Written by Jerry Grillo
Day one of Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival was really just a continuation
of the day before Bonnaroo. One long, wet, sometimes frustrating,
ultimately bouncy day. If I rave a bit, it’s from going about 36 hours
without sleep, and counting, helped along by several different types of bad
Ben the photographer and I saw Phish in Knoxville, Tennessee, on Wednesday
night at the Thompson Boling Arena. This was his 99th or 101st or something
Phish concert. It was my first, and I was ambivalent going in for a couple
One, a friend of mine who is a music promoter and manager saw Phish in
Asheville, North Carolina, on Tuesday and was passionately unimpressed. It
was like they had a script and they kept to it, he said. “There was none of
the jam experience I was expecting.”
My friend’s opinion was influenced somewhat by the fact that two of his
charges were dissed, sort of. These two musicians, key influences for Phish,
were waiting in the wings at Asheville, hoping if not expecting a call to
join the Vermont boys on stage. Instead, Trey, Mike, Page and Jon (the Phish
Phreaks call them by their first names only) chose to remain a foursome,
expressing unease at the prospect of an improvised jam the sort of
seat-of-the-pants jam the band was known for in its heyday.
But this is Phish Version 3.0, says Ben. And I wasn’t sure what to expect
when the lights went down Wednesday. My barometer is Ben. He shared my
concerns pre-concert. He was near tears of joy when the band finished the
evening’s performance with a rousing, if over-the-top rendering of Edgar
There were a few yawn-inducing moments, which were well-timed with my
bladder’s nagging. But mostly, the band played on the edge of a cliff with
precision and occasionally passion. The highlights included the band’s new
song, Ocelot, and an ear-spraining guitar solo by Anastasio during David
Bowie. Page McConnell on keyboards was particularly active throughout the
The real show came afterward, on the top couple of floors of the parking
garage, where Gomorroh broke out. Craftspeople were selling water pipes and
junk food and tee shirts. Hippie wannabes were sucking on nitrous oxide, the
smell of pot was stronger here outside then it was in the crowded, enclosed
arena. Best of all was the young mother, maybe 26, a toddler in one hand, a
cooler in the other, screaming, “Liquor shots for five dollars!”
After surviving the temptations of the parking deck, we took off for
Manchester, Tennessee, three or so hours away. We pulled into town around
4:30 a.m., only to realize that we were now in the central time zone so
it¹s been 37 hours without sleep. Anyway, we get to the tiny radio station
where Bonnaroo press passes and will-call tickets are distributed. We got
the radio station at 4 a.m., central standard time. We left with our passes
We waited outside in a driving rain, Ben and I sleeping on our feet.
The company that handles media for Bonnaroo, Big Hassle Media, lived up to
its name. Instead of giving the poor worker at the radio station a list of
names, the poor sap had to call the Big Hassle big shots and have them
dictate information over the phone. She did this for each and every media
person waiting for his or her press pass.
The good thing about all of this was, we met The Brothers Matt and Tim.
Matt writes for a Florida magazine and Tim takes the pictures. They also
saved my ass. The tent I had borrowed was incomplete at best. The Brothers
had an extra, and they helped me and Ben put the thing up in what else?
more driving rain. So, we’re neighbors in a tent city of 80,000 or 90,000.
But The Brothers are out there in Bonnaroo, watching Janeane Garofolo, a
comedian that we seem to have a crush on. Ben is helping an old friend from
Phish tours past, Steve, sell puzzle boxes. They call them puzzle boxes at
markets, but they call them stash boxes here.
My head is about to slam the keyboard. More about Steve tomorrow. And maybe
I’ll have time to hear some actual music and tell you about it. For now,
it’s warm, and steam is rising from the mud, and I have a long, long walk
back to the car to stash my computer, which means I soon shall run a
gauntlet of hippy chick cleavage.
Ben promises pictures if the bosses here allow it.