So as I mentioned in my last post, I attended Super Ball IX last weekend. It was Phish’s ninth festival and held at Watkins Glen International, the famous auto race track in Watkins Glen, NY that last held a music festival in 1973. The most amusing part of the whole thing is that the people from the area seemed worried that this festival would end up like that one, which saw 600,000 people show up to see the Grateful Dead, The Band, and The Allman Brothers play for a single day. There are plenty of in depth reviews of the music. I’ll just write about my experiences and some brief thoughts about the three shows Phish played over the weekend.
For the trip, we rented an RV with a couple friends of ours that we first met through Twitter (sounds like my Festival 8 trip, huh? well, it sort of was, except we had already met the vast majority of these people in person). We took our RV, picked them up in Albany, and met up with the rest of our crew, another RV and 2 carloads of people, in Elmira, just south of the venue. We then formed a caravan to drive into the site. Getting in was simple. Security was lax. The search was minimal.
The venue was huge. The only NASCAR track I have ever seen was Loudon, NH. It’s tiny compared to Watkins Glen. A lot of walking was involved to get to the venue, which was in the infield, from our campsite, and the venue was uphill from the campsite, which made it loads of fun doing the walk a couple times a day.
The venue was quite different from Festival 8, my only other Phish festival experience. It was open 24 hours a day during the fest. Ball Square was a neat little area of art installations and demonstrations. The concert field was an odd shape. Instead of spreading from the stage, one side was kind of cut off by a line of trees, where they added vendors. The shape of the field didn’t really matter since the festival only had 30,000 attendees. Had they sold out at 60,000, it would have been a lot tighter in there. In fact, I’n not sure it would have worked all that well. Other than that, however, I thought it was a great venue. The staff all seemed nice and helpful. The place had a nice relaxed vibe. And the views of the rolling hills were incredible. It’s a very beautiful area of New York State.
The crowd differed from Fest 8 in that it was a bit more rowdy, though I have a feeling that’s due to the fact that a lot of younger people were able to attend, being on a holiday weekend in the summer. But while the crowd may have been a bit more rowdy, it was still pretty mellow and everyone had a good vibe. As I said, the area was very relaxed. It has an effect on people. However, I also didn’t go to the general tent camping area, which was probably more of a party scene than the RV lot.
On Saturday, I “ran” the Runaway Jim Memorial 5k. I actually walked it. It was so hot and the race took place on the track. It started around 11:30. With the sun high in the sky on an asphalt track with no shade, it was brutal. I did finish with a time of 50:54 (give or take a minute, as I heard the clock was a minute off). It was really neat to be on the track. I had no idea auto tracks had hills in them. This one was uphill for much of the length with a short steep downhill section. The banking of the turns was killer on my legs. And, of course, there was the heat. My feet were burning by the time I finished.
Now… the music. Overall, the music was awesome. There was a set (second set, second day) that started out great, but quickly died as it turned quite song based. Luckily, there was still a third set to destroy it. My personal highlights were all the covers… Peaches, Life on Mars, Torn and Frayed, Monkey Man, Big Balls, etc… and the great jams… day one second set opener, Storage Jam, Golden Age, Crosseyed and Painless, Simple, Waves->What’s the Use. Then there was the final night. They finished the last set with Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan, but before leaving the stage, they sang the national anthem. When they came back for the encore of First Tube, fireworks started going off. The fireworks lasted longer than the song and the house music played Simon and Garfunkel’s America. It was really a beautiful moment.
It was a great festival and a great way to spend the 4th of July weekend. Our crew had 18 people, 3 cars, and 2 RV’s all in our 2 RV spaces. We had 5 tents, 4 EZ-Ups, 2 sun shades, and more chairs than we knew what to do with. Everyone knew each other from Twitter. It easily falls within my top 3 weekends and is easily the best time I’ve had at a Phish, or any concert, event. It marked my 29th, 30th, and 31st shows, and they were all excellent shows. The glowstick wars were incredible, but I think the beach ball war that took place during the afternoon set on the second day beats out all the glowsticks. I had never seen so many beach balls bouncing around in the audience, and I’ve seen Jimmy Buffett perform to a crowd of about 50,000 (Gillette Stadium). I am looking forward to the next Phish festival. I really hope they do one next year, and I hope they return to Watkins Glen.