Phish out of water

Our plan was simple: drive to Las Vegas and see four concerts in two days.
I’ve sworn off Vegas every time I’ve been there, but Phish was back on tour after a two-year hiatus, and my boyfriend, Bryan, and I had no choice but to make the pilgrimage (those long skirts I wear aren’t just to hide my thighs, you know).

Music, particularly jam band music, is an integral part of my life. I need the surge of joy I feel boogieing my brains out like I need the surge of peace I feel on the top of a mountain. When Bryan and I got back from a year in Taiwan, I didn’t really feel like I was back home until we danced like maniacs at a Widespread Panic show and cruised the parking lot full of heads selling t-shirts, veggie burritos, beer and other assorted temptations. That’s a big part of the America I love.

So we had to go to Vegas. I booked us a discounted room at the Stratosphere, a hotel with a roller coaster on its roof, and after the dash from Durango we checked in.

Of course, Vegas doesn’t ease you in – to get to the front desk, we had to lug our cooler through a pulsing casino, past the singing waiters at Roxy’s Diner and into a line full of people eagerly eyeing the slot machines. By 3 p.m., we’d attained our keys and were in an elevator with two drunken guys gulping margaritas and examining a poster of a motley crew of celebrity impersonators: 40-year-old versions of Britney Spears, Elvis, Ricky Martin, Michael Jackson and ZZ Top.

It was all a bit jarring after a long drive through the desert, but we didn’t have time to stop and acclimate. A Durango friend was staying on the other side of the strip at the Luxor (the big pyramid that beams a spotlight from its tip into the sky), and he had our tickets for the late-night “moe.” show. Being a three-day weekend, traffic was insane, and the town was packed to the gills. Thanks to an accident in front of Caesar’s Palace, it took nearly an hour to drive a few miles, but it did afford us the opportunity to absorb all the flashy ridiculousness of Sin City. At the stoplight in front of Treasure Island, we were stuck staring at a huge screen advertising “swashbuckling” weddings. Over and over we watched a minister swooping down on a rope to face the beaming bride and groom. We hoped things would seem more normal at the show.

But things didn’t get “more normal” all weekend. We met up with our Durango buddy, whose wife was joined by a group of college friends who’d flown in from San Francisco. “We’ve got a limo picking us up in five minutes – you want to squeeze in?” While the absurdity of taking a limo to a Phish show was not lost on me, we were in Las Vegas. When in Rome, right? We pulled into the lot at the Thomas and Mack Arena, and ticketless heads started knocking on the tinted windows asking for extras. One of the Californians had an extra and announced he wanted a “C-Note” for it. “What’s a C-Note?” someone asked. “Face value, dude” floated across the airwaves.

We all piled out of the limo, and Bryan and I wandered off to find beer. We should’ve gotten in line, instead. The mental wizards at the arena had decided to open only one set of doors for 18,000 people, so we waited in line for an hour and a half with an extremely confused Canadian, two students who had driven from Fort Collins for their first show and a girl who kept grabbing the older woman next to her and proclaiming, “This is my mommy!”

We got stuck in the nosebleeds with all the other latecomers, stuck with sub-par sound and a bad view of the light show, though we managed to have fun despite the girl next to me who was trying to nap on her seated boyfriend’s shoulder. After a limo back to the Luxor, we made it to moe. at the House of Blues by walking – we couldn’t bear the thought of squeezing into a hotel tram car crammed with drunk people in high heels. I thought we’d be anonymous in Vegas, but we ran into one of Diorio’s employees at 3 a.m. during the intermission of an incredibly hot show with surprise guests Dickie Betts and Mike Gordon.

After a few hours of sleep, we ordered a room service pizza and started the whole thing over again. There was no time even to ride the rooftop roller coaster or gamble (probably a good thing). At the end of the second Phish show (better seats, better sound, better show), we collapsed on a small patch of grass with a couple of coldish beers. “The only bit of green in Las Vegas,” Bryan said to some fellow grass loungers – which was true in the sense he meant.

After our brief respite, we caught a ride with a racist cabbie to the Big Wu show. It became clear that the venue was usually a death rocker hangout by noting the poster for the upcoming show “Dying Fetuses with Crematorium.” It was pretty funny to be dancing to the chorus, “Aw, it’s all good” coming from a band on a stage protected by steel bars and angry bouncers. It was also funny to realize the pen we were dancing in was nearly empty because we were on the “under 21” side of the barrier.

A long, potentially dangerous walk back to the hotel was averted by hitching a ride in the back of a pick-up with a hippie couple who had just moved to Vegas from Eugene, Ore., and were feeling like fish out of water. As they dropped us off at the Stratosphere, I told them if things got too weird in Vegas, there was always Durango. After all, Durango is the polar opposite of Vegas, and let me tell you, it’s great to be home.

– Jen Reeder






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