“Its [sic] like the whole world getting Curveballed”
- @thequietone, Phantasy Tour/Phish Message Boards User
That thread title made me smile when I first saw it on March 11, 2020, as the pandemic first began to affect travel. I heard it as though from a character where you know it’s a joke, but the actor plays the part so well, the chance that he was serious is what makes it gold. How could one be so narrow-minded to compare the beginning of a global pandemic caused by a novel coronavirus to a single rock band festival cancellation? After all, following the Curveball announcement, we just had to find something else to do for the weekend, get our refunds, and blaze on to Dick's in a couple of weeks. This one-liner from PT is an appropriate place to begin because it's not lost on me that writing a history of these recent times, which have been so hard on so many, in the context of one band may seem indulgent.
That said, the pandemic affected live music perhaps as much as any other industry outside health care and education - essentially shutting down all concerts with an audience month after month beginning in March 2020. Musicians and production crews that worked on the road and in the venues would be severely impacted, and the future of the industry always felt uncertain. Even though it would be hard to find anyone who doesn’t appreciate the arts, for many fans of live music—and especially Phish—the experience offers more than just musicians on stage in the centerpiece of a big swirling production. It provides much-needed respite, camaraderie, and even catharsis when we’re lucky. Furthermore, the industry generates billions of dollars with wide-ranging effects on millions of lives.
The loss of livelihoods and outlets for joy for many was a small but significant part of the broader economic fallout from the response to the exponential spread of the virus known as SARS-CoV-2 in the last two years. In the broadest sense, the pandemic changed everything about the world we had come to take for granted. This piece has been rewritten for months and months, just getting longer as the story continued to unfold and the pandemic dragged on. After all, we are still in the midst of a constant threat of (fortunately milder) infection from ever more contagious variants (BA.5 at the time of publication). Thankfully though, much of life has readjusted to living with the virus thanks to easily available vaccines, including the concert industry.
As a band whose success and even identity have always been bound to their live performances, the pandemic challenged Phish to continue to reach their audience at a time when many would benefit the most from the distraction of chasing tour rumors, planning trips, and following setlists. Fortunately, Phish found engaging ways to keep us tuned. And when the time came, their commitment to return to the road as safely and quickly as possible likely reflects their passion to play together as much as their awareness of how much we would appreciate it.
The challenges and responses that would continue to arise through 2021 and even again this year display the persistence of the band and fans to find some way back to the shows. Since Phish’s first unaffected tour since 2019 just concluded at the eleventh Labor Day run at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, it seems like an appropriate time to finally share a chronicle of all that has occurred with Phish during COVID-19.
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