August 8th, 1998 – Phish – Merriweather Post Pavilion – Columbia, MD

I spent a week and half in August of 1998 traveling the east coast in my 1985 Toyota Camry with my college roommate and good friend DanO.  We left New Jersey on the night of August 7th and would be staying the first night in Alexandria, Virginia.  We merged onto the Garden State Parkway just as the sun had set and it had just turned dark.  A beat up car with its windows rolled down passed us just as we entered the highway.  The two long haired guys in the car had big smiles on their faces – and a Phish sticker on the back of the car.  We were more than 200 miles and 4 hours away from where the concert was the next night, and the first car we saw when we got on the highway was going to the same place as we were.

It was dark, and they did not have their headlights on.  I pulled up next to their car and yelled for them to turn them on.  “You going tomorrow night?” I yelled.  They both nodded yes.  “We’ll see you there.”  And we drove off into the night towards an adventure that would feature many more moments of magic like this.

I have zero recollection of what we did the next morning and day leading up to our departure for the venue.   We left for the show at 4:20.  The only reason I know that is because we wrote it down on the back of my setlist pad for the night.  The drive was supposed to take about 45 minutes.  It took us more than three and a half hours.  We sat on the exit ramp in the same spot for almost 2 hours.  It was a party on the highway.  People were out of their cars tailgating, riding skateboards, kicking around hackysacks and having a great time.  The most fun you can have in traffic is on the way to a Phish show.   It started to get a little nerveracking once showtime was approaching.  Luckily we found the Smooth Jazz station on the radio and got to listen to some Sade which helped calm our moods.  Traffic finally started rolling again, but we were still quite a way from the parking lots.  We made a decision that would go on to be a common theme for all of my future concert going excursions.  Get off the highway and take the backroads.

It was 8:00 by the time we finally parked our car.  The ticket time said 7:30.  We quickly walked to the venue and found a spot on the back of the lawn.  Just as we sat down – the house lights went down, and the band came on stage.  The stars were aligned for us on this night.  Even though we didn’t have good seats – the fact that we made it there was all that mattered at that point.  They opened with a song called The Wedge.  The chorus of it appropriately sang – “Take the highway, to the Great Divide.”  We had arrived at the Great Divide.

I don’t think I was able to see the band on stage the entire night.  I watched the show mostly on the monitors above the roof of the pavilion.  The show was extremely well played from start to finish, but the biggest memory from this night was the Encore.  The only time I was able to see the stage was when they started playing Sabotage by the Beastie Boys.  To put it bluntly, the place went fucking crazy.  I jumped so high in the air that for a brief moment I was floating above the entire lawn and caught a glimpse of the stage.

The first night of our tour was a wonderfully stressful but perfect way to start the week ahead.