The Tragedy of Phicago

This is the story told by a girl who survived the Chicago Phish shows that took place in July of 2013.

Friday
I was starting to get stuck in a rut called being an adult.  My day to day activities had become monotonous and I kind of preferred it that way.  I definitely wasn’t prepared for one of the craziest weekends of my life.
 
This past summer Phish came to my hometown for a three night run of shows at Northerly Island Pavilion in downtown Chicago.  I conveniently got hooked up with a small studio apartment less than a mile from the venue, right on Michigan Ave.  This crash pad was normally used to house college kids but since it was July, most of the students were on summer break.  It was fully furnished with a stiff bed, electric stove, and mini fridge that smelled like it had been unplugged and unopened for over a month.  
  
When I walked through the door I cracked open a bottle of rum and officially started to pregame.  Time was of the essence so I transferred my rum and coke to a water bottle and departed for the venue.  The arctic blast coming from the vents inside the apartment building almost made me forget it was over 90 degrees outside.  I stepped out into the sweltery Chicago afternoon and embarked on my journey through Grant Park. 
 
I passed Museum Campus and entered a virtually nonexistent parking lot scene, which was usually popping with activity before a Phish show.  Some folks will come to the lot with no intention of even going into the show, while others will come without a ticket in hopes of getting in for free.  This situation is called a “miracle.”  I have never personally experienced a miracle but, then again, I always buy my tickets in advance.    
 
I ventured towards the pavilion in search of my friends and it occurred to me just how odd Northerly Island was set up.  It’s basically a park next to the beach right on Lake Michigan, in the heart of downtown Chicago.  The picnic area next to the beach had a strange mix of families barbecuing and dirty looking hippies with dirty looking dogs littering the grass.  Their tie dyed t-shirts made them stick out like a sore thumb compared to the normal families enjoying the downtown beach on a hot summer day. 
 
There was a refreshing breeze coming in off the lake so I took a moment to cool off and soak in the scene.  
 
I suddenly heard a voice calling from around a tree, “Hey girl!” 
 
It was my friend, Sparkle Ass, walking up to me with half a bottle of gin in her hand.  She is the type of girl that likes to party and her crew found a shaded spot under a tree where they had been rocking a gin bucket all afternoon.  The elephant shaped bucket was filled with a concoction that Sparkle Ass served right into my mouth with a turkey baster, spilling it all over her zebra print Keds in the process.  I could feel the alcohol scorch my throat the second I swallowed and I exhaled with a “WOW” as I felt gin violate every corner of my mouth.
  
Within 10 minutes meeting up, Sparkle Ass got me drunk and then glitter bombed me.  A glitter bomb is when someone pours a whole bottle of glitter on you at once.  It’s pretty obvious when you are the victim of a glitter bomb because you look like a walking, talking disco ball.  This wasn’t how I wanted to start my weekend, especially because I hate everything about glitter.  Sparkle Ass laughed hysterically as she bombed me, probably because I fell into her trap so perfectly.  I guess I should have expected that from her.
 
We eventually found our way inside the venue and claimed our space on the lawn with two sheets Sparkle Ass and I brought from home.  Her sheet had a pattern with tiny pieces of fruit on it and mine was just plain white.  The lawn was enormous and flat, so seeing the stage was nearly impossible. 
 
When Phish finally went on, the $4 beers began to flow like the Chicago River.  I was already pretty tipsy after drinking rum and cokes all afternoon and downing a few turkey basters full of gin, but now I was getting sloppy.  My motor skills deteriorated the more intoxicated I became and lots of beer spilled on my white sheet during Phish’s first set, but I didn’t seem to notice at the time.
 
Somehow my good friend Rico found me and an epic dance party was had by all.  At least that was what I was told.  To be completely honest, I don’t really remember the first set or set break, but two songs into the second set they called for an evacuation of the venue.  I do remember that. 
 
