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
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
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
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