There’s far too much to say about Phish in an introductory paragraph to properly do the band and experience of a show justice. But, if you’re not familiar, Phish is a jam-band from Vermont that is best known for their live shows that feature a huge catalogue of songs ranging in genre from straightforward rock-and-roll, to bluegrass, funk, reggae, and jazz, just to name a few. The real allure for fans, though, is the band’s improvisational prowess. The band will often extend songs to be 15 and 20 minutes long, or longer, taking listeners along a musical journey through a song they may have already heard a hundred times, but never the same twice. In 30 years and 1700-ish shows, never once has a show been the same, and regardless of how one feels about a band’s music, that’s impressive. Before heading out West at the end of August, Phish wraps up their summer tour this weekend with a 3-show run in the Deep South and there are a few things worth doing outside of the time actually watching the band and ::flipping desks::.
On Friday, Phish will play in Gulf Shores, Alabama at The Wharf for the first time ever. The drive through Southern Alabama becomes increasingly flat the further you go past Montgomery, and there aren’t many places of interest to stop, so I suggest you get to the beach as soon as possible. Once you get off of I-65 onto Gulf Shores Parkway, and closer to the beach, expect some stop-and-go as you’ll go through a few small towns and probably be a slave to the traffic lights. Once you get there, it’s hard to recommend anything other than spending some time on the white, powdery sand of Alabama’s shoreline. Glide on the breaking waves, wade into the velvet sea, build castles made of sand, hear the songs the ocean sings, and enjoy yourself. If you need more adventure than that and have some time to kill, I suggest spending some time on the trails in Gulf State Park, which allows a stroll through a maze of undisturbed dunes, or take the ferry over to Dauphin Island (about $30 round-trip) for a more secluded and quiet nature experience. Getting some fresh Gulf seafood at least once while in Gulf Shores is a necessity and there are a plethora of seafood shacks to get it from. Zeke’s on the Marina is one of my favorites, but the town is full of excellent choices. Lastly, if you still have some steam after the show, the Flora-Bama is a legendary bar on the border of Florida and Alabama and I’m sure a late night there would not disappoint.
Wake up early because the drive back up to Birmingham is about 5 hours and there are things you’ll want to do there, too. Phish will be playing in Oak Mountain Amphitheater on Saturday night, and the venue is 5 minutes from some of the city’s best hiking trails in Oak Mountain State Park. Park at the south trailhead and hike 2 miles to Peavine falls, and cool off in the pool below the falling water. A disclaimer though, it has been a while since it’s rained here and the falls were dry when I checked them last week. You can also skip the hike and drive straight to the falls parking lot if you’d like. If the falls are dry, hit the beach on one of the lakes in the park. If you’ve got all day, head down to the central part of town. The venue is about 15 minutes from downtown, which has four breweries, an awesome park, and excellent food. Eating grilled-cheese sandwiches from some guy’s van in a Phish-show parking lot validates a longstanding stereotype (but they are good), so for a more refined grilled-cheese eating experience head into the city and find Melt, a restaurant in the Avondale area of town. They specialize in gourmet and specialty grilled-cheese sandwiches that will have you bouncing around the room. But I won’t stereotype Phish fans without stereotyping myself as a Alabamian, because everyone in Alabama loves beer and barbeque (only kind-of kidding). A few doors down from Melt is Saw’s Barbeque, a local favorite, the real deal, and a few doors down from Saw’s is Avondale Brewing, one of the city’s four great breweries. From Avondale, give yourself about 25 minutes to get back down to the amphitheater.
The final show of the run is at one of my favorite amphitheaters, Encore Park in Alpharetta, Georgia, just north of Atlanta. Since Atlanta is a major metropolitan city, there is no shortage of things to do. But if you want to escape the city without having to venture too far, take in the scents and subtle sounds of the Whitewater Creek trail. It’s inside the beltway, quiet, scenic, and not too far from Alpharetta. It offers great views of the river, easy hiking, and a chilly swim if you feel inclined. Work up an appetite in the morning because there is an endless list of good places to eat in Atlanta, but I’ll be stopping at Farm Burger for lunch. They use all free-range, grass-fed beef, and locally-source all of their other ingredients, and pair their delicious burgers with a great beer selection and ice-cream shop. There are three locations, so no matter what part of the city you spend your day in, Farm Burger won’t be far.
So, to all the fans traveling this weekend: be safe, have a great time, and enjoy the music. So far it’s been a tour to remember and what the Phish from Vermont have in store for this weekend is anyone’s guess. I’ll enjoy it no matter what, and I hope you do too.