It’s not everyday I am struggling to find an adjective that can describe an experience I’ve had. There are many that come to mind over the years: beautiful, extravagant, horrid, wonderful, amazing, magical, even. And yet this weekend I got to experience something so unique and outrageous I am suffering from post-show depression.
As many know, Phish has been my favorite band for more than 20 years. My parents keep waiting for me to “outgrow” Phish, which I don’t quite get. They have seen every home football game at the University of Tennessee my entire life (approx.) yet they haven’t outgrown it, because they love it. Same thing for me. I’ve been to shows in California, the Everglades of Florida, Madison Square Garden, countless sheds and amphitheaters and arenas, Radio City Music Hall, you name it. I’ve followed this band as far as I can.
But of course for many of us, our Phish following days are limited now with careers and children. Going to a show within a 100-mile radius on a weekend seems to be the best I can do nowadays. While they are still fun and wonderful, the backdrop becomes predictable, the crowd too similar, and dare I say, sometimes lackluster to drive into the same paved or gravel lot to see many of the same people. Of course, inside, it’s wonderful, but I’ve been craving something different.
When Phish announced they were playing in Mexico in an all-inclusive resort environment, I could not have dreamed it better if I tried. Yes it was pricey, but we had recently sold our rental property and had a little extra to spend. Our family could keep our children and we somehow lucked out with tickets the morning they went on sale. We could only do the three-night trip at the Hard Rock hotel, but it was worth it.
To say it was an amazing vacation doesn’t sum it up. To say it was a beautiful setting is not pretty enough. It was breathtaking, and almost like the Twilight Zone. After an easy trip to Cancun from Charlotte, NC, there was a shuttle waiting for us with Phish attire, easily marking themselves. The hour wait for the shuttle was long and hot but the fans were all together mingling, meeting, exchanging hometown information and our show history. There was excitement in the air of the “hurry up and get me there” variety. Everyone was jumping out of their skin in anticipation.
Our bus ride was quite jovial and loud, something you’d expect from a bunch of 30-40 year olds who most likely all have professional jobs and/or families but were going to get to act like college kids again for a few days. We continued our silly banter and the hour-ride went by quickly.
Checking into the all-inclusive was a little lengthy but having waiters bring your choice of beverage in the lobby helped dampen the blow of the systems being down and check-in times slowing to a crawl. Of course, when the CID (promotion company) handed you your Phish swag of a beach towel, sunglasses and croakies, it made things once again, worth the wait.
Our room was small but well-appointed and our view of the ocean and hammocks were breathtaking. Again, that same level of excitement permeated every breath I took. I was on the cusp of something so cool, even I had no idea how to feel.
My husband soon took a turn for the very worse with his first-ever migraine and the juxtaposition of his need for dark and quiet caused confusion with my friend’s classic greeting of a very loud “HIT IT” as we saw one another for the first time in months. I was jumping in a hard embrace into his arms and my poor hubby found himself vomiting before he ever had a sip of Mexican water. He was out for the show. Being the good wife that I am, I checked on him once more and then being the great Phish fan that I am, I told him to take some (bottled) water and meds and text me later. Of course, I went to the show. There was nothing I could do for him and all he needed was sleep, quiet and darkness. None of which described Phish that night.
So my friends and I journeyed to shuttle, which was maybe a 3-minute walk away from our room. To have a ride to the show, at a different location, with no issues, is something I rarely experience. My husband is always the driver but I hate to make him be the DD, so we often Uber it or try to find other forms of (often expensive) transportation. Here was a free shuttle with 50 other silly friends along for the ride.
We were dropped off a paved road and again walked about 5-8 minutes. Prta johns and water waited us as we got off and by the time we got to the check in, it snaked around for security, and we were in quickly. To say it felt like I was entering Disney World for the first time is an understatement. I walked onto the beach that was transformed into a Phish playground. Palm trees were covered in colorful crotchet décor. Waiters awaited me with blue tequila shots and my drinks of choice. A bar within 50 yards had several choices for beverages and water bottles HAD THE LIDS ON THEM!!!!!! (probably my favorite thing ever). As any fan knows, we go to shows and sometimes you just want a water for reserve. But they take off the lid making it impossible to hold on to for very long without being spilled. Because the show was earlier than most of the restaurants’ opening times at the resorts, they had a buffet awaiting us each night. While not amazing cuisine, it was enough to keep our bodies full and make sure the alcohol was balanced.
After walking by the indulgent scenery, I could make out a mariachi band and a stage, which felt dwarfed compared to other Phish “festivals.” Dare I say I felt like I was in a backyard party. I looked over at my friend and his jaw was agape just like mine. Were we really next to the ocean, toes in the sand, awaiting Phish to play?
We continued to walk around and notice the special touches Phish and the promo company put together for us. Bathrooms were easy to get to, not to mention the best porta johns ever. Lights, flushing, running water! And the wait staff was the hardest working group of Mexican men and women I’ve ever seen. They were polite and friendly and appreciated our small uses of Spanish and of course, I was happy to tip them.
On the first night, the lights went down to that familiar roar and the music began. While we all knew the shows would include many ocean, sand, sea, waves references, the opener did not disappoint. Throughout the set I kept thinking of my husband back in the room, hating he was missing many of his favorite songs.
