The difference between a fan and a phan is that a phan adopts a whole lifestyle for Phish. The most important quality of this lifestyle is dedication. McKinney has been following the band around for three weeks now, just one road trip of many that have happened on and off for the past five years. Of course, this is not a free country, so an income must keep flowing in order to accommodate such a carefree lifestyle.
"It's work," McKinney says. "You have to leave your normal job for a few weeks, so you have to find a way to make money somehow. People make clothes, hats, bags--all kinds of stuff, and sell them at the shows." The ticket prices are often steep ($40 for Sunday night's show at Walnut Creek), so it's helpful to be able to find shortcuts to getting tickets, as well. A lot of times it's easy to get cheap tickets in the parking lot prior to the concert.
It may be hard to make sense out of these disciples of a low-maintenance band from Vermont, people who put their lives on hold just for music, but phans insist that a Phish show is well worth the time and money. Is it amazing pyrotechnics or sleek choreography that puts Phish a step above all the other acts out there? Hardly. Their music is the only stage attraction. According to concert-goers, variation is what sets Phish off from the rest.
"You can go to one show and not hear any of the same songs that you heard at other shows, or a song can sound completely different because of the [improvisation]," explains MicKinney. The jam band has become known far and wide for its life-changing live shows. That's how a concert venue that seats tens of thousands of people can be filled to the brim by a band that has never has air time on commercial radio or even on MTV.
Long before the Phish concert begins, a wave of cheers can be heard traveling through a sea of tie-dye and dred-locks outside the front gate of Alltel Pavilion. This roar is provoked by nothing more than excitement welling up from the belly of the crowd that waits to enter the gates. These day, only at a Phish concert is it possible to find so many people so dedicated to the music they love that they'll chuck their jobs, sell whatever they can, and somehow try to find their way back home.