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Home » PEOPLE AND PLACES » VERMONT » The Benefit of Phish
The Band and the Crowd     BY: Dave Vann © Phish 2011
The Benefit of Phish

The Concert for Vermont, Essex Junction, Vermont

By Mike Dunphy | September 22, 2011

At 7AM on Saturday, September 10, 2011, I peeled myself out of bed and headed into downtown Burlington for tickets to the surprise Hurricane Irene benefit concert put on by Vermont’s most famous band—Phish.

Outside the Venue
BY: Dave Vann © Phish 2011

No stranger to crowd control and scalpers, the $75 tickets were made available on one day, at one location, and cash only, with only two tickets per person. As a long-time fan, I was eager to get a ticket, but not as hot as the fans who’d set up camp on the sidewalks the night before.

Arriving at the Flynn Theater box office, maybe I should have. The sprawling line continued down the block, turned left onto St. Paul Street, then left again onto King Street, up three blocks to South Union, left to Main Street, and finally right up the hill where I found the end just outside Edmunds Middle School.

Standing at the rump of the longest line of my life, I cursed myself for not bringing something to read. Still, it gave me a chance to check out the current state of Phish-fandom. Sure, there were still plenty of twenty-something crunchy types, but a good portion wasn’t.

The man in front of me had grey temples and ran a janitorial supply company. Behind me was an employee of Canadian Television, who drove down that morning from Montreal. Behind him was a saucy grandma in her seventies with no idea what all the fuss was about (she was there on behalf of her son in Colorado). Happily, she shared her newspaper. With three hours to go, it was a welcome time-killer.

Inside the paper were more sad stories of the damage caused by Hurricane Irene. Vermont had merely expected a day of bad weather spun by the edges of the storm as it ran up the Atlantic Coast.   Instead, it hit us head on and dumped eleven inches of rain in rivers already near flood stage from the previous winter’s melt and heavy spring rains.

The result was catastrophic, destroying homes, businesses, 250 roads, thirty bridges, cutting off eleven towns entirely, and killing four people. Statewide, that added up to around 500 million dollars, a figure all the more daunting considering the already tight budgets and poor economy.

Trey Anastasio
BY: Dave Vann © Phish 2011

So it was with open arms that the state welcomed the Phish benefit concert. “It’s been heartbreaking to see all the loss and destruction that came from the storm,” said Phish keyboardist Page McConnell. “We hope the money raised will make a difference in the recovery and rebuilding effort.” At $75 per ticket ($250 for extra special ones), and around 12,000 on offer, it promised a sizable chunk of change. All proceeds were directed to the band’s own WaterWheel Foundation and the Vermont Community Foundation, which manages over 600 charitable funds that invest more than $18 million annually in the state.

The day of the show was a beautiful one, with plenty of late-summer sunshine warming (but not roasting) the mega tail-gaiting party in the parking lots and police thankfully turning a liberal eye (and nose) from the fragrant cannabinoid cloud hovering over the venue. In fact, Brad LaRose, acting chief of the Essex Police Department told the Burlington Free Press, “I’ve been in the business for thirty-three years, and I can’t ever remember dealing with a crowd of that size that was so pleasant to deal with.”

The sunny disposition and good vibes were carried through the gates into the concert area itself. As someone accustomed to Phish crowds of 25,000 plus, it was a welcome change to walk nearly up to the stage itself. As the sun set behind the grandstands and space tightened, the crowd began to get revved up, especially when bass player Mike Gordon introduced Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin. “Was it worth the wait?” he asked to the cheering fans in reference to the seven year’s absence from the Vermont. The response was deafening. When the rest of the band stepped on the stage, it was twice that.

The Crowd
BY: Dave Vann © Phish 2011

“We’re pumped,” Gordon stated at the outset and it was evident from the first guitar lick in the opening rocker Chalkdust Torture to the last note of the ninety-minute, eleven-song first set. With so many exuberantly dancing people (and wayward elbows), we abandoned our forward position at set break for a more tenable, spacious spot in front of the soundboard.

Phish Delight the Crowd
BY: Dave Vann © Phish 2011

It was a good choice as we were better able to enjoy the stunning, improvisational light show by Chris Koroda while the band burned through nine more tunes, including a surprising cover of the Velvet Underground’s Rock & Roll and clear crowd favorite Suzy Greenberg. The crowd could have gone all night, if not for a curfew ending the show at 11PM, but not before a rousing encore of the Rolling Stone’s Loving Cup.

Outside the $1.2 million raised, there was much to take from the benefit. Perhaps guitarist Trey Anastasio said it best. “It was amazing and inspiring to see so many people come together through music to aid the great state of Vermont,” As a fan and native, I couldn’t help watch the thousands of heels clicking together and think, “There’s no place like home.”

If you would like to help in Vermont recovery efforts, donations may be made via the Phish website. The show is also available for download.

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