer to another solo. The show closer, Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” was played with full force from the whole quartet. An homage to Hendrix, particularly apparent when Trey fully teased the “Star-Spangled Banner,” harkening back to Jimi’s legendary morning performance on the final day of Woodstock.
In the spirit of "Fuck Your Face," and trying to find a headline for this recap, my group was spitballing cow phrases. The immediate one, “‘till the cows come home,” came to mind. If you type the phrase into Google, a song by the late American dirty blues singer Lucille Bogan came up. Do yourself a favor and listen to this song. A near 100 year precedent for Cardi B’s “WAP.”
Tonight in a big way was a shout out to the spirit of Woodstock, and Phish sampled the heart of it. If Mr. Yasgur didn't lend his dairy farm, maybe Woodstock wouldn’t have happened, and because of that, we all gotta take a second in our day to “moo.”
When the band exited the stage, the song “Ophelia” by The Band played, yet another tribute to the history of Woodstock. What a time to be alive. As always, thank you Phish.
Lots of love.
This Phish recap was a group effort from five friends, including Patrick Grego, Shannon Wheeler, Rachel Betts, and Jake Blumenthal. A herd, figuring out life and experience around a fire, trying to come together to memorialize a deeply profound night.
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