I was lucky enough to attend the Clifford Ball back in 1996. I had a great time, still listen to set two from night one from time to time. Like many of the people there, I realized that this was something big, something special. This was a long way from the band I saw at a place called the Phoenix Plaza in Pontiac, Michigan, basically a stage set up on top of a parking garage. Nope, the Clifford Ball was huge and everyone, including the band seemed to be saying, “when did we get so big?”
Fast forward almost twenty years and I was lucky enough to attend the tenth Phish-exclusive music festival, Magnaball. Suffice it to say, things were different. Instead of being almost overwhelming, it was intimate. At least as intimate as 30K people can be. I know that one of the fears of Trey is becoming a nostalgia act, but it was a little hard to fight that feeling. I would argue that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I felt good, kind of like going home and seeing how the old town has changed.
The biggest change was how much better organized it was compared to festivals in the past. I say this after marveling at how organized my previous festival experiences were. My guess is that the Phish organization followed a similar game plan to Superball IX, but it was still something. The camping was divided up into three primary directions, fanning out from the venue. It created a lot less congestion going and coming to the venue site. Watching everyone come from different directions had the feeling of a gathering taking place, a community happening.
The campsites themselves were very well organized as well and at least where I was, very mellow. I didn’t get into the sober camping site (though if I would have pushed harder I probably would have) so I was a little trepidatious. I needn’t have been. Everyone around me was just hanging out and relaxing. Sure there was drinking and I’m sure smoking, but no one was obnoxious. Each night I got back to my site and crashed in a minute. I probably created the most noise on Saturday morning when I accidentally set off my car alarm. Sorry everybody.
I saw a lot of kvetching about the 30K limit, but I implore Phish to keep it at this number for future events. At no point did I feel overcrowded, but at the same time it wasn’t sparse. There was room for everyone. When the music was on, it’s hard to imagine 15 or 30 more thousand people there. It was plenty crowded around the stage.
As far as the non-music parts of the weekend, again it was different than 19 years ago. It wasn’t so much that we needed to be entertained, but it provided activity if you wanted it. It was one of the many ways the maturing of Phish and its audience was evident. There were quite a few folks at yoga every morning and I saw a lot of runners every morning too. I joked to friends that this was my alternative to my wife’s spa weekend, but it was closer than I would have thought. If I could offer a suggestion though, why not go all the way and put in more physical/outdoorsy activities? I was kind of bummed that the 5K of festivals past was gone (though an unofficial one was run on Saturday I think) and I bet quite a few folks (myself included) would have gone on a guided nature walk. Us birders are everywhere!
The game shows and artist meetings were nice too. I enjoyed the games a lot more than I thought I would, to be honest. They are usually the kind of thing I sort of feel are too corny, kind of like games at a baseball convention. But you know what? Everybody was there to celebrate and enjoy Phish, so why not answer trivia questions about our favorite band? Next time I would even go a step further, hell let’s just make it a convention? Have some panels to go to, maybe a lecture or two, even an open mike place. Personally, I’d love a Bug House Square type of place for people to just go and speak on any topic. I would probably get my history on and share a lecture or two 🙂
I already wrote about the food, but there were other amenities that just made the whole weekend a pleasure. Showers, clean porta-potties, and general cleanliness of the whole area was fantastic. Again, I think it is a reflection that we have gotten a little older, but also a little more considerate of one another and of the environment as a whole. I didn’t see a lot of ABSOLUTELY WASTED people. That’s not to say they weren’t there, but the feeling was much more about relaxing and basking in all things Phish.
And that is what the whole weekend was about, just enjoying being with the band and with so many like minded and like generation people. I think the most fun I had outside of the music was sitting at the cell phone charging station with an assortment of folks. After we got over the initial shock of not having a screen to scroll through, we got to talking. We talked about the previous night’s show, what we thought was coming and what we wished would happen. But even more engaging was learning about where people were from, what they did outside of our Phish fantasy camp, and what else made them tick.
I can’t say the energy was anything like Clifford Ball, or Big Cypress but what could be? No the energy at Magnaball was that feeling you get when you see an old friend. That friend you might not have spoken to in years and yet when you sit down the connection is still there, as if no time has passed.