Dear Phish, Thank You.

Dear Phish,

My mom taught me to write thank you notes whenever I was given a gift. This tedious chore became something I loathed doing until I became an adult and realized that the simple minute it takes to hand-write someone a note of gratitude, is really more fun than it is laborious.

So to echo my mother’s wishes, I feel that I must write you a thank-you note. For you have given me a gift I can never repay nor re-gift to anyone else. As a copywriter, I find it hard that I cannot even describe what your gift has meant to me in words, but rather it is more of a feeling that coexists in thousands of other happy recipients.

As a 17-year-old girl, I often found myself wondering where I fit in in high school. Music was ingrained in me from an early age as a classically-trained pianist and later a saxophonist, guitarist and banjo player. I was given a Phish tape by a good friend and all of the sudden, my ears were pried from my head and opened in a way they never had before. The classical textures became immediately apparent yet intertwined in some weird rock juxtaposition known as Divided Sky. I had a hard time understanding what I was hearing because it was everything I’d learned about music, but twisted on its side a little bit. I hit repeat many times and wondered what this music was. I felt smarter, enlightened and naturally high all at the same time. I sat on the floor in my 11th-grade bedroom, punctuated with Led Zepplins’ “IV,” some Paula Abdul cd and a myriad of mixed tapes, and turned up the radio in my JBL headphones. This was why my mom made me take piano for 12 years, I instantly thought.

The next year I felt as though I had a secret and only a few seemed to know it. I spent my senior year trading tapes with guys (where were the female phish fans?) in parking lots, very stealth-like, so that no one would be in on our clandestine efforts. It was almost as if I was doing something far more sinister or seedy, but alas, I was learning the importance of Maxell XL IIs, how to properly write a > and a new vernacular of acronyms like HYHU, MFMF, YEM and MMGAMOIO. I went to a magnet school for writing where I met other music friends with similar interests but then returned to my public school for the other half of the day, with very few who knew my secret. Music seemed so boring, so unoriginal, unless it was you or a few other bands.

I could never have enough Phish and needed my fix before, during and after school. Soon, I became prophishcient in the music and learned why Amy’s and Ian’s farm shows were so important, and why B&Ps were the best example of karma. I also learned to not speed up an audio tape when making copies, and on the few unexpected days I would receive a 1st or 2nd-gen tape, I knew to treat it like gold.

When I finally saw you in person, from high above in the balcony, I “got it.” I had already gotten it from those months of rewinding a killer Bowie and memorizing the entire intro and outro of Divided Sky on my guitar. But seeing you live touched me way down deep. More than anything else, you awakened me. It was unlike anything I’d ever encountered, heard or seen. An environment where people understood my secret and were thoroughly enjoying themselves in a way I could never do at a high-school party of my so-called friends. Conversing about new clothes or a cute guy who didn’t even know our names was not nearly as fun as listening to a 20-minute YEM.


Finally, I went to college. For this is when I should have really thanked you. This is when our relationship blossomed and we were in sync. These are the years of 4-song second sets, the ‘97 space funk, the summer of covers (SABOTAGE!), the Velvet Underground Vegas and the ultimate memory for me, Big Cypress. These were the years I met friends who to this day are my closest because they traveled with me to far away places and crammed in tight spaces to hear you play. These friends (now many more than high school) and I all understood the unspoken language we phans speak. For they too had Maxell XL IIs; they wore shirts with parodied movies and logos that reflected your song titles; they knew when to clap in Stash.

