This is the sixth and final post in a 6 part series on my trip to Indio, CA for Phish’s Festival 8 at the Empire Polo Grounds. I’m only separating them out because it would be one long post to put it all together. They’ll be posted immediately as I finish them. I’ll link to my pictures from the festival in my final post. My other posts about Festival 8 can be found using the fest8 tag.
I’m gonna try to sum up my thoughts on the whole trip in this post. My pictures from the trip are linked at the end of the post. I’ve organized this post into a few major topics on which I’ll give my overall thoughts. Please keep in mind that this is the first Phish festival I have ever attended, though I did attempt to go to Coventry and never made it in. The only other music festival I have attended was the Newport Folk Festival (posts: Day 1, Day 2, Overall Thoughts).
This is a long post, so I’ve broken it up into sections and I put the break here to keep it from taking up the front page of my blog. My thoughts after the jump.
Travel to this festival was quite easy. Because my flight was on Southwest, I was able to reinstate some rewards points I had acquired for only $50. That means my round trip flight from Providence to Las Vegas only cost $50. The RV was cheap once it was divided between the seven of us and it’s almost a straight shot on the highway from Vegas to Indio. Because we were driving through the desert there was no traffic and getting into the venue was easy. There was no traffic (while I had sat in traffic for 40 hours before we were turned around trying to get to Coventry). There weren’t even lines getting into the site, though we did get there at 3:00 am. Traveling to this festival was one of the easiest travel experiences I have ever had. My flight there had a layover in Philadelphia, where I usually experience delayed or canceled flights. That didn’t happen. My flight arrived on time and my flight left on time, though it did sit for a bit on the tarmac while we waited for our turn to take off.
The venue, the Empire Polo Grounds, was a great spot. We were in the middle of the desert, but there were trees and grass. The layout was a bit tough. There were large fields that could not be used, forcing us to have long walks to the concert field as we had to walk around these huge fields. They did their best to keep the walking paths watered down to prevent dust. Every so often you’d see a water truck driving by dumping water on the dirt and grass roads throughout the site. This was a nice touch because the dust there was horrible.
The camp sites were pretty spread out, but rather than be a massive lot of camping, there were all these individual areas, which was neat. We camped in Electric Ladyland, which was probably the furthest lot from the concert field, giving us the longest walk. We had friends in Hunky Dory, which was a lot closer. The problem with the RV section of Hunky Dory was that it was a dirt lot. This meant a ton of dust and a hard ground for people who slept in tents outside the RVs. Our lot was grass, and though it still got dusty, it wasn’t nearly as bad as the dirt lots. Our site was also closest to the main General Store that they had setup, along with the farmers market. This proved to be quite convenient for us.
The sun made the walks hot. It would have been nice to have more shade for the long walk to and from the concert field. I think from our site, it was about a mile. It took us about 10-15 minutes to make the walk. Honestly, though, I didn’t mind. My feet were really sore by the end of the trip, but having the nice grass for our lot made it much nicer than some of the other lots I had seen, one of which was a tent camping lot which was basically straw.
The Festival and Organization
The only delay we had in getting there was caused by a serious lack of communication and organization. When we first arrived at the site, we started to pull into the first entrance we saw. In fact, all the vehicles going there were entering this way. The kid standing there informed us that the RV lots in that area were full and he directed us to another entrance closer to where we would park. We followed directions and got there, but the box office was closed in that area. They were supposed to be open 24 hours at that point. The security guy there didn’t know if the other box office would be open at the other entrance and we had to tell him to use his walkie-talkie to find out. The first mistake was having that box office closed. The second mistake was not knowing the other one was open. We made our way back to that other entrance, taking an odd route through the festival grounds to get there. We eventually got our ticket and search and were sent back around to the other entrance where we were able to pull right through the check point and make our way to our parking spot.
The theme of security not knowing anything seemed to last throughout the weekend. No one know much at all. There was no information tent, which I was really surprised about. The people who worked there weren’t told much. There was just a general feel of a lack of organization throughout the festival. It didn’t detract much as it was still a lot of fun and there was enough organization to keep it running well.
My biggest complaint about the organization was the water. We were told that we could buy a water bottle and get free refills during our stay. I bought one of these bottles, but the only filling stations that I could see were in the concert area. There were two tents setup in the area, one in the concert field itself and one just outside in the venue area. These tents had people who filled your bottle with what I assume was spring water. They also had carts setup in 2 or 3 places in that same area where anyone could fill their bottle for free with regular tap water (the manned tents cost $1 for people to fill their own bottles). I did not see any water tents or bottle filling stations anywhere else on the site. They were selling the bottles in the General Store near our camp site, but there was no place nearby to fill the bottles. I’m glad we had bought lots of water, otherwise we would be buying it on site, which could have gotten expensive. They also didn’t have enough trash receptacles in the concert area. There were a few on the outskirts, but hardly as many as they should have had. They made them confusing with three bins – one for compost, which was pretty much everything, though I had no idea the plates, forks, cups, etc. were all compostable, one for cans and bottles, and one for general refuse. Most items went in the refuse bin because we had no idea the other stuff could be composted.
