The Fox Theatre, Atlanta, GA
Ahhh… the Fabulous Fox Theatre in Atlanta. If you’ve never been, you really must go. There is no place better. Unfortunately for me, I did not attend this show. We had tickets and a bunch of friends headed to Atlanta for it, but we made the tough decision to see Hot Tuna play a free show at Suwanee (the University of the South) that day instead. I don’t regret it. Hot Tuna was worth it. But I missed a barn burner.
I’m listening to the show today, but instead of my usual drivel about it, I invited an old tour-buddy of mine to regale us with his tale of this night. So, without further ado, I present to you my first guest blogger… Let’s call him Raoul Duke:
I can’t remember exactly how the exchange went, but it was something like the following:
“Dude, Phish is playing the Fox theater, in Atlanta.”
“No way. We’ve got to see that show.”
“So let’s drive down south then. We can catch the Charlotte and Knoxville shows as well.”
And that was that. In the matter of a few minutes, my buddy and I had decided to drive nearly 1000 miles down south for a week of Phish tour, timed perfectly at the end of the spring term our sophomore year of school. A spontaneous decision it was, but hey – in those days, almost any decision we made was spontaneous. Besides, the winter in the New England town that is home to the liberal arts college we attended had been brutal. It had been bitterly cold, and the snow had fallen solidly through March. A week in the warm spring Dixieland sun was just what we needed.
A few weeks later we loaded up the car and hit the road. The plan was this:
Drive to Nashville and spend the night with a friend.
Get up and drive to Atlanta for the Fox theater show.
Drive to the Charlotte show the next day then on to Knoxville for another show the day after that.
Drive back north.
Using reasoning that only makes sense to 19 year old hippies, we saw no problem in having to drive another 1000 miles back north immediately after the Knoxville show. Sure! Those 12 total hours of sleep over 4 days would be plenty to fuel us home.
In those days, our plans were best described as flexible and we viewed any obligation to sticking to them as optional. But surprisingly, we managed to stay on plan the first two days. We arrived in Nashville late, went right to sleep, and awoke the next day to warm sun and blue skies. Once “Eat a Peach” had been queued in the car’s tape deck, we hit the road.
By this point we were feeling good–really good. We were high-fiving each other on our brilliant decision to skip classes for a week and catch some shows. Everything was going exactly to plan. Not once had we needed to rely on our improvisational skills like we had so many times in the past. So far, this run was a far cry from the New Year’s 1993-1994 tour in which a combination of snow and stoned decision-making resulted in several major misadventures.
In fact things were going so well, my copilot (from here on out I will call him Dr. Gonzo as this tale is one that would make the late, great Hunter S. Thompson proud) decided to get a head start on the festivities and consume a not-insignificant quantity of a mind altering substance that achieved notoriety in the late 1960’s.
As we exited the freeway on Peachtree street we could hardly have been feeling better. Dr. Gonzo had a perma-grin on his face, and I knew we were getting close. The Fox! The venue of some of the most legendary Dead shows! And here we were, about to catch Phish the first time they would play this fabled room. Caught up in the moment, I too consumed some of the same psychedelic Dr. Gonzo had done an hour before. Sure, I was driving, but we had to be close, right? Traffic was a little thick but it was Saturday afternoon after all—probably the good denizens of the fine city of Atlanta were just out enjoying the lovely spring weather.
45 minutes later we were precisely 2 blocks from where we had exited the freeway (and where I began my journey into mind expansion). To say that our mood had deteriorated is an understatement like saying Joe Theismann suffered a leg injury on a hit from Lawrence Taylor. We were morose. Traffic was gridlocked. We had no “plan B.”
And, most disturbing of all, something very, very weird was happening. The entire city of Atlanta seemed to be engaged in an impromptu street festival. Cars were parked in the middle of the road, with beats a bumpin’. Alcohol was freely flowing. What the hell was this? Atlanta’s late spring version of Mardis Gras?
“What the fuck is going on?” asked Dr. Gonzo?
“Fuck if I know” I growled, “If this is the way people from Atlanta party on the weekend, this blows!’
Just then, a young lady of dark complexion and voluptuous curvature jumped onto the hood of the car, aimed her booty squarely at the windshield, and started shaking and grinding. Was this really fucking happening? How much psychedelics did I eat anyhow? WHAT THE FUCK WAS GOING ON!?
