Once Phish had announced that Coventry would be their final show, I immediately bought tickets. I had never been to any of their festivals and I certainly wasn’t going to let them quit without me getting to at least one of them.
So I had my tickets. One of my friends who had never seen Phish was going along with me. The band had planned, as a way to prevent the big traffic jams that occurred at the Limestone festivals, to open the campgrounds early. They were set to open at noon on Thursday before the festival rather than Friday. I had the day off, but my friend had to work. I spent the day packing my stuff and then headed down to Connecticut to pick him up in the afternoon. We made our way north, making a stop in Worcester, MA to pick up fuel for the camp stove and a stop in Concord, NH to pick up food and beer. We continued up I-93 through New Hampshire until we hit the Vermont state line. We pulled off in St. Johnsbury, VT at the intersection of I-93 and I-91 to fuel up and grab a quick snack. It was about midnight we were there. The only places open in the very small city were a gas station and a McDonald’s, both packed with people heading up for Phish. We fueled up and hit the McDonald’s. We found out from the girl at the drive-thru that the manager told them to stay open until people stopped coming through. She handed us a notepad and asked us to write our names and where we were from. She was doing it to see how many different places were represented. We spoke with a police officer in town who mentioned that the traffic started about an hour north of there. We didn’t know what to expect and drove until we hit the traffic. The officer was right. We drove for about another hour before we were stopped in the line of cars trying to get to Coventry. It was about 1:00 am on Friday morning at this point.
We parked the car and did what anyone else would do, got out and hung out with our neighbors. We chatted, drank, told Phish stories, etc. We had a grand old time and actually stayed up until the next morning. Around 9:00 a kid came running through yelling “They’re moving! They’re moving!” We hopped back in the car and continued driving. We probably drove for about half an hour, slowly. We ended up moving about 3-5 miles up the highway. At this point, they had us in two lanes – the breakdown lane and the right lane of the highway. We stopped and started a few more times throughout the day, hanging out whenever we weren’t moving. They had the left lane of the highway open for through traffic and people were staring at us and wondering why we were all parked on the side of the road like that. One Canadian couple drove through and asked what we were doing. When we told them we were there for a concert, they gave us a very confused look and continued on their way. People were drinking, smoking, doing whatever. It was a generally peaceful traffic jam. Everyone was united in their love for Phish. At one point on Friday evening, the cars stopped moving. We were still about 5 miles from the exit. Since we had been up the entire previous night, I crashed in the driver’s seat of my car. I woke up the next morning and it was a cold damp morning. We spent the morning listening to the radio station that Phish had setup for the event. On Saturday morning, the Vermont state police chief came on telling everyone that they were doing their best to get everyone in. However, around 10:00am, Mike came on the radio and read a statement that basically said that after discussing it with the police and the state, they would have to turn people away. Anyone who was left on the highway at that time would be turned away. If you were on the exit ramp or off the highway already, you were in. Once Mike finished his message, there was a loud “FUCK” heard from all the cars around us.
We learned that the problem was the rain that the state had gotten the week before. It was more rain than ever before. They were parking cars on grass fields, which had turned into mud. They were using farm tractors to pull the cars into the parking spaces one by one. It was a huge mess and the band had no choice.
People started packing up their stuff, taking bathroom breaks and deciding what they were going to do. Many people started discussing parking their cars, grabbing the necessities, and hiking in. Vermont state police cars were driving up and down the highway telling us that any cars parked on the side of the road would be towed. The people in front of us decided they were gonna hit the road back to Connecticut. They said The Breakfast was playing a couple shows and they would just party with them. Since both my friend and I had to work on Tuesday and I couldn’t afford to have my car towed, we just headed back. We drove as far as we could, saw the cops standing in the highway, and turned around to head south. We stopped off at a nearby rest area and chatted with some people there. We met a couple girls from New Hampshire who were nearly in tears because they were going to miss the final performance of their beloved band.
At the time, I was upset. When I got back home, I called up a friend who had made it in. He was pissed. He said they had one entrance, were bringing cars in one at a time. He said they could have done a better job at getting more cars into the site. To this day, he is still pissed at the band and is basically ignoring their reunion. And he’s not the only one. There are many fans who have held onto the grudge because of what went down at Coventry.
The band had announced they would give the people who turned away something, but hadn’t figured out what. Great, we were getting a consolation prize. I found out through message boards that the band actually had the nerve to thank people for walking in even though just a day before, they had asked us to leave. We followed their wishes and they were thanking the people who did not follow their wishes. I was not happy about that. I learned I would be getting a free download from LivePhish.com of the performance. I downloaded the show and realized it was one of their worst performances ever. Once I learned what I was getting for turning around, I was a little happier with my decision. I ended up with a photo book signed by all four members of the band. I cherish this book. It’s really one of the only things they could have given us to make up for turning around. I am glad I wasn’t at the show. I heard stories from people about how they were knee-deep in mud. Many people didn’t have their tents and were crashing with others. People had to pay lots of money to get rides from Vermonters into the show. It was a disaster.
In retrospect, I’m glad I wasn’t there watching my favorite band make a mockery of themselves, unable to play many of their classic songs properly. I was sad to see them go, but I would have been even sadder had I seen the pitiful performance at Coventry from the mud.
The next article in this series will discuss the post-breakup period and how I got through it.