As I went to more and more shows, I would look around and see that my group was not uncommon. Lots of Phish fans have these groups of peers that travel together, form memories together and have those few standout shows that will forever be in their memory. Mine from this era is of course Big Cypress, but the reason for my letter today is 14 years later in Chicago.


just some of my tapes

While you disbanded for the second time (well the first was a planned hiatus so not sure it’s really counting as disbanding) you guys had to grow up, and I had to “grow up.” My dad used to ask me that all the time. He loathed the fact that I had more ticket stubs from Phish shows than I did cute outfits. He once called my ticket stub scrapbook a receipt book for all the money I wasted. To me, it was an instant photograph of memories. But during your time away, I guess I did grow up. But I did not grow out of love with Phish. I met a man I later married, who did not know of your greatness but has since been converted, and I bought a couple houses, found my dream job, had a kid and became more “normal,” I suppose. But I still have my wooden, 100-compartment tape deck, my Radio City poster, my Billy Breathes sheet music book and all the other memorabilia that makes me feel 19 again. People tell me they got rid of their tapes, their CDs even, and are now completely digital with their Phish catalog. But I cannot ever part with those tapes. All those hours of mailing B&Ps, writing out the J-cards, trading in the parking lots and getting excited to get a 1st gen tape leaves me unable to just throw them away. Like today’s newspapers, I recognize Phish tapes are a dying medium for listening to music, but I still have them and every now and again pull one out.

the pharmers almanac

the pharmers almanac


This is your 30th Anniversary tour and I guess I can say that it is our 19th year together. Of course you do not know me really, but I like to think you think about me every now and again when you do things like reimburse your fans for a weather cancellation that wasn’t your fault, or involve me and the other thousands like me in your “gags” or audience participation-type songs. Clearly I’ve been on your mind once or twice. Or at least the idea of me. I am sometimes the fan on the front row and other times, just a face in the crowd. And we have even met face to face a few times in the past. Those are some special memories I will always hold. But as my prose grows rather lengthy, I just want to say thanks. Especially for this past weekend.

My husband and sister and I flew to Chicago to meet with others in what I can call a newer “group” of friends who are in similar or equal places in their lives. Some are newlyweds, singles, friends with kids, but we are all 30-somethings trying to hold on to our salad days when we could traipse around the country and see six shows in a week  with no serious repercussions. Tickets were $20 and motels were cheap. We spent long hours in a beat-up Buick, praying it wouldn’t overheat and would safely get us to the next show. We slept at rest stops and Knight’s Inns 8-people deep. We munched on veggie burritos, garlic grilled cheeses while washing it down with a cool, Sammy Smith Oatmeal Stout.

Today we rent suites, take limos to shows, dine at steak houses and spend $70 on tickets, $300 on airfare and sometimes just go to bed after the show. Sometimes! We may only see one or two shows a year, but man is it worth it. We know the shows we get to see are few and far between, and real life comes calling for many of us around 6 a.m. on Monday morning. Having a baby and going on tour doesn’t really mix for  some of us and I wouldn’t change it. Because I thankfully have that ticket stub book that gives me a lifetime of memories packed into 19 years.


from the scrapbook


Big Cypress


a favorite memory


They’re Back!

But back to the Windy City. I was fortunate enough to have floor tickets and grandstand tickets. I never even saw the lawn people really. But I know they had to have fun on some level as well. Somewhere during the five sets I saw I felt 21 again and back at Big Cypress. There was something special in the air. At 35 years old, I would probably not stand in the rain for hours for anything else but Phish with my friends. After the Saturday night rain, Sunday’s was almost comical. My poncho needed a poncho. There was nothing you could do but stand with a big shit-eating, Trey-like grin and dance with the thousands of other wet people. We embraced it, and Phish kept playing for us, knowing there was no way they could cancel again.


I got to hear Harpua, finally, and some old gems that I never hear much. I got to hear an absolutely stellar Piper, a ridiculous My Friend My Friend, a silly Meatstick that reminds me of MSG and Big Cypress and is always quick to put a smile on my face. I saw my friend’s Dinner and a Movie sign finally come to fruition and reveled in his happiness of hearing his first, at 170+ shows deep! I hate to remind him that I heard it at my first show, 18 years ago.


My favorite Phish date

Chicago was for starters, a logistical nightmare of sorts, but in the end, a magical place of stellar music, good memories, and reminders of why I’m still following these four guys (well five, can’t forget Kuroda!) around the country. Who needs Disney World! I can find happiness on Earth in the middle of the USA, soaking wet, singing about a possum. To look to your right and left and never have to speak but see people who also “get it” reminds me of being 17 and having my ears opened for the first time. You don’t get that at just any show.

