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A survival guide to Phish's Festival 8

October 29, 2009 |  2:40 pm


This coming weekend, Coachella Valley will witness a locust-like descent from a 40,000-strong horde of hippies, a scale unseen in the Golden State since at the very least, last weekend’s 40th Celebration of Woodstock in Golden Gate Park (a murky and monotonous tale for a different post).

Indeed, over Halloween weekend, Phish, the Vermont jam-band behemoths, will be throwing their first All Hallow’s Eve festival since 2004 and their first ever west of the Mississippi, featuring a staggering eight sets in three days. It all includes a Sunday acoustic performance with coffee and doughnuts, an organic farmer’s market and a 100-foot Ferris wheel.

In Phish tradition, the band will play a special Halloween set in which they cover the entirety of another band’s album. According to the most recent update to the Festival 8 website, the remaining candidates are: David Bowie’s “Hunky Dory” or “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders From Mars,” Genesis’ “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway,” Jimi Hendrix’s “Electric Ladyland,” King Crimson’s “Larks'  Tongues in Aspic,” Led Zeppelin's self-titled debut, MGMT’s “Oracular Spectacular,” Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Prince’s “Purple Rain,” Radiohead’s “Kid A,” the Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main St.,” and Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks.”

Considering Michael Jackson tributes are trendier than Twitter, “Thriller” would seem to be human nature.

In an effort to prepare the intrepid souls trekking east to Indio’s Empire Polo Fields, Pop and Hiss has prepared a survival guide so that you avoid sunstroke, shady scalpers and bad breakfasts.

  • Never underestimate the wisdom of Kurt Vonnegut (or of an urban myth): Wear sunscreen. With the mercury set to hover in the low 90s all weekend, out-of-towners used to crisp October temperatures will likely turn ruby red when exposed to the fierce Mojave sun. But be sure to bring a sweater for the night, when the desert winds rattle with a surprising ferocity.

  • Don’t drive up Sunday morning hoping to score a single-day ticket: This isn’t Coachella. Tickets for Festival 8 were sold for $199 for all three days. Though you might be able to score an extra pass from someone whose “friend” had a psychedelic experience that left him convinced he was the Lizard King, odds are that you will be competing with every metallurgy-selling hippie in the parking lot for that same ducat. Tickets are still on-sale. If you want to go, then buy one.

  • Prepare for long days: Though it’s tempting to wing it and rely on your iron spine and indomitable will. Saturday’s first set begins at 3 p.m. and it’s last will probably conclude well past midnight. Pace yourself. Bring a towel, bring a blanket, bring a bottle of aspirin. If you’re drinking booze, be sure to guzzle an ample amount of water. Nothing dehydrates you faster than liquor and the dry desert heat. Again, remember—you are not the lizard king.

  • Give yourself plenty of time to enter the festival grounds: Local police are already warning about long traffic delays. If Festival 8 resembles Coachella in any way (besides it’s preponderance of shirtless hairy men with BO), it will likely be in its catastrophic traffic snarls. Expect waits of up to two hours to enter. This shouldn’t be a problem -- Phish fans are notoriously patient. How else to explain their ability to enjoy 25-minute renditions of “You Enjoy Myself.” Campgrounds opened at noon today (Thursday) and close at noon Monday. Traffic reports will be available on the Bunny, 95.9 FM, a special Phish radio station being set up exclusively for the event.

  • Where’s Shakedown Street? How am I supposed to know? However, if you insist on searching for the avenue of street pharmaceuticals immortalized by the Grateful Dead-gone-disco, be safe. Phish fans are reputed to be some of the friendliest people on Earth, but there is no guarantee that what you are purchasing is legit. Follow the advice of your most trusted and experienced friends, ask plenty of questions, and whatever you do, don’t trust anyone who looks like this man.

  • It’s a day before the festival and I still don’t have a room, help: Rooms can still be found with a little bit of savvy. Search the regular Travel sites (Expedia, Hotels.Com, Priceline, Orbitz, Travelocity) and enter in other desert cities besides Indio. Try La Quinta, Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage.

  • Do I need to bring my organic muesli? Of course not. How else would the promoters charge $12 for a falafel sandwich (rough guesstimate -- Pop & Hiss does not know the price of food). According to the organizers, the festival will boast an array of vegan and vegetarian options, plus an organic farmers market that will feature organic and transitional produce, honey, cheese, eggs, bread, pumpkins, wheat grass, fresh cut flowers, nuts and California-grown olive oil. Organic coffee, breakfast and lunch will be available at the cafe located adjacent to the farmers market at the El Dorado Clubhouse. There will also be 50 types of microbrews available for sale (50!). Essentially, everything but Duff. And if you’re by chance staying in Palm Springs, I recommend Billy Reed’s, because Billy Reed’s is the best breakfast spot east of Eagle Rock.

  • How am I going to watch the World Series? A valid question, sir or madame. Thankfully, the festival will have something called the Overlook where the 21-and-over crowd can swill fancy drinks at the Bloody Mary Bar, and watch classic Halloween films, archival Phish video, and the World Series and NFL games.

--Jeff Weiss

Photo: Phish's Trey Anastasio. Credit: Associated Press

For tickets and directions, visit the Phish Festival 8 website. Tickets are $199, and include entry to the Empire Polo Club grounds, 81-800 Ave. 51, Indio, for all three days. Gates open at 4 p.m. on Friday. Music at 7:30 p.m. Gates open at noon on Saturday. Music at 3 p.m. Gates open at 10 a.m. on Sunday. Music at noon.