The Time I Saw Phish On New Year’s Eve, 1999

Of all the weird concerts I have seen in my life, be it the time my buddy convinced me to see the Insane Clown Posse (it was interesting to say the least, but I still do not like them) to the time when I was working at the Electric Fetus and saw the Meat Puppets play an in-store show literally a couple of feet from me, the oddest adventure in my concert history harks back to December, 1999 when my buddy and myself flew down to Florida and saw jam band Phish play a New Years Eve concert. On a whim.

Now, by this time I had been to two other Phish shows. I loved these concerts, which is kind of weird because I’m totally not a hippie. I enjoy things that hippies despise, like showering and hating the Grateful Dead. But there was something about the shows, and the atmosphere before, during and after that was fun. I think I was one of the only people to go to a Phish show wearing a Tool T-shirt.

At the time, my buddy and I were 18 year old high school seniors. We managed to get round-trip tickets really cheap because everyone was afraid to fly because they thought Y2K would somehow make an airplane stop flying for some reason. He got the tickets for the two-day event from someone he knew and we booked a trip to Florida. This was based on a 10-minute conversation we had the night before about it, so it was almost a completely random thing we decided to do. The concert was five days away.

My buddy and I are somewhere among the 85,000 people in this photo.

Once we got to Orlando, we had no idea how we were going to get to the show — which was in Big Cypress. That’s a solid couple hour drive, but we didn’t have a car. We were 18, had no credit card thus and could not rent a car. That’s how well we planned this trip.

Well, we decided to get on a bus and head in the general direction of Big Cypress (we couldn’t find a bus that would take us there directly). Again, poorly planned. But at the station we met some other people who were also heading to the show, two hippies from San Francisco who were nice. We pooled our resources in some town near Big Cypress on a cab for the rest of the way.

Now, this was the largest concert I’ve ever been to. It was huge, there were 85,000 people there. There were more people at this event than there are people from my home town of St. Cloud, which is about 66,000. And it was fun.

We were running low on funds, so I think we ate only once in those two days. We had a little area camped out, our tent basically being a large blanket with our luggage underneath it. We slept on top of our luggage on top of the blanket. It was such a pathetic sight, and somewhere I still have the photos of our horrible living situation for those two days.

On New Years Eve and into New Years Day, Phish performed for more than seven hours. Did I stay awake that whole seven-plus hours? No I did not. Because as much as I enjoyed the band at the time (my enthusiasm for them did not last long after I turned 21, though occasionally I will throw them on), I do not have the stamina to listen to one band for seven solid hours. I listened to probably five hours (I did fly all the way down there for this), went back to camp and slept (I could still hear the band clearly from my blanket fort thing).

The strangest part now comes into play. The show was over, and we had no idea how we were getting back to Orlando. We did not attempt, in the two days there, to find a ride. I dawned on us when the sun rose that we needed to figure something out. We decided to act like the adults we were, and beg anyone and everyone for a lift.

And we found a ride. From a very nice man from New York who weighed about 350 pounds and was driving a rented compact car. Trust me, I know this sounds almost like a Monty Python skit, but it is true. The guy was heading toward the general direction of Orlando, and with us helping with gas, he agreed to take us. Which made me happy because I hadn’t showered in days, and wanted to get back as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, what followed was an 18-hour traffic jam, at the concert site. In the baking Florida heat. In a tiny car. It was horrible.

What was interesting about this horrific traffic jam was how quickly some of these peaceful hippie-types became rabid monsters, jacking up prices on bottles of water from $1 to (and I’m not kidding) $10. Their homemade food items also saw a dramatic rise in cost, totally taking advantage of our current supply-and-demand scenario.

Also, I saw a hippie fight. I saw two hippie dudes with dreadlocks start arguing, which developed into yelling, which went further into slapping and crying. And it brought tears to me eyes because of how hard I was laughing. Because this was the crowd that was jacking up their food and water prices. That’s karma, I guess.

After the jam, we bummed around Orlando for another day before flying back to Minnesota. It was perhaps one of the most impulsive things I have done.