So Phish, thank you. Thank you for helping me know who I am. Thank you for molding me and showing me a light, or path, to a different level of living. But thank you mostly for continuing to play, to write, to be a band and keep people like me entertained. I get so frustrated at the people who complain about flubs or misses here and there. You are all human and humans are not perfect. I’d hate for someone to scrutinize my every move and expect perfection like some fans do. You entertain me far more than you make mistakes, and again, I thank you. I may not see you again this year and I’m okay with that. So thank you for giving me a weekend unlike anything else. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.


J Bacon Clark


It is exactly nine years ago today that I was involved in a fairly simple accident that left me forever changed. I don’t dwell on the accident nor really ever think about it. Although recently my supervisor made a comment that I hadn’t ever sat in the front seat of his Honda Civic, to which I replied, “and I never will.” It was a Honda Civic that had faulty airbag design and robbed me of my vision in my right eye.

During the time of my recovery I wish I could have had this blog. Instead I could not see, watch TV, read, drive, really do much of anything. My face was badly burned and I had trouble seeing out of even both eyes at first due to the swelling and pain. My parents thankfully let me move back in with them for a few months and at times I felt 15 again. My dad was teaching me to drive (again) in the same abandoned parking lots we learned many years prior. I had to rely on them to take me places (usually just to the doctor) and it felt like summer time in high school because I was inside most of the day, not working.

I vividly remember the day I heard I wouldn’t get my vision back. It was three weeks after the accident and for some odd reason, this never crossed my mind. I knew I couldn’t see but just assumed it was from all the swelling. Eventually it would subside and I would see again. The doctor said the scar tissue was like wet tissue paper and would be impossible to repair. It would be a year before the blood would subside in my eye and we could fully see the scar it left. But it would be a lifetime (or so they told me) with no vision in the right eye. My dad wept in the doctor’s office.

Somehow I held it together. Maybe it was shock, maybe it was fear. I’m not sure. But it was almost like he was just telling me I wouldn’t be able to do something I’d once loved to do. Not quite as severe as it really was. It wasn’t until I got home hours later, alone, that the tears began to fall. I realized the weight of his words. I was blind in one eye.

For about a solid year I endured a variety of eye drops (sometimes as many as 14 per day, one for each injury I sustained inthat eye) and I became first-name friends with the doctors and nurses at Jervey Eye Group. I had a retina specialist, a glaucoma specialist (I had both reverse and severe glaucoma) and my regular opthomologist. I had a choiroidal rupture (why I am blind) but also macular scarring, edema, global scratches, cornea scratches, hyphema, a torn iris, you name it. I was on steroids, pain meds, numbing drops, dilating drops (I once dilated the wrong eye and that was interesting!), and a number of other drops. The octogenarians in the doctor’s office couldn’t understand why a 20-something girl was there all the time. Some days, neither could I.

For months I had cards and visitors and gifts and food and flowers sent to me and my parents house. It was almost like we mourned the death of my eye. But after a few months I realized I had to change my attitude. I couldn’t go on in this state. A good friend once told me after all the cards and gifts, people stop calling and you get depressed. I was determined not to. Somewhere in the middle of that I did a 180 and found my dream job, lost a bunch of weight and met my future husband. I think God might have given me the tragedy to make something beautiful from it.

Today, I try not to dwell on what I’ve lost but what I’ve gained from this. I try not to let my injury inhibit me. I know many people forget about it, and although I try to live as normally as possible, I have not forgotten. Just last night I had a dream about walking down some stairs but due to my lack of depth perception, I had a panic attack in the dream. Very odd. I also have to ask for help with stairs in low lighting or recognize my limitations with driving, night-time activities and other random things. Like, did you know how hard it is to shave your armpits or put on eye shadow with one eye shut? Try it sometime!