It didn’t look like a storm was coming from where we were standing so we sat down on our beer stained sheets in hopes it was a false alarm.  We waited about ten more minutes before we noticed an ugly grey cloud hovering over the Chicago skyline.  Finally, we decided to take the band’s advice to run for cover.  I lost Sparkle Ass and the rest of the crew almost immediately after leaving the venue.  Luckily, Rico and I got to the parking garage as buckets of water began to fall from the sky.  
 
Our original plan was to hit up a late night show after Phish, but that was hours away.  So we sailed over to our friends’ apartment on the other side of town to kill some time.  
 
This storm was no joke and I began to understand why they evacuated the Phish concert.  All the rain resulted in a flash flood, causing Damen Avenue to turn into a small stream.  Rico parked his car and we hastily crossed the street only to wait ten minutes in the rain for our friends to unlock their door.  We entered the second story apartment soaking wet and then realized we had just walked into madhouse…  
 
Four people were sitting on a 1960′s powder blue leather couch that was pulled up to the dining room table.  The rest of the group was sitting on folding chairs and bar stools opposite them.  The dining room was separated from the living room by a fireplace that had probably never been used before and the bar stools were from large alcove just off the living room that housed a homemade bar.  Unframed concert posters covered the walls of the apartment, not a single one hung straight or centered, which drove me crazy!
 
All of the lights were off and there was a musty smell in the air.  One of the dudes who lived there was dressed as Hunter S. Thompson and, since this was his place, he insisted on having his impressive speakers “turned up to eleven.”  His roommate, Birdman, was sitting on the corner of the blue couch playing with a lamp’s dimmer switch, causing the room to light up and then go completely dark with just a swipe of his finger.  Since this was the only source of light in the whole apartment everyone had their eyes glued to him, laughing hysterically.
 
I interrupted this odd scene, “What’s going on here?” I yelled over the music.  
To which the dimly lit corner screamed back, “Ambiance.”
The rest of the room exploded in laughter. 
 
I was starting to lose my buzz so I made my way to the fridge to get a beer.  That’s when I noticed a strange black dog had followed me into the kitchen.  I thought to myself, “Where did you come from?”  He cocked his head to the side when I opened the fridge as if he wanted to ask me the same question.  
The dog was an older mutt with shaggy hair and he was obviously the source of the apartment’s strange smell.  I wondered if they found him on the street earlier that night and maybe they rescued him from the storm.  The thought crossed my mind to ask my friends about the dog but I already knew questions were pointless.
 
One of my good friends, Chaz, appeared out of nowhere.  Actually, he was there the whole time but I didn’t recognize him since he was wearing a mullet wig that perfectly matched his grizzly beard.  The hairpiece transformed his personality into an 80′s rock god who had mastered the art of air guitar.  He discovered the wig in Hunter S. Thompson’s costume chest and informed me that for the rest of the weekend he would be known as Mullet Man.      
 
Birdman annoyingly focused his lamp on me like a spotlight and inquired about Phish’s Saturday show.  It just so happened to be sold out and I had an extra ticket.  Sparkle Ass was hooking me up with a ticket upgrade from the lawn to the floor.  So I promised Birdman my extra ticket and we made plans to meet up the next day in order to complete our transaction. 
 
Things started to fall apart after that.  LCD Soundsystem was blaring in the background and the speakers were making more noise than music.  Birdman had given up on controlling the room’s “ambiance” by turning the lamp off completely and the rest of the room didn’t seem to mind sitting in the dark, but I did.  Rico was making himself comfortable by laying with the strange dog on the floor while the rest of the group continued with their uncontrollable laughter. 
 
I felt like I was in an alternative universe.  I could only take so much before I convinced Rico to get off the floor so we could head to the late night show.  We finally escaped the chaos and headed back out into the stormy Chicago night.
 
Saturday
Saturday was challenging.  Early in the day Phish announced they were making up for Friday’s cancelled show by giving us three sets of music that night.  Therefore, the show had to start promptly at 7pm in order to fit it all in.  
 
