“Brain Dead and Made of Money”

Phish2009 has been quite the banner year for fans of the jam, with the Dead and Phish each touring for the first time in five years (although the issue of whether the Dead are a “jam band” is, admittedly, debatable at best). Even dilettante fans have Dave Matthews Band back.

Phish performed three shows last week at Jones Beach, the last of which I had the pleasure of seeing from the luxurious vantage point of a suite. The luxury was actually secondary to the fact that it was raining all night, and the suite kept me dry.

The show itself was good, but I must admit that I am not really a Phish connoisseur—I very rarely listen to them and I can only recognize a few of their songs. So why did I go to the show? Mainly, I go because I like jam band culture (and no, that is not code for “I like to smoke pot”).

Jam bands are an interesting cultural phenomenon. A lot of people say bands like Phish, String Cheese Incident, Gov’t Mule, etc. fill the place left by the Grateful Dead. The fact that Ratdog, Phil Lesh and Friends and the Allman Brothers Band are grouped with them helps such a theory.

If this theory is correct, it implies that jam band concerts are the last refuge of so-called “hippie culture.” The disproportionate amounts of tie-dye and drug use certainly suggests such a fact.

For better or worse, “hippie culture” isn’t really taken seriously anymore and anyone who has seen this knows why. If you’re looking for it at a Phish show, you are likely out of luck.

Like most things, “hippie culture” is really just a way to make money, and in the parking lot before the show, virtually everything is for sale. People run around in the rain trying to re-sell ponchos they just purchased at Wal-Mart or wherever. There are vendors selling Bud Light and Yuengling out of coolers from their trunks. If you want to drink, though, you better buy one, because inside the actual concert, beer costs $12.

It’s kind of depressing the way capitalism has managed to inject itself even here: It’s not as if Jones Beach has dropped corporate enemies like McDonald’s and Starbucks into the parking lot; these are actual Phish fans looking for any way to make some money before a show, refusing to give you a cup unless you buy something.

I know it’s naïve, but I would hope that these people would be sympathetic to a more communal spirit—however outdated it may seem. Instead, I got hassled at The Dead concert for wearing a shirt that said, “Capitalism Breeds Poverty”: “Why don’t you go live in Cuba?” Seriously? Where the hell am I?

On the bright side, though, the collective of Phish fans in the Jones Beach parking lot before the show is capitalism at its finest—part tailgate and part street fare. People cook out in their tents, from grilled cheese and hot dogs to quesadillas and French bread pizza. The food is cheap, not fried and greasy, and you can watch them as they cook it. Your usual band apparel is on sale, along with books (over at the Helping Friendly Bookstore) and those shiny little stones

Due to the shared love of the music and the intimate relationships between a lot of these people (many know each other from other shows), the entrepreneurial spirit has a friendly face. Prices are low and negotiable (a beer in the parking lot is one-sixth of the stadium price).

As my friend Justin and I walked through, one guy selling bottled water cried out, “I need your Bonnaroo ticket for free!” Justin facetiously replied, “I need your water for free,” so he said “ok” and threw one over the crowd. We were so surprised that neither of us caught the bottle, and it hit some poor woman in the head. She didn’t seem to mind at all.

And basically, that’s as good as capitalism gets. Sure, everyone is out to make a few extra dollars, but they’re also willing to spare a bottle of water or to miracle someone with a free ticket now and then. We can share…

One response to this post.

  1. […] “Brain Dead and Made of Money” by John S. One of our first dozen or so posts on the blog, John’s peering through a Phish concert at hippie culture and the infiltration of capitalism hinted a bit at NPI’s potential. It was the kind of piece I would bookmark in a magazine or link to on Monday Medley, doing much more showing than telling. It was simple and understated in making its point. And, I love it when people rip on John for that T-shirt. […]

    Reply

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