Thankfully I am surrounded by people who make my life a joy to live and help me when I need it, but don’t let me rest on my injury as a crutch. It’s more of a private thing I now endure and isn’t the first thing I tell someone when I meet. However, when I do meet people who are blind in one eye, I am very excited! It’s almost a secret club. I also am very sympathetic to ANYONE with an eye injury. So if the doctor tells you you have a scratched cornea and it will heal quickly, call  me to complain! I know just how painful they are and yes, they heal quickly, but man do they hurt.

It’s been nine years and next year will be 10. On the 5th anniversary I went hiking alone. I needed to reclaim my independence. It might be dumb to even acknowledge this anniversary but I’m sure when people lose something or someone significant, dates stay in their head. I don’t expect anyone to understand but it helps to write about it. Maybe for my 10th anniversary I will do something else that shows I am still independent on the inside, even if I have to ask for help sometimes! Thanks to all my family and friends who have helped me over the years.

Warning, the below photo is graphic but I want to show what airbags can do to people


And what the power of prayer, positive thinking, loving people can also do for you!

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I Love You StephyPoo!

My sister and I are six years apart. As a parent, I can completely understand my parents reasoning behind having kids that far apart. By the time my sister I was born, I could read, feed myself, bathe myself, put myself to bed and even watch over my sister if my mom needed to step out of the room. Heck I was even in kindergarten so it was almost like she only had one kid for most of the time.Within a few years I could help change her diapers, play with her and give my mom a break.

But also within a few years, she became the most annoying thing on the planet to me. She would bite me (“bite her back” my dad said as I cried) scream in my room, knock on my door to play, follow me around, ask me to drive her places, ruin my weekends because I wanted to be with friends and had to babysit, and do all the things that someone six years younger would do. What did we have in common? Nothing.

My parents made us to go Tennessee EVERY.SINGLE.WEEKEND. in the fall for 18 years. They went to the Tennessee games and we stayed with our grandparents. Those 3.5-hour-car rides with her were often brutal. We were enemies for much of my life. In church my dad had to separate us and we often would antagonize one another just for the sake of being annoying.

Yet somewhere during college, she entered high school, and we had some things in common. At some time, I cannot remember when, we became friends. We could tolerate one another. She started mimicking me and doing things I liked to do. Her musical interests were close to mine. In fact, I came home from college one weekend for a Phish show and she was there, not with me! I wrote her letters from college and learned she was becoming her own woman. Not the bratty sister I remembered. As she came to visit me in college, she being only 15, my friends took a liking to “little bac” and treated her with the same respect they showed me. I had to remember she wasn’t a bratty little girl anymore.


After I returned home upon graduation, we got an apartment together. She was on her own for the first time and in some ways, I was too. I was back in Greenville, graduated, trying to figure out where to go and what to be in life. She was going to technical college doing the same. Somewhere in those days of take out (did we ever cook?) and parties and laughs, we became best friends. We started to realize that our lives weren’t that different, we’d just lived them at different times. Mom and Dad did the same thing to me that they did to her, well at least most of the time. And we got in the same type of trouble and had the same punishments, most of the time. We started forming inside jokes that now make us laugh until we cry to think about. We became annoying to other people, most notably my husband, because we act like five year olds around one another. And we fight sometimes, but like all siblings, we make up within minutes of petty arguments over boys or who stole someone’s this or that.

Today, in my mid-30s and she nearing 30, we are the best of friends. We talk daily, laugh daily and know every detail about each other’s lives. I cannot imagine not having a sister. As my husband and I talk about planning for another child, we have never considered NOT giving our son a sibling. As much as I think it would be good to wait several more years for another kid, I realize we probably need to think about planning for one sooner than later (But still not anytime soon!) because my son needs a brother or a sister to beat up, hug on and protect.

As an older sibling, I am very protective of my sister. I am there when she gets her heartbroken and there to celebrate her successes. Today she was named Employee of the Year at her job and I could not be more proud. When she falls, I will pick her up. I love being a sister and wish everyone could experience what we have. My husband thankfully is a good sport and so is my sister to both be around me and love me. The three of us have taken many trips together and it is always an adventure. My husband has lovingly adopted my sister as his own, and my sister treats him like a brother. They have a true sibling bond.