After a busy day of running around the city, I finally showed up to Northerly Island around 6pm.  I made my way towards the venue hoping to run into Sparkle Ass but ended up hanging out on a grassy area next to the beach by myself.
The show was sold out and you could tell.  People everywhere were looking for tickets and scalpers were making a killing.  At one point I witnessed a very smooth talking guy with a Grateful Dead t-shirt hold a full blown auction right next to the box office.  The highest bidder ended up paying $225 for a lawn ticket that originally cost $50.
 
I kept trying to get a hold of Sparkle Ass because she still had my floor ticket but for some reason she hadn’t answered her phone or returned my texts all afternoon.  It was nearly a half hour before the show when she finally responded. 
 
Her text infromed me she was getting there late and that she no longer had an extra ticket for me.  My stomach sank and I felt like I was going to have a panic attack.  The odds of me finding a ticket at this point were practically nonexistent.    
 
I thought about just keeping my original ticket but I just couldn’t leave Birdman high and dry like that.  Handing it over to him was extremely painful when the time finally came.  I asked him and Hunter S. Thompson to keep a lookout for extra tickets as they ventured into the venue but felt like they weren’t really in the right state of mind to understand exactly what I was asking them to do. 
 
So, there I was with my finger in the air as 30,000 people passed me on their way into the show.  The shame of looking like an unprepared concert goer was unbearable.  I’ve never been the type of girl to expect a miracle but I still couldn’t help but pray for one.  
 
I could hear the sold out crowd scream as Phish took the stage.  The first couple songs passed and I began to lose all hope of ever getting into the show that night.  I could feel my nerves fray as time dragged on.  Sparkle Ass kept texting me how sorry she was, draining my phone’s battery in the process.  There was a long story about getting kicked out of a hotel, friends getting arrested, and having her dad come pick her up from the side of the road.  She told me she would help me find a ticket once she got there but that wouldn’t be for quite awhile. 
 
A half hour of torture passed before she instructed me go to the gate because someone found me a ticket. 
 
Finally!
 
I stood by the gate for ten minutes before a gypsy looking girl with dread locks approached me and asked if I knew Sparkle Ass.  She looked right through me like I was wasting her time, which made me feel small and helpless.  It wasn’t until she handed me the ticket that she informed me it cost $200.  Gulp.  I only had $120 on me and that was all my cash for the weekend.  Maybe she felt bad for me or maybe she was just trying to take me for everything I had, either way, she took all my money and I got into the show.   
 
All my friends were out in the lawn, somewhere, but my overpriced ticket was for the floor.  My phone was dead and I didn’t have enough cash to even buy a beer.  I considered trying to get really close to the stage, but for some reason I felt like the lawn was where I needed to be.  Besides, I could still see the show’s awesome lights, which looked like it could land the Mothership. 
 
So I dove into the sea of lawn people to find my crew.  If I ended up raging the show alone, so be it.  The second I heard “Lawn Boy’s” bass line start, I knew I had made the right decision.  The crowd was swaying to Page’s lounge act voice and I kicked off my shoes so I could feel grass between my toes.  This was where I was supposed to be.
 
It wasn’t long before Hunter S. Thompson found me.  He was wearing a kimono and had a small collapsible cooler tied around his waste.   He had lost all our friends when the show started and was happy to see my familiar face.  We were pretty far back on the lawn which ended up being the perfect spot to find people.  One by one our friends walked past us on their way to the portapotties.  First it was Birdman, still flying high from earlier, then Rico and Mullet Man.  I explained the ridiculous process of getting into the show and Rico felt so bad he bought me a beer. 
 
