If I look back over the years, I find that my mood on New Year’s Eve can be just as varied as our plans. At times I’ve been excited and celebratory: out with the old, in with the new. Other years have left me feeling exhausted and worn-out from the busy-ness of Christmas and the responsibilities of raising two kids. On New Year’s Eve 2012, I remember feeling a profound sadness in the aftermath of the December 14th shooting at Sandy Hook. Although I was surrounded by my husband and some of my best friends, listening to one of my favorite bands, feelings of joy and celebration were not easy to come by that year. Considering the lives that had been forever altered just 2 1/2 weeks before, it felt like the least I could do to have a more subdued New Year’s Eve.
Some years bring big changes, and as December turns to January I eagerly move from celebration mode into the heart of winter, knowing that as the earth lies dormant, I too may find some quiet time to process the thoughts, emotions and experiences of the previous year. 2015 was one of those years for me. I intended it to be, and it did not disappoint. The woman stepping forward into 2016 is a more self-actualized human than the woman who stumbled into 2015. To feel that one has made a shift in one’s life, that one is now more clearly on the path of fulfilling one’s potential–how to make that shift without experiencing some emotional challenges and disturbing the ground beneath us and those around us? I don’t think it’s possible, nor desirable. Emotional ups and downs are part of the yin and yang of life, they adhere to the laws of physics: what goes up must come down. They can, however, be confronting and disorienting when we are caught up in the energy of them, they can feel like ‘something is wrong.’ That was the state of my psyche as I walked into Madison Square Garden on December 31, 2015.
If you’ve read my blog before, you will know that my husband, friends and I are avid concert-goers. As my friend Carra describes it, music is her religion. We gather in large arenas and crowded clubs, and as we prepare to worship you can feel the excitement in the air. Over the last two decades, late December into early January has found many members of our congregation at a Phish show. My last New Year’s Eve show was a warm-weather extravaganza in Miami as 2003 became 2004. Since Phish disbanded in 2004 in a search for their own self-actualization, and regrouped in 2009 after motherhood had become part of my journey, securing the tickets, transportation and childcare necessary to be physically present on 12/31 has become a bit more difficult. With a 9-month old at home, I was thrilled to sneak away to Worcester on 12/27/2010 for an early celebration, both of Phish-loving friend Neil’s birthday (12/29) and the ringing in of the New Year. With the advances of technology, we music fans can stream the live broadcasts of our favorite bands in the comfort of our own homes (#couchtour). More than once I’ve shimmied away the last hours of the year alongside friends and family, generating our own version of the New Year’s celebration, and adding our own vibes to the waves of energy that are passing among Phish and their phans, wherever they may be.
It had been a while since I had seen Phish live. Their 2014 and 2015 tours included just one stop in New England, and although my husband Jerry was able to travel for a few shows, I opted to stay home and hold down the fort. During these past two years we’ve tuned into other great bands; our places of worship have included many smaller venues in the greater Providence and Boston area. But I suppose a big year calls for a big blowout, and when the New Year’s run at Madison Square Garden was announced, Jerry and I made our plans. As fortune would have it, we secured New Year’s Eve tickets in the public sale on October 2nd; the rest of the plans flowed from there. We pushed our New Year’s plans to the background as we focused on the intensity of the fall season, revisiting them as needed but saving our excitement and anticipation until our own holiday run was behind us, and we could grant ourselves permission to feel free.
As the end of 2015 approached, rather than feel satisfied with my accomplishments and excited for the New Year’s Eve festivities, I felt trapped on an emotional roller coaster inside my head. As I’ve told many a friend in the past, “Your head is a bad neighborhood–don’t go there alone.” Yet I was ignoring my own advice. The journey that was 2015 continued to gain momentum as the year progressed, and I continued to seek clarity and understanding of all that had occurred, and of my successes and failings in how I handled the multitude of challenges that arose. Often, though, clarity cannot be gained by continuing to poke and probe and search. Sometimes we need to just let it be, and in the quiet space that opens up, we will come to understand that which eluded us until we shut off our flashlight.
Having been to quite a few musical experiences in my lifetime, I know that my headspace and comfort level can make a huge difference in my experience at the show. My comfort level touches upon everything from the shoes I have on, to the energy of the other people at the show, to where my kids are staying while I’m out having fun. My headspace includes all that stuff, along with everything else that you can imagine it would. The amount of activity that goes on in my head at any one moment can be both a blessing and a curse. One of the things I love most about listening to live music is that it brings me out of my head and into the present moment, into my body. The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary describes “losing yourself in something” as “to become so interested in something that it takes all your attention.” There’s no time to fret about the little things in life when you’re fully engaged in the magic happening in front of you. Any discomfort I may feel in my being or headspace experiences an equal and opposite pull towards losing myself in the music. The music wins as long as I allow myself to let go.