Then I got pregnant, my sister was the first to know—even before my husband! (I was waiting for a creative way to tell him). When I had my son, she instantly transformed before my eyes and became this selfless caring person who so generously gives of her time and love to my son. She is the most proud aunt I’ve ever known. She has yet to come home without a giant bag of clothes every time she visits. She calls to Facetime with him and shares in his first steps, words and solid foods. She is a proud auntie. Her desk at work looks like a shrine to him.

She stood beside me on my wedding day and I cannot wait to do the same for her one day. I cannot wait to celebrate all of her big milestones and just want the world to know what amazing joy it brings me to have a sister like her. I love you Stephypoo!

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Please Stand for the Bride

I love weddings. I love the uniqueness of every single one of them and I love watching friends or family make their promise to one another. Sadly, not every wedding is as fun as others, but I love seeing what a bride chooses for her music, her food, her décor. I know the time that goes into planning a wedding: the heartache, the stress, the excitement and best, the relief when it is over. There is so much joy when it all comes together and you can finally enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Many times I listen as the couples exchange their vows, recite scriptures, pray or have a solo. They are typically short ceremonies, because let’s face it we all want to get to the reception. I have been in a Catholic wedding that was much longer, but thankfully we were allowed to sit down during part of it. And at one wedding I was in, the preacher surprised everyone with a sermon that was NOT planned. I secretly took off my heels during a prayer and shrunk two inches behind the bush that covered my legs from the knees down. Not sure if the photos captured my height difference.

The most recent wedding I attended was no different in that there was lots of planning, beautiful décor, fantastic food and probably the best cover band I have ever heard (Talking Heads!). Except at this wedding I was the officiant. My two friends asked me to marry them and although I had no experience, they were quite confident I could do it.

Not a duty to take lightly, I spent weeks thinking about what to say. I wondered somewhat why they chose me, seeing as how they had so many friends who’d known them longer. IN fact, we really haven’t known each other that long, and were friends of a friend. But when they moved to town, I hung out with them quite a bit since they knew no one else. We shared many laughs and some tears and silly nights and great conversation. When they had to move home, I was the only one not celebrating their return.

Dress Rehearsal

So at the rehearsal dinner, one of their friends told me the couple asked me because I knew them as “them” and not independently of one another. All of their friends back home knew them separately and had never seen them really become a couple. When they moved to Greenville, they were V&D, the couple. This made so much sense to me once she explained it. I was going to be able to report on them as two people in love and knew them as a couple better than most.

This newfound knowledge gave me a great perspective for the next day. Thankfully both bride and groom are very laid back. Still, nerves were high for everyone. The bride’s mother had just passed away only a week or so before. So she was on the bride’s mind and mine. I wanted to honor her mother as best I could. I wrote her engagement ring into the ring exchange hoping we could bring her mother into the ceremony.

The bride asked me to say a prayer with her right before we went out and I did my best to ask God to watch over us on this special day and grant peace to all those who were there. It was spontaneous but a special moment I was so glad to have with the bride.

I knew the crowd was a motley crew and told myself I had to be light-hearted to make it fun. The groom and I stood at the altar and I hoped I would not sound like a robot. To test the mic, I asked how everyone was doing. For a second I was thinking I needed to break into a comedy routine, except I know no jokes. I asked them if they were there to have fun. At least in my head I think I asked them that. I don’t really remember it all. Then I looked out into the crowd and in an empty seat on the front row was a large photo of the bride’s mother. I immediately began to cry and knew the bride would be there at any minute. I had to stop and get my composure. Typically people cry at weddings but I needed to hide my own tears for their behalf. But I was so happy to see her mother was “there” in more ways than one.

The bride walked down the aisle in a beautiful 70-degree day. A friend played “You are My Sunshine” with modified lyrics on guitar and the beautiful bride was weeping all the way down. Keep it together, Jennifer, I thought, along with what have I gotten myself into?