That was when I realized I was completely sober.  I hadn’t taken any time to enjoy myself since waking up that morning.  Spinning in circles like a flower child usually isn’t my thing, but at this particular Phish show, it just seemed necessary.  The panic attack I had earlier was still lingering in my system and I needed to centrifuge all the crazy crap that had been piling on my shoulders.  The rest of my crew was getting down too.  Mullet man was rocking his air guitar, Birdman was flailing his arms in the air like a bird, and Hunter S. Thompson was thrusting his hips into the back of his fanny pack cooler.  Sparkle Ass was still nowhere to be found.
 
It rained a bit during the show’s second set but it was nothing compared to the storm that slammed the city the night before.  The second set break aligned perfectly with Chicago’s weekly fireworks show and it seemed like the night was finally coming together.  
Phish played a total of 27 songs within three sets of music that night.  Even though I missed the first four songs and my ticket was double face value, I still got to enjoy a full night of phishing.  It could have been a lot worse too, I mean, I could have never got into the show in the first place, right? 
 
When the concert was over, everyone vacated the venue and the streets of Chicago filled with a ridiculously rowdy crowd.  People were dancing in the sprinklers in front of the Field Museum like little children playing in the rain.  They twirled in circles while high school kids played the drums with upside down buckets on sidewalk next to the grass. 
Mullet Man disappeared as soon as we left the show and Rico headed home to the suburbs.  Hunter S. Thompson and Birdman were going to a yacht party that set sail from Navy Pier so we parted ways when we got to Lake Shore Drive. 
 
I was on my way to the other side of town for an after party at the Hard Rock Cafe.  I was in dire need of an easy atmosphere for the rest of my evening and my feet were killing me.  Unfortunately, I was still broke and was forced to walk the four miles through downtown Chicago by myself.  
 
I embarked on my journey through Grant Park alone but it wasn’t long before I ran into Mullet Man.  His air guitar had turned into an air bass and he was vocally producing the most epic basslines he could think of.  Mullet Man said he was down to join me for the late night after party and I was glad I didn’t have to walk through Grant Park by myself so late at night.  
 
I still had a half bottle of rum at my weekend apartment, which was on the way to the Hard Rock.  I insisted we stop there even though Mullet Man was already wasted.  Looking back, I guess I was being a bit selfish when I let him to finish the rest of that bottle of rum, I just wanted to get that nasty mullet off his head before going back out in public. 
 
I finally convinced Mullet Man to ditch the wig and we headed back out into the Chicago night.  We both enjoyed a chilled out show at the Hard Rock Cafe with just enough people to make the room feel cozy.  It seemed like the perfect setting after another long evening full of insanity.
 
Sunday
I awoke Sunday morning feeling defeated.  I sent a nasty text message to Sparkle Ass about her being a flake and it helped me feel a little better, but I couldn’t deny that this weekend was starting to kick my ass.  Although my crash pad was convenient, I looked forward to sleeping in my comfy apartment in the middle of nowhere special.    
 
For the last day of Phish I signed up to take a party bus to the show that was organized by my favorite bartender, Mr. Brown.  A crew of his 50 favorite patrons met up at the bar around 4pm and, after a few cocktails, we loaded our fancy air conditioned bus with coolers full of beer before we hit the road for Phish.      
 
All the bus riders agreed to meet by a water fountain in front of the parking lot after the show.  We then started walking towards the venue together but almost immediately got split up.  So once again I was all by myself, but at this point in the weekend, I almost preferred it that way.
 
I eventually ran into Mullet Man and Rico at the park near the beach.  The pregame was in full swing and the temperature had cooled off quite a bit since Friday.  It almost felt like we were at a picnic, only instead of lemonade we were sipping on a bottle of Fireball.  I spread out my sheet so we could kick off our shoes while we waited for Birdman and Hunter S. Thompson to get there.  Their yacht party didn’t end until the sun came up that morning, so they were running a bit hehind schedule that Sunday.      
 
They finally showed just before the show started.  We all walked into the venue together and found a nice little spot on the lawn to lay down my sheet.  When the first set started, I couldn’t help notice the enormous rain drops that began to fall from the sky.  They actually stung me with surprise when they hit my skin.  I looked up and wondered what kind of evening was in store for us. 
 
