From the front gates to Bader Field, the enclosed venue for this weekend’s Phish concerts loomed far in the distance, like a glimmering mirage that for some reason had a Ferris wheel.
“Look at that, it’s like a mile away!” exclaimed Robert Logue, of Egg Harbor Township, while standing on the sidewalk. “Other than not knowing where we’re going and where we should be, we’re having a good time.”
As the Phish faithful trekked toward the stage, through the red clay and choppy grass, no one could stay annoyed for too long as they wandered into the sea of tents and tailgaters outside the main enclosure — a winding, snaking midway full of art, food, alcohol, baked goods and the finest glassware.
“It’s a great little venue, and the stage looks great,” said Johanna Cox, of Havertown, Pa. “And if they somehow got a walkway to the casinos, that would be great.”
“It’s beautiful, I like it a lot,” said Chris Kelly, of Buffalo, N.Y. “But my girlfriend thinks it’s rough grass.”
“It’s stabbing my knees!” Bobby Jo Bayer explained.
“But as long as Phish plays, it could be on an icy glade and it wouldn’t matter,” Kelly added.
Sitting out on the nicely mowed grass behind the Ferris wheel, James Gwaltney, of Colorado, said he didn’t know what to expect — but he was pleasantly surprised.
“This reminds me of Indio, Calif., back in 2009,” Gwaltney said. “A really open atmosphere, real easygoing.”
“It’s a lot different from Boardwalk Hall,” added Brandon Morris, of Virginia, of the October 2010 show — from which his wife, Crystal, recalled the incongruous scene of people standing around the Boardwalk playing bongos. “That was good, but this will be better.”
The Boardwalk show certainly didn’t feature sales of Jell-O shots, home-brewed beer, “Frisbee pipes” for $19.95 and, for good measure, a Boy Scout Troop — Troop 97, Galloway Township — walking around selling candy.
Amid those holding one finger in the air in the hope of grabbing a ticket, there were those whose Phish concert experiences varied wildly — often within a single couple.
Molly Dvorak and Chris Bertetta, of Savannah, Ga., were at their first and 10th Phish show, respectively — Phish becoming Bertetta’s favorite band after he once hated them, saying that “I thought their lyrics were stupid as (expletive) and they played out of tune, but for some reason I decided to get their music off a friend’s computer, and I fell in love with them.”
As for Tony Auriemma and Jen Weigand, of Norristown, Pa., their disparity was even greater — it being the second show for her, “75-ish” for him.
“It’s nice to hear them say this crowd is usually peaceful,” Auriemma said of a nearby police officer. “With so much stereotypes out there, that’s nice to see.”
Inside the gates, the party continued in much more mellow fashion as concertgoers sat on colorful blankets smoking pot and satisfying their munchies with food from the dozens of vendors offering everything including $6 corn-on-the-cob, crab pretzels and grilled cheese sandwiches.
By 6:30 p.m., hundreds of fans lined up at the Freezer, where they were able to grab rare Phish merchandise such as T-shirts and posters from concerts more than a decade ago. Other tents offered opportunities to register to vote and get spiritual.
By 7 p.m., the announced start of the show, fans were still able to get very close to the stage and the field was slowly filling, but those at the parties in the parking lot surrounding Shakedown Street seemed in no hurry to rush inside.
At the Shore Editor Scott Cronick contributed to this story.
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