As one can imagine, as pretty sizable Phish fan, I was extremely excited to hear that Phish would be having a festival over the July 4th weekend. The reason for this was I reckoned that since July 4th weekend would be July 2nd-4th, that would mean I would only have to miss the first day of the festival which would be Shabbos. This was great because I was excited to attending a Phish Festival; an integral part of Phishtory and something I’d never done before (haven’t gone to a New Years show either, but that will I”H change this year). I was crushed, however, when I learned that in fact it would be over Shabbos. As much as I love Phish, I unfortunately dont roll Shabbos. Oh well, I thought- looks like I won’t be able to make it. (nothing really new here- I missed the last Festival because it was on Shabbos, and the New Years show this year as well due to Shabbos, as well as a multitude of other shows). I figured I would just see them before and that would be that.
But all this changed when I saw a retweet by the acclaimed Dean of Student Life at the University of Purim. My Friend, my friend (also known as @UofPurim) tweeted that there was this project called “The Shabbat Tent” which was making a concerted effort to be at the festival. After looking on the website, I decided to contact Rabbi Yonah Bookstein who ran the Shabbat Tent. I was immediately stoked* and inquired in the comment section as to how I could help. After not hearing back for about a week, I tweeted at Rabbi Yonah, and we scheduled a time to talk and discussed over the details of what, who, how, etc., The Shabbat Tent would function.
Over the next few months I was in touch with Rabbi Yonah quite frequently and we explored all avenues as to how we could logistically have the tent. Funding would be the main issue as it cost approximately $11,000 to run the tent; hence we immediately started brainstorming as to how to raise the requisite amount of money.
I first contacted a few people and one of them was overjoyed to help; the Ba’al Habayis of the Bais Frollel. This special yid was ecstatic to help us, and made a large donation supporting our cause. Other ideas began to emerge as to how we could raise money. My favorite was setting up a Shabbat Tent stand in the venue during the concert of my friend’s band, a band called “Moose Convention” (they are totally sick by the way- check them out!) This along with donations from other people helped us to furthur reach our goal. All appeared to be set, and we were on the way to having the Shabbat Tent at Phish’s SuperBall IX!
However, as the date drew nearer, we were struck with some inconvenient news; after planning out this entire project it turned out that Rabbi Yonah would be unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict which would happen that Sunday. This was truly a blow as I didnt want it to undermind all the hard work we had put into it. Although it appeared as if Rabbi Yonah would be unable to attend, I was luckily introduced to Adam Weinberg who would help run the tent with me. A couple of weeks before the festival Adam and I of us spoke in great length about all the planning we would need; food, drinks, updog**, plates, tables, guyute, tents.
Around this time I contacted Gary Rosenblatt, Editor-In-Chief at “The Jewish Week” and told him to perhaps write an article about this upcoming noteworthy event. Gary Indeed expressed interest, and my friend Josh Fleet (Assistant religions editor at The Huffington post and author of this outstanding blog) happily agreed to write the piece about the Shabbat Tent.
Writing this article would be beneficial because
a) it would attract more people to the tent because the profile of the tent would be raised
b) it would perhaps note people to the cause because there is currently a Sefer Torah project underway
The article was written- and it was excellent!
Yet, as this article proliferated on Facebook and the Twittersphere, I was a little worried. Would people perhaps get the wrong impression of me and assume that I was going to the concert on Shabbos? (I wasn’t) I wasn’t certain whether this was a valid concern, but spoke it over with 2 of my illustrious Rabbeim @JudahMischel and @LeviteJester, as well as my #TwitterBestFriend @DoniJoszef. These people confirmed that there was no need to care about what other people think, and helped confirm in me a sense of be who you are and take pride in this memorable cause. Hence I decided to go. Additionally, Rabbi Yonah found out that he was in fact able to make it, and 2 incredible Jews Tuli and Ruthie Skaist also decided to attend and participate in the Shabbat Tent.
With all these new developments in place- Adam, Tuli, Ruthie, Rabbi Yonah and I- planned all the practicalities as to how the Shabbos would run. We decided to meet up outside the venue the Friday before, and decided to travel as a caravan into the festival. We were a little bit apprehensive upon entering the gates because they would search the car and confiscate any glass and certain “paraphernalia”. While we obviously didn’t have any “paraphernalia” had a large portion of glass so we were debating what we should do with it. Luckily Rabbi Yonah told them we were having a Shabbat Tent and they allowed us to bring in.
Upon arrival we were directed to our campsites. The camping grounds were divided into 7 different parts, named after the 7 states that Phish has never played a concert in (Hawaii, Alaska, Wyoming, Arkansas, Oklahoma, North Dakota and South Dakota) However, we were directed into Overload Lot 2. We were all right next to each other and decided to set up shop, and started to build the tents.
We put all the coolers near the car and filled them up with (it’s) ice.
Additionally, the area in which we were situated in was enclosed so we didn’t have to worry about the Eruv.
After constructing the tents and unloading all the food we walked around the large campgrounds where all the willies were selling their wares- I shuffled by alert to all the glances and the glares. I was able to rendezvous with a couple of friends that were there, and told them about our Shabbat Tent and they seemed very excited about it.
