Phish has also made Jones Beach a regular summer tour stop, performing there eight times since the band returned in 2009 from a five-year breakup. I have caught every one of these shows, in addition to traveling to see Phish another 20 times at concert venues around the Northeast. That may seem excessive, but Phish has a several-hundred song live catalogue from which they cull a different set list each night, and I have never heard a jam played the same way twice. Many fans have seen Phish in concert hundreds of times since the 1980s or ’90s.
I arrived several hours before showtime, which was billed as 7:30 p.m. and proved to be more like 8:20 p.m., for a time-honored Phish ritual, the pre-show tailgate. Fans had already begun filling up the spacious Field 5, some of them likely arriving before noon. The weather was starting to turn nasty. Dozens of frame tents dotted the lot’s southwest corner, where fans had set up “Shakedown Street,” a temporary marketplace that takes its name from the title of a Grateful Dead song and appears in the parking lots of music venues across the country whenever Phish performs. Beneath the tent canopies, vendors sold their wares: clothing, concert posters, hula hoops, food, water bottles, beer, homespun jewelry, stickers and other knickknacks.
After parking, I headed to Shakedown Street to search for a concert ticket, having failed to buy one before the show sold out, and I was unwilling to pay the prices that ticket brokers were charging online. I wandered a few minutes with my index finger in the air — a sign understood by Phish fans to mean, “I need a ticket” — to get what I needed.
At other Phish shows, especially ones I have attended with friends, I might then have done as the other tailgaters do: lounge in a picnic chair, turn up the car stereo, drink a beer, grill food, toss a Frisbee or walk around and people-watch. But this time I had interviews to conduct.
George Rubenstein, 19, of Merrick, said Friday was his 22nd Phish show. “Every show is an improvisational journey,” Rubinstein explained. “You’re going to hear something you’ve never heard before.”