July 12 was no night to be at the beach. A muggy, overcast day had given way to a heavy downpour, deep chill and unrelenting winds by nightfall at Jones Beach.
But some 15,000 people who had come to hear the band Phish perform at the Nikon at Jones Beach Theater, embracing the motto printed on T-shirts that parking-lot vendors hawked outside the show, “keep calm and boogie on,” decided they were not going anywhere.
Within rock-music circles, the devotion of Phish fans is legendary, and it was on full display that Friday at Jones Beach. Thousands of “phans,” including myself, stood shivering in ineffectual raingear during a several-hour deluge so as not to miss a beat that guitarist Trey Anastasio, drummer Jon Fishman, bassist Mike Gordon and pianist Page McConnell played.
The culture that surrounds Phish — rich in traditions, history, even its own slang — is near the top of a list of traits that separates Phish from most bands today. 2013 marks Phish’s 30th year as a band, the last 28 of them without a lineup change. Phish’s mainstream music industry exposure remains close to nonexistent — they have had two songs make Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart and released one music video over the decades — yet they sell out Madison Square Garden and other big-ticket venues each year and pack tens of thousands of fans into multi-day outdoor festivals with no other act on the playbill. Most importantly, there is the music: each band member is a virtuoso at his instrument, and together, they play long, improvisational jams that crisscross genres.
And so I drove to Jones Beach’s Field 5 parking lot outside the theater at 3:45 p.m. on Friday, ready to have a good time. As anyone on the South Shore knows, living near Jones Beach has its benefits, including having an amphitheater in our backyard that draws popular acts like Jimmy Buffet, The Allman Brothers Band, Dave Matthews Band, Chicago and 311 most every summer.