ATLANTIC CITY — Before Phish takes the stage in most cities, fans gather in the venue's parking lots to drink, check out the vendors and have a good time.

But with no other place to go before Friday night's show at Boardwalk Hall, the gathering took place on the wooden walkway outside the convention center. It was the first of three shows the eclectic rock band is playing this weekend.

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For those who followed the Grateful Dead in an earlier generation, the scene would have been eerily familiar. In fact, several Grateful Dead T-shirts were spotted in the crowd.

Most of the fans, from all over the country, wore jeans, sweatshirts and jackets to keep warm in the chilly late-October air. But others were decked out in glittering costumes, colored wigs and get-ups themed around their favorite Phish songs.

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Despite police officers on all-terrain vehicles warning concertgoers that alcoholic beverages are prohibited on the Boardwalk, many held cups of beer or other libations. Vendors tried to surreptitously sell items such as glass beads and hand-made wooden cups, and others tried to unload extra tickets to the show or pick one up at a discount.

Marc Kelly, 26, of Quakertown, Pa., wore a black hood and carried a chain attached to his wife, Jamie, 26, who was dressed as a traffic signal. The costume was in honor of the Phish song "Slaves to the Traffic Light," they said.

"We couldn't get Halloween tickets, so we decided to dress up before" the holiday, Marc Kelly said.

Fallon Anderson, 18, of Boulder, Colo., wore a purple outfit and a wig to match. She carried a sign for "Purple Rain," the song the band had not played live in at least a decade but that she hoped she would hear Friday night.

"I would not dress like this if it wasn't for Phish," Anderson said. "They've got my heart."

Although many in the crowd were drinking, the fans were well-behaved.

Boardwalk Hall General Manager Greg Tesone said he did not expect any problems from the Phish crowds.

"It's great to bring this many people to town for the whole weekend," Tesone said.

And it's not only Phish bringing the crowds to the resort this weekend. A boxing match at Bally's Atlantic City tonight and "Out in Atlantic City," a weekend-long gay event at Harrah's Entertainment properties, are also big draws.

Atlantic City does not have the parking lots to accommodate the customary Phish tailgaiting parties, "but we have the Boardwalk, so we have the scene here," Tesone said.

A small vending area was set up on Pacific Avenue for those who wanted to buy or sell some wares.

The casinos, which charged a parking fee of $30 or $40 for those lacking a players-club card, made it clear that the pre-show parties would not take place in their garages. Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino posted signs that drinking alcohol, tailgating and smoking are prohibited in the parking area.

A few fans said they were disappointed with the lack of a traditional party space.

"This is the (worst) show I've been to so far," Phil Maniex, of Mount Hood, Ore., said before the band even took the stage. "Atlantic City is all about greed."

Maniex, who said he has attended about 500 Phish shows, makes his living selling hand-blown glass beads, artwork and kabobs in the parking lot before the concert. But Friday night, the police told him not to sell his wares on the Boardwalk.

The parking lots are usually "big cities of people," said Michael "Cactus" Altman, 31, of New York City, wearing a sombrero and a fake moustache like that of Phish bassist Mike Gordon. He was disappointed that Atlantic City has no such arrangement.

Usually Cactus and his wife, Hilary Altman, pick up bean burritos in the parking lot for dinner, but they went to the Rainforest Cafe at Trump Plaza instead.

"We hung out with some real fish," Hilary Altman said. "We sat right next to the aquarium."

But others were happy just to have tickets to the show and be part of the scene.

Nick Schilling, 31, of St. Anthony, Minn., said he and his friends lucked out and got tickets through the band's lottery system. But another friend bought them online, paying way too much, he added, and they were trying to sell them.

The group of friends has tickets to all three shows, Schilling said.

"It's a big deal, man," Schilling said. "Sunday's show is going to be epic."

His friend, Danny Peterson, of Sioux Falls, S.D., said he made his first trip to the East Coast to see Phish.

"I don't ever see myself coming to New Jersey except for something like this," Peterson said. "This is my first time at the Boardwalk. This has been good. It's everything I expected it to be."

Contact Elaine Rose:

609-272-7215