Here comes the Bride

A few minutes into my welcome, I started to relax. I had asked the crowd to stand as the bride entered and I thought throughout the wedding, wow they are still standing. I jokingly told the groom to wake up when he paused too long for the ring exchange. Laughter ensued. I later told him there was only one thing left to do, and no he couldn’t leave, but rather kiss his bride. I remembered to speak articulately, loudly and slowly. And the people stood throughout. My son was in the back reaching his arms out to me so sadly, I had to not look at him.

The couple kissed, turned and woohoo’d it back down the aisle. Everyone turned and clapped and raced to the cocktail hour.  I stood for a moment under the altar, awkward but enjoying every minute of it. I had survived and actually had fun. More than anything I had marked something off on a list of trying new things. It was a beautiful wedding between two wonderful people.

You may kiss your bride

I later found out the people stood throughout the wedding because I forgot to tell them to be seated. Whoops! #amateurhour


Anyone But Me

Working on a college campus keeps me young. Yes, I realize I am automatically old by even uttering those words, but I get to see the hip new trends (not that I ever really adopt them) and reminisce about my college years on a regular basis. I work with students everyday who are so intelligent and amazing that I feel like such a loser sometimes when I think back on my college experience.

But then I think back about all the amazing times I DID have, and I am so honored to have experienced them. I was a timer for the men’s swim team and met some of my best friends and witnessed some amazing swimming. I was a lifeguard and was happy to work on campus for several semesters. I was a nanny to a family that became my second mother for a while. I switched majors to creative writing from advertising and made some awesome contacts, mentors and friends who shared my love of Chaucer, Shakespeare and transcendentalism. I wasn’t captain of this club or a member of eight honor societies but I sure felt involved most days.

But besides walking across the stage (I almost missed it too bc of being late!) my most favorite thing about college is the friends I made. Many today are my lifelong friends and others have come and gone. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about friendships and relationships and why some work and some don’t. And why some aren’t the same after many years no matter how hard you try to hold on to them.

It’s weird when we hit our mid-30s and have kids and try to find a balance between hanging out with couples, single friends, friends with kids and no spouse, couples with no kids, friends from various groups. Sometimes it feels so effortless to make fun happen, and other times it feels like a delicate dance to keep people happy. It has made me wonder if we hang onto relationships bc we feel like we always thought we’d be friends forever. Like the friend we met in first grade, our neighbor, our church friend or our best friend from high school. I tend to compare new friends sometimes with friends of old and feel like perhaps bc someone didn’t know me during this time of my life, they don’t truly know who I am. But then I think about my husband, who is quite easily my best friend, and how he knows most of me through story only.

Thankfully for him I can be an animated storyteller, but he did not know me in high school singing in church plays or playing basketball or my swimming days. He did not know me in college, going to poetry readings, concerts, parties, pondering the meaning of life at 2am over Vic and Bills burgers. He wasn’t part of my Tennessee pride and therefore doesn’t sing Rocky Top quite as loudly as I do. But he WILL sing it, and he WILL withstand the endless stories that I tell.

So maybe it’s okay that people don’t know me from all walks of life. And maybe friends I make today represent where I am in my life now whereas some friends represent where I was 10 or 20 years ago. In middle school I had friends who loved new kids on the block. In high school, it was friends who liked playing music, eating at Stax, were in my classes and swam on swim team. In college, I may have bonded with someone over a shared love of fiction or music and today it might be the same wine or baby product (the juxtaposition of those two are rather interesting wouldn’t you say!). But I’m thinking that it’s okay if things shift and we all change. It happens.

Thinking about my son, I now know that he will know an entirely different version of me. I will probably be ANYONE but me to him, ha ha, because he will know me as mother, teacher, disciplinarian and hopefully the definition of unconditional love. But then again, maybe that is who I am today. At least a part of me. But he might not know all the stories and secrets that others do. And I’m okay with that. Our souls can be easily divided into chunks of time and pieces of who we are and once were, and I think that is what makes us whole.