Under normal circumstances, Dr. Gonzo and I would undoubtedly have found this situation amusing, perhaps even downright titillating. But not in our altered state.
“GET OFF!” I roared as I leaned on the horn. That only seemed to egg on our volunteer go-go dancer.
“ARGH!” I screamed as I turned on the windshield wipers and sprayed the wiper fluid. But even as the fluid soaked the young lady’s cutoff jean shorts, it was no deterrent.
“What do we do?” I asked in desperation to Dr. Gonzo. But I knew immediately from his 1000 yard stare that he would not be imparting any wisdom at this particular moment.
Just then, out of my peripheral vision I caught sight of something so beautiful, so comforting, it nearly brought me to tears. I was in rapture, as if a white-robed Jesus had appeared on a chariot drawn by two white stallions.
But it was the not the second coming of the lord I had witnessed. No, it was a rusty blue Saab with an unmistakable green and white Vermont license plate and Phish stickers plastered on the bumper. And it was driving in the wrong lane, bypassing the traffic.
Dr Gonzo saw it too, and with a fierce, focused look he beamed me a message. No words were spoken, but my instructions were clear: FOLLOW THAT CAR!
I put the car in drive and the motion caused our dancer to end her routine and jump off the hood. I pulled into the left lane and followed that Saab like my life depended on it (which it very well may have). About a half mile later, it pulled into a pay-lot near the theater and I gleefully followed.
We had made it! But there wasn’t a whole lot of time to spare. We jumped out of the car and ran to the venue. We hoped to sell the extra ticket we had, but time was scarce, so we miracled a fellow head which caused a cascading set of cheers to erupt as we made our way into the theater.
To be honest, I don’t actually remember many specifics from the show. By the time we got in, Dr. Gonzo and I needed to release a lot of energy and re-key ourselves on a positive vibe. I do remember the second set opener of Wilson and Antelope, and being in a state of total euphoria by that point. I remember Merl Saunders. And of course, I remember the powerful magic of just being in the Fox.
It’s funny—recollecting this story after so many years, I wonder if such a thing could even happen these days. As it turns out, we had arrived in Atlanta during an annual event called the “Freaknik”, which was basically a spring-break celebration for many southern schools. Nowadays, with smartphones and up-to-the-second information, we likely would have avoided the route we chose to take and let Google maps get us there a different way. I have no problem with the forward progress of technology—indeed, I embrace it—but it seems like an element of spontaneity and surprise has been removed from our lives.
Or perhaps I feel that way because I’m 20 years older than I was on that warm spring day in April 1994, and my life is anything but spontaneous now. But the author of this blog and Dr. Gonzo and I still go see shows together, so at least a little of the pulsating current of energy we rode back then still courses through us. It probably always will.
The Fox Theatre, Atlanta, GA
Set 1: Funky Bitch, Rift, Fee, Peaches en Regalia, Poor Heart > Stash, Esther > Down with Disease > Caravan, High-Heel Sneakers
Set 2: Wilson > Run Like an Antelope, Mound > Sample in a Jar, Sparkle > Harry Hood, Ginseng Sullivan, You Enjoy Myself, Who By Fire, Golgi Apparatus
Encore: Free Bird
Notes: Trey sang the verses of Fee through a megaphone. Antelope included Simpsons and Oom Pa Pa signals. Caravan and the Phish debut of High-Heel Sneakers featured Merl Saunders on keyboards and YEM, which included a Rock ‘n Roll Hoochie Koo jam, featured Colonel Bruce Hampton on piano. The Phish debut of Who By Fire also featured Colonel Bruce Hampton on vocals. Ginseng Sullivan was performed acoustic, without microphones, and featured Fishman on washboard. Free Bird was played by request after Trey asked, a la Lynyrd Skynyrd, what song the crowd wanted to hear. Listen for a distinct Caravan tease in the beginning of Esther. The tramps jam in YEM featured a guest tramp jumper due to Trey’s broken foot.
I was at the show. I remember when it let out traffic was insane. Total gridlock. We parked my 1967 beetle on a sidewalk knowing no tow trucks could get through if we couldn’t move. My friends and I met a Jamaican dude who let us crash at his hotel he was in town for freaknik. It was surreal. The acoustics of the fox theatre were incredible. Great memory.