- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 23, 2000

About 19,000 Phish fans packed Columbia's Merriweather Post Pavilion, filling the seats, crowding the lawn and blocking the aisles — and they could not have been happier.
That's because they entered another world Sunday night, the world of Phish, where bad tempers are left at the door. The Vermont foursome is known for the touchy-feely atmosphere of its shows as much as for its eclectic blend of rock, jazz, bluegrass, reggae and folk.
This is a cult band of the caliber of the Grateful Dead, and like Deadheads, Phish fans don't just catch their local shows. Many leave work, home and family to follow the Phish-mobile across the country, creating their own "phamily" of Phish enthusiasts.
They're not just groupies, either. Phish "phans" compile set lists, take notes on performances and tape-record everything from a section designated for them at each show. They reveal their findings on myriad Phish Web sites, writing reviews and comparing each performance, song by song, gig by gig.
Talk about dedication. In that sense, the Phish experience is much more than just what comes from the stage.
The Merriweather show marked the halfway point of the fall tour, which will conclude early next month after nine more stops.
The experience began outside the pavilion gates, with revelers dancing, cooking and trading Phish T-shirts and toys. Young people in tie-dye offered fresh-grilled burgers, while a man with an Afro sat cross-legged on the grass, strumming a ukulele.
A melange of ages and backgrounds, the crowd modeled varying interpretations of the hippie theme. Some sported nappy dreadlocks, others colorful woven caps. A handful of yuppie types stood out, but no one seemed to care.
Fans celebrated la vie boheme. They gave tickets away to their needy brethren and let one another cut in line. Ushers joined in, turning their heads when people began spilling into the aisles, dancing there and blocking traffic.
The expansive first set started with "Guyute," a bouncy number with guitarist Trey Anastasio whistling a chorus. The crowd was a sea of bobbing heads when the momentum exploded with "Bathtub Gin." The band broke into one of its signature jams — a nonstop, off-the-cuff segment that can last an hour. The jam usually whips back to the original song, long after listeners have forgotten what it was.
Yes, that's another treat for the former Deadheads among the phans.
The first half could have filled an entire show, with experimental treatments of old and newer songs. Delighted Phishheads sang along to "Fluffhead," a multipart series about a diseased man. "Chalkdust Torture" ended the set, which clocked in at just less than two hours.
Keyboardist Page McConnell opened the second half with the Velvet Underground's "Rock-n-Roll," his Lou Reed not far off the mark. Reggae-inspired "Dog Log" evoked cheers; it's not found on any albums.
During the spiritual "Free," the skies above the lawn erupted into a "glow war," a glow-stick-throwing frenzy creating the effect of falling stars. The danced-out, tired crowd filtered out during the brief encore, but none could stop singing the Phish rhapsody.
"There was so much energy, and you felt so much love from the stage," said Gary Errichetti, 24, of Piscataway, N.J., who was following the tour for the long haul. "People don't understand how much the crowd communicates with the band.
"Beautiful people, beautiful lyrics, beautiful music," he said. "That's the Phish experience."

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