Last night, I went to a Phish concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion. I’d never been to a Phish show before, and frankly, I expected more hippies. You know, older people with weathered skin and tie-died clothes sitting around nodding slowly as the band plays into the 12th minute of a song, the title of which we have all forgotten because they’ve wandered so far from any recognizable melody. But there were fewer hippies than college kids, and many of those appeared to be frat boys.
I went with a friend and some of her college buddies, who promptly offered me a beer and some vegan chips and dip when I arrived. I expected to see more vegan or at least vegetarian food around, and maybe even some kind of activist booths where people would hand out fliers on animal rights, the war in Iraq or organic produce, but other than a handful of people selling hemp jewelry and hula hoops from the back hatches of their midsized SUVs, there was not much commerce to be seen. I’m not complaining; just saying.
Oh, and there were cookies. Someone sold one of my new acquaintances some cookies, and she gave me one. They were Pharm Phresh, apparently. I don’t know what that means, but the cookie was tasty and did not get me high.
I decided to skip the beer because I’d gone to this piano bar in Baltimore the night before and had a touch too much to drink and realized I don’t really like being drunk these days, and unless I’m drunk I don’t like piano bars very much. I drank water from a plastic cup and felt just a little bit guilty but preferred Plastic Guilt over beer. We sat on our blankets between the cars, under signs that read clearly “No Tailgating” amid several thousand tailgaters and some cops patrolling in cruisers and golf carts. Everyone was basically friendly, and the cops seemed OK with the fact that this is the kind of crowd that just doesn’t read signs.
While waiting for the doors to open, one of my new acquaintances told me about The China Study. I told her I’m a “theoretical vegetarian,” and she nodded kindly. “I’m a theoretical vegan. I know how it is.” I appreciated that she didn’t need to lecture me about how bad meat is. I already know that, but making that shift over to 100% vegetarian just hasn’t happened for me yet. The China Study, she explained, would probably convince me to complete the transition because the more you learn about meat and the effects of animal protein the less appealing meat becomes. She said she found it very empowering to know that she could have much greater control over her health just because of what she eats. That seems like a pretty good perk, and since this has been a year of illness for many people I know (some who by all rights should be in excellent health), I think this China Study business is worth a try.
As we migrated toward the stage along with the hippies and the frat boys, we talked about the environmental impact of our choices. I explained how I struggle with food choices because I don’t always have time to cook and I feel that most packaged food is bad for the environment, so I often don’t know what to eat. She pointed out that being vegetarian saves about half a ton of carbon dioxide per year, and being vegan saves about a ton, so even if you’re eating prepackaged vegan food, you’re still reducing your carbon footprint. I think this assessment is fair, and it does assuage some of my guilt over having packaged foods once in a while, but it doesn’t exactly solve the problem of plastic. Nonetheless, I appreciate the outside perspective.
Our little group settled on the lawn in front of the stage, spreading out a couple of blankets, our big jug of water and bag of corn chips. We watched the people filter in: college kids, people of indeterminate age who maintained the college kid aura, lots of tattoos and people whose clothing was clearly chosen for its ability to showcase tattoos. There were a lot of men in skirts — not drag queens but dudes just enjoying the breeziness of a long cotton skirt on a hot June afternoon. When a breeze came, many of them would stop mid-step and take a wide stance to air things out. I didn’t blame them one bit.
Eventually, a gaggle of wild bros wandered in front of us and stopped. They didn’t have blankets to sit on or lawn chairs or anything. They just stood there. “I wonder if this is the crowd that stands for the entire concert,” my friend said to me. I hoped against hope that this would be a more mellow group, maybe everyone would get stoned and lay back on the grass and zone out. But the bros continued to stand and began passing at least three pipes among them while wielding bud lights at each other and “wooing” at the top of their lungs. Several years ago when I might have befriended the bros with the pipes (or the guy with the joint behind me or the guy walking around asking “tabs? tabs, anyone?”) and there was another time when I would have felt almost violently threatened by their very presence, but this time around, I just wanted to enjoy the show and drive home safely.
For the first several songs, I stood with them, but like attracts like and bros attract bros, so their crew grew and I started to feel overwhelmed with their booze breath and smoke, so I sat on the ground with my friend who was doing her best to avoid the fumes. The view from the ground was mostly feet and furtively passed pipes. The guy in front of me had a lot of lower back hair pointing like a big furry arrow to regions I didn’t care to know but couldn’t help visualizing. People had brought beach balls and balloons to bounce across the crowd, which I found rather charming, but one of the frat boys grew angry about the inflatables and (astonishingly) managed to run through the crowd, catch one and pop it before finding his way back to his herd and high-fiving to his victory.
He then resumed his dance, the dance he did for the entire time I saw him, a dance I could only call “the rape dance.” It’s an angry dance that belongs more at a Insane Clown Posse concert than a Phish show. Shirtless, he stood with his feet wide apart, gun-shaped hands in the air, thrusting his saggy-trousered crotch threateningly toward the stage. While everyone else in the crowd was dancing like it was a big group reiki session, this guy seemed to think the lyrics to every song should be, “fuck tha police.”
It was shortly after the popped balloon and the rape dance that I decided I’d rather be further away from the stage with a little better air quality than to be close to the stage and trapped among half naked bros. My friend agreed, as she seemed to be tired of holding her shirt over her nose. We wandered away from the crowd and observed some lovely tattoos, very talented hula hoopers, interesting dancers, and some very intoxicated people. Eventually, we settled on a spot at the very back of the lawn, among families with blankets spread out and toddlers playing with balloons while their parents engaged in a little harmless interpretive dance on the grass. The music was a little quieter here, we could move freely, and although there was a hint of smoke in the air at all times, we didn’t feel so forced to partake.
The band played a lot of songs I didn’t know and a few that I did, and it turns out that I’m just not a huge fan of jam bands. When the band left the stage, I picked up my stuff and said my farewells as they returned for the encore. My friend actually apologized in case I’d found the whole thing too boring, but it wasn’t dull at all. It was just the right amount of excitement, and after a quick stop at Taco Bell, I reached home feeling safe and sane with a mild case of the munchies and a vague desire to buy a hula hoop.