The following story, by Jennifer Hersey Cleveland, is reprinted from the Orleans County Record (and online there but behind a paywall) by permission of Executive Editor Dana Gray:
It was one of the longest traffic jams in history, backed up for miles after thousands of Phish fans abandoned their vehicles to hike to the former Newport State Airport in Coventry for what was billed as the band’s farewell concert.
But the fans, stuck for days on Interstate 91 and surrounding roads, found comfort in the locals who fed them, provided fuel and shelter, and gave them rides into the show.
That was 11 years ago, and now, filmmakers Alex Daltas of Los Angeles and Lawrence Shapiro of Denver want to capture that giving spirit in a documentary called “Jam.”
But they need the help of locals who interacted with Phish band members and crew and the hordes of fans in order to do so.
“What is so interesting to me about Coventry is that it was the ultimate test of character - for the fans, the band, and the residents of upstate Vermont,” Daltas wrote in an e-mail. “With the stress of a crisis level traffic jam, which was also compounded by extremely bad and unusual weather, things could have easily devolved into a much worse situation like what happened at Woodstock ’99. I was impressed that didn’t happen at Coventry, not even close. Instead, people looked out for each other.”
“Coventry was unlike the typical music festival or concert-going experience,” Shapiro wrote. “At any other show, most people buy a ticket for their nice comfortable seat, drop $20 on some nachos and maybe a t-shirt, then head home and go to bed. By contrast, the average Phish show is, itself, an epic event. In the case of Coventry, it was the ultimate culmination of fan dedication, like Moses struggling to reach the top of Mt. Sinai to talk to the burning bush.”
Daltas said he’s been a fan of Phish since he was 15 years old. These days, everyone has a video camera built into their phones, but then, even digital cameras were rare.
But in August 2004, Daltas said, he got very lucky. He brought a digital video camera with him, intending to shoot some footage of his final Phish concert ever.
“But instead I ended up using all my tape capturing amazing footage of our harrowing journey trying to get into the show!” Daltas wrote.
“My wife Robin and I drove with my brother and my best friends from high school from Massachusetts to Coventry. What was supposed to be a simple four hour car-ride ended up becoming this once-in-a-lifetime adventure with triumphs and tragedies along the way,” Daltas wrote.
“Many people’s experiences were made easier by the residents of upstate Vermont. Lifelong friendships were formed. I know some people who are still exchanging Christmas cards with the folks who helped them back during that fateful event,” he continued.
Shapiro was shooting footage for CNN during the show.
“When I got back down to the ground later I found out that all these hundreds of people thought I was the DEA - because, really, why else would there be a helicopter flying over a Phish show?” he wrote.
“While Phish is often compared to the Grateful Dead, their music is actually quite different, but what’s the same is the dedication of their fans,” Shapiro wrote. “This historic event in rock & roll history really underscores their uniqueness in a very special way.”
Naturally, no film about the Coventry show would be complete without at least a mention of the conditions once inside the venue. The area of Maxwells’ dairy and the airport turned from bucolic farm fields into a shoe-sucking muddy mire.
“Everyone remembers the mud,” Daltas wrote. “There was so much to the point where I understand they are still pulling shoes and sandals out of that field to this day.”
“Jam” is independently financed, and the filmmakers are not sure how it will first be released – whether streamed online or in theaters.
Locals who are interested in telling Daltas and Shapiro their stories about the most epic event ever to hit Orleans County are encouraged to contact the filmmakers by e-mailing email@example.com. The production crew will be filming interviews with locals in late May 2016.
Progress updates will be made available on Instagram and Facebook with the key words “jam the doc.”
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