I made my way back to the campgrounds and started to get ready for the holy day of rest, not entirely sure what to expect. We had a minyan for Kabbalat Shabbos led by Tuli Skaist and it was very nice with everyone dancing and singing loudly. Then we started to eat and everyone was just shmoozing and conversing until we heard the unmistakable piano crescendo which meant “Possum.” Hearing this, a large contingency headed off to hear the concert while we stayed back in the campgrounds.
We just relaxed in the tent and had soda and actually met with this dude who in lurid detail was telling us about his professional field; a high ranking senior official at a cable company.
After the first set concluded a large amount of people came back for more food, and we chilled with them. They headed off for the second set while some of us went to sleep, hung out, gotta jibbo’d, etc.
The next day we awoke to stifling heat, and channelled our inner Chabad as Shacharis began at 11, including Hallel which was a truly incredible experience.
Then was the highlight of the weekend for me and one moment I will never forget. Shabbos lunch. We set up table cloths on the ground and we had approximately 40-60 people there ranging from Stern/ YU israel Neveih Reishit Eretz HaTzvi and everyone was just sitting and relaxing. Ruthie Skaist provided us with wonderful salad that was a smash hit, and there was tons of Challah to go around. There were incredible vibes. The Heilige @Yakamoishe graced us with a wonderful Dvar Torah comparing the sense of community and trekking to a phish festival and everyone was rapt by it. I loved it because I went from speaking to someone about the previous night’s simple (a very peaceful and melodic 21 minute escapade) which then segued into a discussion of Bava Basra (about Chezkas Mara Kamma and Chezkat Gimmel Shanim- the machlokes between R’ Akiva and R’ Yishmael and the logic behind it)- unfortunately we didn’t have a gemara to wade any further into the (velvet) sea of the Talmud.***
Then people headed off to hear the afternoon set. Rabbi Yonah, Ruthie and Tuli and I just sat there and we were blown away at what we had just witnessed. It was just so incredible and everyone had just come to enjoy Shabbos- it didn’t matter who you were where you were coming from, your level of observance; we were just glad, glad, glad that they arrived. Everyone was just Jewish and come in and enjoying Shabbos- I wouldn’t even say Kiruv (that connotes kind of a elitist thing which implies that you’re better than other people). Giving mean to the age old addendum that “Religion is a private matter.”
I decided to take a nap after lunch but couldn’t help having a huge grin on my face when I heard Phish playing “Divided Sky” widely known as my all-time least favorite song.
Later on we had Minchah, followed by Shalosh Seudos, then Ma’ariv and a musical Havdalah- (pics below)
After Havdallah, I immediately went to the concert venue and had what I would like to call a “Golden Age Revelation.”
Why do I call it that? Because I stayed later in campground hanging out after Shabbos and missed this song “Golden Age”(a relatively new cover song by a great band called TV on the Radio). Had I only come 15 minutes earlier I would have heard it; I was (figuratively) kicking myself for having missed it. But the lesson/ revelation I learned from this was a good consolation- because it put things in perspective. Of course I had missed 4 sets of music but I was only annoyed to have missed this song which I could have caught, this confirmed in my mind that going on Shabbos was never a thought of mine, and I was only annoyed when I could’ve heard something that was in my control.
Luckily I arrived in time to hear “Prince Caspian” a song which I had never heard live, it was incredible. Then came a ripping set featuring an incredible Tweezer (not to be confused with @DoniJoszef’s wedding video). I went back to the campsite but there were rumors abound that there would be a secret set. I decided to go back and talked with the others to try and figure out what this would be …
I arrived back and was waiting on a guard rail and saw Trey and the crew go into this lounge which went up to reveal a silhouette where they were making all sorts of different jamming and synthesizer noises, and we were treated to a ambient jam with incredibly unique but weird noise. It was definitely very special and a treat, and afterwards we sojourned back to our campgrounds.
The next day we decided to pack up and hang out for the rest of the day house of livephish- this was awesome. It was stifling hot outside, yet there was this humble abode which featured entire rows of macs where you could download selected Phish tracks to your iPod. I personally just enjoyed relaxing in the air conditioned tent watch DVD clips of my favorite band. I was in a very good place.
After this I went to the show and with some suave manuevering, was able to get a spot in the front row.
(notice Trey and Mike in the Background)
I met an Israeli Dati Jewish guy next to me and we discussed the army, Gilad Shalit and of course Phish.
I was so excited to hear them cover Soul Shakedown party, followed by Ac/Dc bag but then they played Colonel Forbin’s; a true rarity which I always wanted to hear! Phish followed this up by playing Destiny Unbound another rarity and classic which I also was chasing. Phish continued their musical onslaught by playing Mound and Wilson, both featuring abnormally long jams and then played Reba with whistling into- the first time since coventry.
The second set was great but not as good as the first set. The highlight was the jam and a First Tube encore with fireworks.
All in all besides from the obvious Phish experience which is always great, what made this weekend truly memorable was the stunning success and reception of the Shabbat Tent.
The moral of this story (at least to me)- totally cool to be who you are, and you can incorporate your hobbies into your service of God.
Now onto Achva West…
*shout out to the Brigade Shlita and Rebbetzin @ChavieLieber who were unable to attend
**what’s “up dog?” Did I get you? Too proud to admit it?
***cheesy and cliche but I had to weave in a reference to my Rebbe’s favorite phish song (ayin the niggun sung before eating the fish at the Rosh Hashanah dinner at Reishit)