And while at times, it felt like a familiar Phish show, I’d get a few grains of sand under my toes, I had the humidity of a summer Atlanta show, but then an ocean breeze would lift my hair. As my throat became parched and my lips cracked from smiling and the salty air, a waiter appeared with a cold beverage. Two minutes later, not wanting to litter and wondering what to do with my plastic cup, another staff member came by with a plastic trash bag. All while I was in my “row” listening to Phish. I never moved and had all my needs met.
I could hear splashing at one point and decided to check out the ocean. The stage was literally right on the beach, with zero barrier to the ocean. There had been much speculation on fan sites about people staying at the nearby resort and swimming the channel to come sneak in. There were rumors of kids renting catamarans and yachts and trying to swim in or hear from the ocean. It turns out, all of this happened. Paddle boarders were playing in the ocean, “pirated” kids swam up with no wristbands and overwhelmed the lifeguards, and other fans swam up from their catamaran and got turned away.
While some of that is hard to stomach for those of us who paid a pretty penny to attend this weekend, it also showed you the level of dedication many fans will go to. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to pay for tickets, they just couldn’t get one. This was a very limited-edition type of weekend, with only a select thousand able to go. Tickets went faster than MSG on ticketmaster’s bots it seemed and were much harder to get because scalpers didn’t have them. My friends only made it because of the wait list.
But even more magical in the ocean were just the fans who wanted to see what it felt like to swim, have their toes in the water and listen to Phish at the same time. Each night the water party became more and more intense, with what could only be described as a grown-up splash pool at a water park. There was a second lighting director who was only there to light the water and trees. The band probably spent more than half of the show watching the water and fans playing than the crowd in front of them. This was in and of itself a show to be seen. Trey, the guitar player said, “well this doesn’t suck.” And later dedicated a song to the paddle boarders. To say the band was enjoying the view as much as we were was quite obvious.
When it came time for set break or bathroom breaks, it was easy to navigate. I found my friends again and later decided to venture up front. Unlike Phish’s larger festivals with 10s of thousands of people, I could grab a beer, use the bathroom, find my spot again all within one relatively shorter song. The lack of inconvenience for anything was so foreign to me, and what made me start to realize how mesmerizing the experience was. This wasn’t just a Phish show or another festival. This was something I was beyond lucky to be able to attend.
After the show ended, I wondered what type of chaos the shuttle scene would look like. Instead, I found myself in a very short line with my hotel’s namesake and 10 minutes later was back at my resort. I was reminded of the scene outside a Miami New Years show where I walked an hour to find a cab. Or the Uber line once after an Atlanta show where all of my excitement waned and my mood turned sour because we were in the ghetto, trying to find a ride for longer than I care to recall. Not in Mexico. Once again, every detail was considered and I was back home, to my now-feeling-better-and-sad-he-missed-it husband.
The next day, we ventured out of the room to our resort and had a blissfully indulgent day soaking in the sun, making new friends, tasting various tequilas, playing in the ocean, laughing, reminiscing, catching up, etc etc etc. For a while I forgot I was down there to see Phish and was just enjoying a tropical, all-inclusive beach vacation. The 80-degree sun started warming my shoulders to a peachy color and I could feel new freckles coming on that would not be seen for months when I returned to colder weather. And then, I’d remember I get to see Phish again that night!
The second night was much of the same experience. New friends, old friends, a great spot with a great view, waiters, trash cleaners, crazy water dancing, a quick ride home. This time, not as much humidity, but an intense ocean breeze the entire show. Like standing in front of a fan the whole time. And again, a quick ride home.
For my final day, I awoke at 9 am for a spa morning consisting of a free massage and facial. Then, using our free resort credits once again, I booked two beach cabanas with butler service for my husband, me, and our friends. Lounging on comfortable chaises overlooking the ocean and listening to music with a waiter was not the worst way to spend the day. With two young children and a full-time job, sitting around doing nothing is not part of my vocabulary. Rest and chilling out are not in my vernacular. This was blissful to say the least. Once again, 80+ degrees and not a care in the world permeated my thoughts, and again, I realized I got to see Phish once more before going home!
For the final evening, my friends and I went in early, check-in was a breeze and the temperature was about 10 degrees cooler. Even better. Dare I say I was almost chilly? The mariachi band awaiting us made me smile and we stopped for a fun group photo. We walked up about 15 rows from the front row and all had the same spot together for the show. For my final night of this vacation, it was perfect.
People bitched and moaned about certain songs, or the food, or this and that. But to be perfectly honest, every detail was considered and all the things that mattered were well attended to. It was a small, intimate festival, with a big price tag and yet and even bigger reward. It was an escape from reality, a vacation to the beach, and an opportunity to experience something new. I think the band enjoyed it as much as we did.
As I was exiting the venue for the last night I ran into Phish’s lyricist, Tom Marshall. Being a creative writer and songwriter myself, I’ve always had a soft spot for him. He’s easy to find at shows, with his grey hair and extremely tall frame. He walked by me and I yelled to him “Hey Tom! Thanks for the fun lyrics.” And he stopped, looked at me and thanked me for listening to them.” It was playful, quick exchange but one that I loved. I ran into two friends from college on the way out as well as my new friends I met in the ocean. It was the perfect ending. Old meets new.
AS I begin my trajectory home toward the familiar and routine, I’m having a hard time taking off my bracelet, unpacking my souvenirs and saying goodbye to the weekend. I’m having an even harder time seeing anyone dream of complaining. Thank you Phish, thank you CID Entertainment, and thank you fans for making my little world complete for four days!