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July 31, 2014
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Old hippies never die…

These “Phish Phans” were described as “sweet, considerate and respectful—a fantastic bunch” by camping hostess Babette Shook Ross.


They go Phishing. Well, this old hippie did anyway. Sort of. With so much talk about the band “Phish” (that I had never heard of) coming to town, I debated with myself over how to write about it. I knew little about the group itself ( www.phish.com ), but from what I gathered, this was to be no ordinary concert at the Bethel Woods Performing Arts Center ( www.bethelwoodscenter.org ). It was to be more of an “event,” since the group (and their faithful followers) would be in Sullivan County for three days.

I discovered that Phish was a phenomenon of sorts, and that the legions of fans were a (tie) dyed-in-the-wool new generation of what some folks still call hippies. I was here in 1969, and understand that the Woodstock Experience was a once-in-a-lifetime, never to be repeated moment in history. That said, I gather there are thousands of Phish devotees who caravan from city to city, often camping out for days at a time in what has become, for many, an integral part of the experience.

On Thursday, the day before the first show, the flocks began arriving. Many had planned in advance regarding where and when they would set up camp; plenty had not, and somewhere in between, was a large number of (mostly) young people whose plans had to be changed at the 11th hour. I ran into a group of kids, asking for directions to the spot where they had reserved a campsite. We chatted about the history (and legacy) of Woodstock itself and I gave them my number, in case they had any trouble finding the place.

Sure enough, I got a call. Way past my bed time and during an incredible thunderstorm, these kids found themselves with no place to camp, no vehicle, abandoned by their “fair weather friends,” soaked to the bone and a tiny bit freaked out. Not sure what to do, but knowing I had to do something, I got out of bed.

“What if this was my child?” I asked myself, knowing full well that it could be. My 24-year-old daughter lives in San Francisco (the hippie capital of the world) and has tickets to see Phish in northern California later this summer. I knew that if something like this (heaven forbid) happened to her, I would like to think that there would be some old hippie (like me) out there willing to help. I had heard that Fiddlers Flea Market (www.fiddlers-flea-mar

ket.com) on Route 17B was going to be hosting campers for the event, so I gave them a late-night jingle.

Proprietress Babette Shook Ross told me that “colorful folks” had been showing up all day and that the site was close to full, but would hold a spot for the woebegone wet ones that I was searching for in the woods, somewhere near the concert venue. I found the kids, loaded up the pickup with all of their gear and dropped them off with Babette and her husband Lloyd, who promised to keep in touch with me throughout the festival.

I received a text message the next morning from Babette reading: “The kids are doing well, Jonathan, they’re teaming up with others in the group tomorrow—going to borrow the drum set I have stored. Such a great group and so PLEASANT ! I think they’re trying to help keep an eye on things—AND GREAT BURRITO’S they have!”

Pleased to hear that there was a party going on at Fiddlers, I went ahead with my plans to attend one of the many pre-phish, post-phish events at the Dancing Cat Saloon (dancingcatsaloon.com), which is located just down the road from Bethel Woods. Having erected an outdoor stage for live music from dusk till dawn, fireworks and “Phish Food” on the menu, Stacy Cohen and Co. also had a phenomenal experience with the crowds.

I stayed at The Cat for quite a while and grooved to bands “Yasgur” and “Peter Florence & the Riff Kings” before hitting the road to hang out with more of the kids.

Again I was informed along the way that everyone visiting had been respectful, considerate and well behaved (while spending money in the county), so I was a bit confused over conflicting reports that were floating around. Having attended Woodstock, I could observe the many differences that the years have wrought, but spending these three days with a whole new generation was not entirely unlike those three days in 1969. I liked what I saw in these Phish Phans. I hope the experience was good for them and that they will want to return, continuing to carry the torch that is still worthy (IMHO) of being passed on to the next generation; peace, love, freedom, happiness. Nothin’ wrong with that.