The weather started to pick up and Phish responded to Mother Nature with a saucy “Bathtub Gin” followed by a furious “Wilson.”  Everyone danced through the rain, even as hail fell from the sky, reminding me of the folks that danced in the sprinklers outside the Field Museum the night before.
 
Eventually everyone was soaked to the bone, but the show still went on.  I figured they would cancel the concert if it was too dangerous to be outside, but I had never been stuck in weather like that for so long before.  By the time Phish went into “Antelope,” it was a torrential downpour.  Set break finally came and we were all drenched.
 
One by one our group gave up standing around and just sat in the puddle that had formed on top of my white sheet.  The set break seemed to last forever and the lawn eventually turned into a swamp.  I was cold, the type of cold you can only feel when you are soaking wet and I just couldn’t seem to shake the shivers.  My hair was sopping wet and sticking to my face.  At least when the band was playing I was able to dance off some of the rain, but now I was forced to just sit, and soak in a puddle.

This wasn’t fun anymore.    
 
I finally gave up on Phish and I tried to convince my crew to leave the show.  Most of them were drunk and didn’t care if we stayed or left, but Rico was being stubborn.  He was convinced Phish would still play their last set of the weekend, we just had to wait out the storm.  He then took his shirt off and rang it out like a wash towel.   
 
We eventually abandoned my sheet and ventured towards the portapotties.  That’s when Birdman noticed how easy it would be to sneak under one of the beer tents in order to get out of the rain.  Salvation!  We found a corner in the back of the tent where we could squeeze in without getting caught.  So what if we looked like refugees, at least we were somewhere dry.  I noticed my fingers had turned to prunes as I pulled up the weather app on my iphone.  Luckily, we only had about ten more minutes until the storm would pass.  
 
When the rain finally let up, we vacated the beer tent in hopes Phish’s second set would soon start.  Finding the white sheet I left behind seemed pointless and I already came to terms with giving it up as a sacrifice to Mother Nature.  
 
Only half of the crowd stuck around for the last set of the weekend and, after enduring the hour long set break, those of us that weathered the storm got a five song set that was straight fire.  The music engulfed us with the warmth of a well crafted setlist and you could tell Phish was thankful for the fans who soldiered through an epic storm just to see them play a few tunes.
When the song “Harpua” started the crowd went BONKERS!  I couldn’t believe my ears, this was what we were waiting for.  Elbows and fists went flying and a shit eating grin was on every face.  Phish blessed us with a gem of a song they hadn’t played in over two years.  In fact, they’ve only busted it out a handful of times in the last 20 years!
 
By the time the show was over, I was extremely exhausted, not to mention wet and cold.  When I finally got to the meeting spot for the bus back to the bar, Mr. Brown was the only other person there.  He was beaming with joy after hearing “Harpua” and had no clue where any of the other bus riders were at.  We finally got in contact with the group only to find out they were already on the bus.  These fools left the show way before the second set even started and completely missed “Harpua.”  Mr. Brown was suddenly disgusted and informed them they had missed the best part of the night.
 
During our walk back to the bus, Mr. Brown entertained me with a story about Phish’s Big Cypress New Years Eve show back in 1999.  He had been to well over 100 Phish shows and claimed that was his most memorable show he’d been to.  By the time we got to the party bus, all the coolers were empty and everyone who left the show early was drunk, dry, and ready to hit the road.  
 
I looked out the window as we cruised down Lake Shore Drive and couldn’t help but smile.  Even though I was brought to my breaking point,  I was glad I waited out the storm and never followed through with my intention of leaving the show before it was over.  Quitters are losers and, in all honesty, the “Harpua” alone was worth the trouble.  It is funny how good music can turn life’s worse experiences into something meaningful.   Now that my phishing weekend is long over, I felt I had to share my experience with my Summer Camp community.  That weekend was one for the books and I learned a pretty important lesson about surrendering to the flow.