Night of the Living Heads

Page 4 of 5

A few food booths have been open all night. At one of them, a young woman wearing a filthy apron and a tam is heaping runny scrambled eggs and cold bacon on a kaiser bun. She stumbles around the greasy grills and can barely keep her eyes open. "Pork products," she says, handing me a sandwich. "Disgusting."

Hippies are crashed on the faux porches of the faux Western street, sacked out in the dirt near the cypress grove, and sleeping on stools at a coffee bar. One guy is stretched out in the grass near the now-dark Ferris wheel, contemplatively smoking a joint.

Steve Shaughnessy, 22, from Minneapolis, and his friend Caleb Getz, 20, Fargo, drove 26 hours to get to Alligator Alley. Then they sat in their car on Alligator Alley for another 14 hours to get into the campground Thursday afternoon. They haven't slept since. Getz surveys the predawn scene and smiles. "Look at this whole atmosphere that [Phish] has created," he says. "They bring all these people here. Everybody loves it. Nobody gets mad. It's great."

Shaughnessy is dressed like a nice young man from next door -- jeans, sweater, sensible shoes. His hair is cropped short. This is his first Phish concert, and he's totally sold. "The Dead drew this kind of crowd," he says. "But this is a whole different generation. Everybody is good to everybody else. Everything is hugs and kisses, organically grown."

There is an undeniable vibe in this place, a certain ease in the air. This is a big crowd, some 80,000-plus people in 50,000 vehicles. But it's a well-behaved mob. Seminole Police Chief Thomas Hernan confirms that after the show. "The crowd never got out of control," says Hernan. "In fact, when my officers would approach people in the campgrounds, people would come up and want a group hug with the officers. It was amazing. Law-enforcement officers don't see that happen very often."

Seminole police made only three arrests: one person tried to blow through the ticket booths and ran into a ditch; one person stole a small utility vehicle used by medics; and one person was drunk and disorderly. Civilian security personnel handled small problems that cropped up inside the campground, while police stayed out of sight, ready to come in should the need arise.

Hernan took a refreshing live-and-let-live approach to law enforcement. It's just as illegal to possess drugs on Seminole lands as it is in downtown Fort Lauderdale, he says, but he wasn't about to bust heads over someone smoking a joint. "I'm not going to go invading someone's life unless they draw attention to it," he says.

6:20 a.m.

The field hospital is located due north of the campgrounds in a bunkhouse on the tribal rodeo grounds. For the three days Phish is playing, it's the busiest emergency room in Hendry County, says Dr. Joe Nelson, the physician in charge this morning. "We've seen lacerations, burns, a lot of things you would associate with camping."

Asthma has been a big problem because of the dust and the cold night air. And medics have dealt with their fair share of overdoses. Mostly mushrooms, for some reason.

Near the hospital, a shrewish, haggard-looking woman is marshaling the day's temp security workers. She's handing out yellow shirts and pleading with the ragtag crew to stick around and finish the job. "I know you want to have fun out there, but you've got to show up tomorrow, OK? According to the contract you signed, if you don't show up, you've worked for nothing."

As the workers turn to leave, another supervisor gives a last bit of advice. "Everybody know what today is?" the man asks. "It's the 31st. We have to be very careful. The kids are going to do as many drugs as they can. We have to ensure their safety and be proactive. This is the most important day of the show."

11:10 a.m.

Crash staggers from the back seat, stands unsteadily on his feet for a minute or two, then falls back on top of Burn in the back seat.

12:15 p.m.

Crash re-emerges, strips off his sweater, and sits on the trunk wiping his bleary eyes in the hot sunshine. "I'm sorry about last night," he says to me. "I was just really fucked up." He lights a cigarette, then rummages through his cooler. This time he comes up with a full bottle of champagne. He pops the cork. "Get up, goddammit, it's New Year's," he yells at Burn, who has moved from the back seat to a sunny spot in the grass.

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Bob Whitby