Longform

Night of the Living Heads

Page 3 of 5

Ashley doesn't know. But she thinks it's cool that the production company hired Phish fans to come down here and build the sets. "Two weeks before the show, they started," she says, twirling her long brown hair between thumb and forefinger. "You got free airfare, three meals a day, and a shower."

Her friend Jake, no last name, 19, also from Boston, doesn't know either. But he has seen Phish 19 times this year, quitting jobs when necessary to follow the band. "Right now I'm a busboy."

Jake begins to explain how every Phish show is different, how it's possible to see dozens in a year yet never the same one twice, when Ashley cuts him off. "Oh my God!" she screams. "They're stepping on the rock garden! They shouldn't be stepping on the rock garden."

The rock garden is a formless pile of stones that people have assembled under the sundial. I point out that rocks are difficult to damage and that a spontaneous act such as traipsing around on them might result in a new arrangement every bit as artistically valid as the one it replaced. Performance art.

"I can't believe they're doing that," she says.

By now I've missed the band's first set entirely. They're scheduled to play twice tonight and twice tomorrow, finishing out the concert with a marathon seven-hour jam from midnight to dusk New Year's Eve. In all, some 14 hours of music.



I witness maybe 20 minutes of it. About an hour before every set a tide of humanity surges from the campgrounds to the stage area. At the end of each set, the tide flows the other way. But I'm slow on the uptake and dawdle along the way, preferring the surreal scene in the general area to a square foot of space on a blanket listening to the band. By the time I get to the main stage area and start working my way forward, the sets always seem to be just ending. That leaves me parting a sea of bare-chested men in dirty dungarees; bare-chested women with their breasts painted red, white, and blue; and out-and-out freaks in Dr. Seuss hats three feet tall.

Everybody is white, and eerily docile. They smile but don't laugh. They talk quietly in groups of three or four. They don't push or shove. It's unnerving. Night of the living heads.


Friday, December 31, 4:20 a.m.

Crash and Burn are home. From inside my tent a few feet from their car, I bear witness to their noisy, destructive return.

Crash has done too much X, and his keys are missing. But he's not freaking out about it.



"Dude, maybe your keys fell out when you were dancing on top of that RV," says Burn.

"Fucking shit," he replies.

"Maybe they're in the cooler," she says.

So he rummages through the Coleman. No keys, but he does come up with something that may work just as well at getting the car open: an empty Bud longneck. "What do you think it would take to break a window?" he asks rhetorically. Then he starts beating on the passenger side window with the bottle, which breaks before the window does. "Shit."

Next he tries the trunk, which doesn't latch anyway since the last time he locked his keys in the car and had to break in by prying the trunk open and kicking down the back seat. He manages to squeeze his skinny frame through the divide between the trunk and the back seat and pop open the back door.

Burn is grateful. "I'm going to get naked now," she announces. Then she opens the door and falls asleep on the seat with all her clothes on.

But Crash is too wired to sleep. He retrieves his boom box from the trunk and cranks up the Beastie Boys. The tinny speakers are overwhelmed by "Fight For Your Right to Party." By the time he works through his tapes to "Sabotage," I'm dressed and on my way back to the concert grounds. Crash is sitting on his trunk, sweatshirt hood pulled tight over his head against the 50-degree morning air. He's hunched over, rocking back and forth to the music.

5 a.m.

When Armageddon comes and cities are swallowed whole by great fiery rents in the earth, the stragglers who remain will look a lot like predawn Phish fans.

Along the Front there's a guy picking out a stoner rendition of what sounds like an Appalachian mountain tune on a banjo. His audience divides its attention between the music and hits off black balloons of nitrous oxide filled for $5 each from a nearby tank. Just down the road a rave is in full bloom.

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Bob Whitby