In the wake of Hurricane Irene, Vermont was left a disaster zone. Debris piled along roads has become commonplace. Homes and businesses were destroyed all over the state. Everybody seems to know at least one person affected.
Vermont is left with billions of dollars in damage physically and economically. Where are the telethons? Where are the flashy, high-priced celebrity pleas for donations that every other natural disaster around the world seems to harvest?
Fortunately, Vermont never got shallow pleas from indifferent faces. Vermont received something greater – Phish.
On Sept. 7, Phish announced one more show to finish up their summer tour, A Benefit for Vermont Flood Recovery. A week later, more than 10,000 Phish fans traveled down the street and across the country to the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction.
To get to the lot required a quick flash of tickets to deter any scalpers or scalpees. Tickets weren’t easy to come by either. Fans had to go through a ticket request lottery or in person to assure a majority of the tickets were left for locals.
“This benefit and this band is the only reason I would spend 17 hours in line on a Friday night and sleep on a sidewalk in Burlington,” said a fan who referred to himself as Chris M. of Boston. “It’s for a good cause.”
After the ticket flashing, it was a short, anxious drive to the parking lot where a bubbly employee with a highlighter green vest guides you to your spot.
Even though this may seem like a normal parking lot with a mile’s worth of cars, don’t be fooled. The first row of parking turns from a grassy walkway to a shopping district that would put any boardwalk to shame. Various pop-up tents cover make-shift restaurants and clothing boutiques. Blankets are adorned with hats and jewelry.
You’re on the notorious Shakedown Street.
One of the vendors likely to set up shop is 31-year-old Fred Sutter. Sutter is from Oakland, Calif. and avid fan Phish fan since 1994. Sutter has been to over 200 shows.
Sutter follows Phish by selling an array of tie-dyed tour shirts and custom hats. Instead of buying his next ticket with the profits, he’ll be rebuilding Vermont alongside his favorite band.
“Bernie Sanders said [Vermont] needs billions of dollars. The money they raise isn’t a lot, but it’s definitely something. Plus, ten to twelve dollars from each item I sell will be donated to Vermont,” exclaimed Sutter.
Fans of Phish are usually labeled as “druggies, looking at the groupie community as an indulgence in a drug binge. Today though, Jana Schulz would disagree.
“It’s obvious this show has become more of a positive thing. This show is more about the music and less about the drugs,” Schulz shares. “Yeah, it happens, but it’s great to see that people are taking care of themselves and picking up trash after others. It’s more about the music and the community and less about getting messed up. I’m happy to see such a positive impact.”
Robert Badger agrees. Badger also believes the show deserves that respect.
“This cause is very close to Phish’s heart because some of them are residents here. Only Phish could pull out something special like this,” said Badger.
Intensity rose as the gates opened and thousands flock from their post. The party in the lot shifts to the fair grounds.
Now the 10,000 were milling about inside, similar to releasing a human zoo.
Then someone can be heard on the microphone.
Can it be? Is Phish coming out now?
Well, it’s just Mike Gordon, the band’s bassist. He expressed the bands excitement for being home for the first time in seven years and then hands the floor over to Gov. Peter Shumlin.
Shumlin is clearly overcome with positive energy and excitement.
“You know, since Irene hit us just two weeks ago, she inflicted extraordinary pain on the best state in the nation,” Shumlin said.
The crowd in front of him cheers like he just scored a touchdown.
“It’s been the extraordinary acts of generosity and kindness from Phish to individual Vermonters reaching out to neighbors and friends and strangers,” he said. “Helping each other out, getting it done, caring about each other, loving each other, taking care of each other. We’re gonna rebuild this state stronger than Irene found us because of you and your generosity.”
The crowd roars as Shumlin finishes his speech and introduces Phish. The volume intensifies as Phish calmly struts on stage. In lieu of saying anything, the band starts playing “Chalk Dust Torture,” and the crowd was off. Women and men stood at the back and twirl hula hoops of all sizes. Glow sticks fly through the air like robins and blue jays.
Before long, the show winds down to a close and the band takes their final bows, only the crowd is left to pick up their lives and head back out into the parking lots.
Phish left as quickly as they came. But before they left, they had raised more than $1.2 million to help the great state of Vermont. Many of the vendors donated their profits from food and drink sales. Workers also had the opportunity to donate their paycheck or portions of their check to aide in Vermont’s recovery as well. The show was a gigantic success.
Donations can still be made to the Waterwheel Foundation by going to their Web site and will benefit Vermont Flood Recovery if specifically directed.
This show will be embedded indefinitely in the memories of all who attended, including Alexandria Pugliese, a 2011 Castleton graduate and Phish lover since childhood.
“It was a really good idea for a good cause. For how big Phish is, they couldn’t turn their backs. It’s their home state,” declared Pugliese.
Pugliese is also a proud Vermont native.
“People are different in Vermont and we all come together to help each other. It’s a special kind of community.”