The staff was huge. They had lots of volunteers, some of which we knew. All the volunteers were told they would likely miss one set of music to work their assigned shifts. The two we knew both got scheduled to work on Thursday with an overnight shift that ended Friday morning. They wouldn’t miss any music. They ended up only working on Thursday and when it came time for their break, they were done. In fact, they were told that for one of their assigned tasks, they would be working “standby”, which meant they just had to sit around waiting for something to do. When we arrived, there was a huge mass of security people standing around doing nothing at the back entrance to our lot. We couldn’t figure out why as most of them were doing nothing. They had people sitting along the road at the fence, just guarding it. One of those guys looked like he was sleeping. They probably should have used some of the volunteers to do some of that, if not guarding the fences and gates, at least directing traffic.
Now, even though the staff was still huge, very few of them knew what was going on. They even gave us maps, but the maps sucked. In fact, Laura had asked a police officer how to get to one of the other camp sites, asking with the map in hand. He gave it back to her saying “here’s your useless map”. The map was terrible. When it should have been a picture of the site top down, it was actually angled. I don’t care if it wasn’t to scale, but at the very least, it should have shown major landmarks, including stuff that wasn’t part of the festival to help people find their way around. Finding your way in a place that’s setup like a grid for the most part should not have been that difficult. They didn’t even have any large maps hung around the site until later in the day on Friday. These should have been hung on Thursday.
Overall, everything went pretty smoothly. The security checkpoint at the concert venue was primarily looking to make sure you weren’t bringing in water, which was odd. They wanted to prevent you from bringing in alcohol and your own beer to make you buy it, but they should have allowed us to bring in water, considering how dry it was, but I realize they had to make money some how. By the end of the weekend, they weren’t checking for anything more than your wristband. The crowds were getting to be too big for them to handle. Halloween night, especially, was just a huge mob of people pushing to get through. They asked us to raise our arms to make sure we were wearing the wristbands and people go through. They weren’t even searching bags at that point.
Finally, what I’m sure most of you have been waiting for… the music. I’m one of those people who has a great time at every show I attend. When I’m there, I’m not listening so intently that I get caught up on every flub, missed lyric, and generally poor playing. I notice it when it happens most of the time, but it doesn’t bother me. After all, Phish isn’t playing the same set over and over again. Had they done that, any mistakes would be taken to heart and I’d call it a bad show. So every Phish show I attend is a ton of fun. This one was no different. In fact, this was probably one of the best ones I’ve seen when you consider the fun. The group of people we had helped make it that way.
The first day, the music was definitely the worst. They flubbed a lot. In fact, Trey even missed the strings of his guitar when playing one of the songs. It was a fun set, but musically, it wasn’t anything overly special. It was your average show. Now, an average Phish show is still a great time. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot from the first day. It was their first day playing since the summer tour ended back in August. I considered it their warm up day.
The second day built as they went on. I expected they’d get stronger after each set they played. The daytime set was pretty standard, though the playing was better than the previous night. They totally rocked the Halloween set. However, upon listening to the recordings, their vocals were a bit lackluster. I wasn’t surprised by that. They’re not the Rolling Stones and Mick Jagger has a special kind of voice that few people can imitate. The last set was also strong, though not quite as strong as the Halloween set.
The final day, they brought it all. The acoustic set was their strongest set musically. Though the songs were played pretty standard, they busted out some great songs that we did not expect to hear in an acoustic set. The night sets that day were the strongest electric sets. They didn’t jam quite as much as we would have liked except in the final set, which had some serious segues. Their playing was much better than night than the previous two nights.
Overall, it was a solid three days of music. I’ve seen better overall shows, but combined with the venue and the crowd and some of the theatrics, this was the best time I’ve ever had at a Phish show. If you like Phish, this is definitely a show you should download and listen to.
Final Overall Thoughts
I had a great time at the festival, if you couldn’t tell from reading these posts. I wouldn’t mind if they had another festival at that same venue. It proved to be a great place for a Phish festival, though I wouldn’t want one there in the summer with temperatures hitting the triple digits (after all, they hit 90 during the day while we were there in November). I’m not a huge fan of the desert because of the dust. My allergies were going crazy the two days I forgot to take my allergy medicine. My nose is finally unclogging, a week later. If they took care of the following issues, the festival would’ve been a whole lot better, music aside.
- Fix the general organizational issues
- Add more water stations
- Give us a useful map
- Setup information tents setup around the site where we could pick up a map and get any question answered
- Give the staff some general information to help us find our way around or at least guide us to someone who knows the answers
- Open a second entrance to the concert venue to keep everyone from going through the two security checkpoints
Aside from those issues, it was generally well run. Things went pretty smoothly throughout the weekend. It was easy to overlook the issues and still have a great time. After all, what large event goes on without some issues and mistakes? So in conclusion, thank you, Phish, and thank you, Empire Polo Club, for putting on a great festival.