And so here we are…New Year’s Eve, 2015. I’ve got all this stuff looming over me. I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to let it go. I was worried about our seats (they weren’t great, and I knew Jerry would want to find a spot closer to the action; I don’t like to infringe on others’ space–it can lead to that issue of discomfort). I was fretting over the future, rather than living in the moment. Or, in Phish speak, “Things are falling down on me, heavy things I could not see; when I finally came around, something small would pin me down.”
We spent the first of three sets trying to lock down a good location. Our ticketed seats were about five rows from the back of the venue, filled with smoke and loud with chatter. It was crowded and the sound was terrible. But this is a Phish show and, much to the chagrin of the event staff, we look at aisles as free for the claiming. We managed to claim some prime aisle space near our friends; we made new friends as we introduced ourselves to the people we would be sharing energy and space with for the close of 2015. We endured several sweeps from the security guards, one of which resulted in an eviction from section 116; but we knew they couldn’t fight the battle all night, and said eviction turned into a well-timed bathroom break as I saw the security guards leaving our adopted section just as I exited the ladies’ room. We made our way back down to Erin, Matt, Neil (different Neil) and Beth Anne 😉, our new found friends at the ends of the aisles we danced next to. At Phish shows, generosity abounds; our aisle buddies made space for us to tuck in when the security guards came a-knockin’ and they let us use their tickets to get back in after beverage or bathroom runs.
Phish songs are rarely played on the radio, but they can sell out four nights at Madison Square Garden in a matter of minutes. Why is that? To the non-phan, the lyrics may seem silly, bordering on ridiculous. A song all about a possum being run over? Yup. A song focused on characters with lumpy heads? Absolutely. Musical jams that can easily top 10 minutes or more? It happens regularly. There are multiple websites where Phish fans flock to study and weigh in on the various meanings of all things Phish. There are people (or software, I hope!) who track when songs were last played and keep a running tally of which songs were played when. I’m not one of those phans, although I do track the shows I’ve attended: my current total is 31 since July of 1999, which pales in comparison to some of our pals, who are well into the triple digits. I do enjoy myself a good live Phish show. I’ll admit, when I walked into MSG on 12/31/15 I felt a little rusty. Not only had I not seen Phish in a while, but we haven’t been listening to them too much. I was in my funky headspace. With such an intense year under my belt, I had enough wherewithal to pick up a sequined shirt, but not enough mental energy to put towards anything fancier or sillier than that.
And then the show began. And I remembered why I’ve so happily joined Jerry at Phish shows, and why I always come back. Trey, Page, Mike and Jon are masters at elevating the energy in a room. They pull out the best in us. What that looks like to the untrained eye is a bunch of aging hippies twirling their hands through the air. What that feels like when you’re a part of the music? It feels like your soul is being elevated. Like your spirit is healing. About halfway through the show, I felt a profound sense of peace. My perspective totally shifted, I realized I had stopped worrying, and I knew exactly what to do to clear up any unresolved tension. That, my friends, is the gift of a Phish show, and that is why we always come back.
New Year’s Eve shows have an extra promise included, some sort of jazzy excitement to look forward to. In 1994 they flew around Boston Garden in a giant hot dog. In 2013 the band brought a replica (or was it real?) of their first equipment truck onto the floor of Madison Square Garden, and played the second set on top of the truck, complete with original equipment. This year Phish set up a second stage and started their third set there, until a funnel-shaped screen came down over them, hiding them from view and allowing them to return to the original stage. And then midnight came, and along with it came the yellow. Balloons fell from the ceiling, and yellow squares of tissue paper were shot from the stage, over and over and over again.
Admittedly, I gravitate towards yellow. I grew up in a yellow bedroom, I live in a yellow house, my nickname is “Yell-o” or “Yell-bell” in some circles, I even carried a yellow purse with me to the show. When I asked my husband if he noticed all the yellow at the show, he looked at me blankly. That would be a no. I think some people were disappointed that the stunt wasn’t more fancy. In my mind, Phish must adhere to the laws of physics as well: what goes up must come down. You can’t always ride a giant hot dog around the arena. At its most basic, music is energy. Phish are masters of affecting energy. And yellow is the color of joy, of hope, and of sunshine. What better way to ring in 2016 than to be surrounded by those emotions and feelings as we ride the wave of another Phish tune.
As I sit in my home office space looking out at the frozen tundra of my backyard, I keep my square of yellow close. We are still in the beginning of a shiny new year…anything seems possible against the backdrop of a fresh early January. But as the challenges of the year crop up as we know they will, I will look to my patch of yellow to guide me, to remind me that all is well. All is at peace. And it’s okay to let go.
May 2016 bring you love and light and the strength to face all of your challenges.
A special thank you to Neil & Jenny, who actually had seats in section 116 and let us use their tickets to get in the door; our aisle buddies Erin & Matt and Neil & Mary Beth (or Beth Anne, as I like to call her); the many employees of Madison Square Garden who welcome the Phish freaks back every year and eventually stop trying to get us to behave; Carra and Elise for letting me post their pictures; Jerry for being the yang to my yin; my friends for being so “awesome & funny,” always; my mom and brother for showing my children a good time while I partied it up at MSG; and to you, for reading.