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September 8, 2022

Phish and Psychedelics: My Thirty Year Journey

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.

Scrolling through Instagram looking to catch a glimpse of what I missed over the last four shows of Phish’s summer tour during their annual run in Commerce City, Colorado, I am hit hard with the sad reality of how my tour ended at Jone’s Beach late July, and this was the first year since 2014 I wasn’t in Denver over Labor Day weekend.

Something I always looked forward to because being a householder and juggling adult/sole-parent responsibility is heavy. Even though I feel like I’m thriving and living my best life, there is undoubtedly a daily occurrence where dominant culture tells me differently.

Consumerism places value on quantity over quality and looking good over feeling good, which devalues my personal philosophy and my purpose in life as a Healer.

In fact, what I do with the modalities I use, helps others release the weight they have picked up while navigated human life on this planet with impending doom.

I work with all types of people in varying socioeconomic levels and know, as most do, that money doesn’t equate happiness.

So what does?

Through my personal life experiences, education, and involvement with clients, I have concluded that happiness is born from self regulation, which comes from self reflection and a desire and will to change.

This happens in the mind, a concept as old as the dirt we tread upon. One the ancients deemed necessary for survival, as well as a means of liberating us from our suffering. One that I continue to study through philosophy, psychology and yoga.

I am not talking about short lived enjoyment of a present experience happy, I am referring to generalized contentment, when the turbulence of emotions no longer knock us over, instead we learn to float in any circumstance, buoyantly happy.

I have been chasing happiness since I was a sullen child trying to make sense of some real heavy shit, we’re talking trauma with a big “T”.

By the time I was a Junior in high school, partying was prevalent and I got caught up in loads of drama, so much that I switched schools my senior year to escape the harassment of a mean girl and bide my time to college flying under the radar. But my father put a target on my back as a feared teacher in the industrial arts, with his intention to protect, he threatened students to steer clear of me, which made fading into the background a bit harder.

It wasn’t until second semester, in Government class, that things normalized and I made a friend. He had white Converse high tops, graffitied with his own artwork, one line stood out to me read “take care of your shoes”.

I made a corny comment trying to be funny about him having an interesting way of taking care of his shoes, he laughed (at me) clarifying it was a lyric to a Phish song. Our friendship and my love for Phish began that seemingly boring day while hiding out in the back of our courtroom classroom.

Both the band and myself are products of the eighties. When the “war on drugs” had most of the American youth petrified of becoming braindead from false public service announcements while once again psilocybin and LSD were getting popularized by various music scenes, including Phish.

I went to my first show the summer after high school, interestingly at the same place where I just saw the last one—Jone’s Beach. And although I started seeing Phish before I tried psychedelics, pairing them, was not only more fun, It helped me understand how healing tripping could be.

The high of feeling like one with the music, the band, the crowd, and the universe lightens your load and lasts well beyond the night. There’s no hang over, no drop in serotonin, no adverse effects from tripping, only new perceptions and synapses created from that experience. An effortless interconnectedness with all of life, something hard to find the right words to describe.

My affinity came after my first recreational mushroom trip back in 1995 while in college. With a group of good friends we made tea to ritualized the experience, set intentions and took off into the wilderness of our small New Hampshire town.

My biggest take away from that night was feeling like my truest self, as if a veil was lifted and I was free, instantly plugged-in to the fullness of life.

My face rested with a large toothy smile, my whole body vibrating with happiness, where uncontrollable giggle intervals were contagious and plentiful leaving core muscles sore the next day.

I enjoyed a heightened sense of touch where everything felt more dynamic than three dimensional, as if to feel objects from a half inch around the border of my skin.

My hearing picked up energy from farther away, my widened pupils saw a pulsation of life force rhythmically beat through everything in my line of sight.

I was one with the universe, I was pure energy in form, and it was a profound experience that allowed me see a new perspective and bring me to the root, not like other drugs that let me escape the symptoms of my pain.

Much like what I feel now while practicing yoga, a full engagement in the present with a deep connection to source.

I’m certainly not claiming to be an expert, solely speaking from personal experience, but here is an article from Harvard that shows the efficacy of several types of psychedelics.

You can also watch a wonderful informative docu-series on Netflix called How to Change Your Mind hosted by famed Author John Pollan who wrote many books on the socio-economics of food and the healing power of plants.

With over 350 songs in Phish’s catalog, their journey began with the lead singer/guitarist, Trey Anastasio’s senior project while attending Goddard College. Gamehendge consists of eleven songs that tell a mythical story of the Lizards “a race of people practically extinct from doing things smart people don’t do” and includes parallels to greek mythology, religious context, corrupt leadership, and a spiritual message to “surrender to the flow”. 

I was one of the lucky that got to witness the band play the famed Gamehendge set July 8, 1994 at Great Woods Performing Arts Center in Mansfield, MA (now called Xfinity Center) since they haven’t repeated it (yet).

Going to multiple shows is intoxicating because you never hear the same set twice, which makes for a unique experience.

On tour you “share in the groove” of collective energy that is “vibrating with love and light” reminding you to “look into the eyes of everyone you meet and try not to step on your best friends feet […] the rest of your life don’t take it for granted”.

Sure, like The Grateful Dead their jams can go on for more than 30 minutes, something I didn’t enjoy sober, but now that Trey is more than a decade sober, lengthy (and what we old time fans refer to as angry) jams are few and far between.

These silly, yet uber talented, musicians pull off extravagant gags every New Year’s Eve and play an extended show adding a third set, if you were to prioritize a show, it’s that one.

But any given night they may bring out mini trampolines where Trey and bassist Mike Gordon jump to a synchronized routine during You Enjoy Myself, or let drummer Jon Fishman play an old Electrolux vacuum as entertainment, who wears a tent dress EVERY SHOW in the same pattern (known as Fishman donuts) which is now popularized and can be seen on everything from clothing, sunglasses, towels, Christmas ornaments, pint glasses, and even my license plate frame, telling the world you’re a Phan.

Chairman of the boards, Paige McConnell has been known to watch The Mets, his favorite team, from behind his many keyboards including baby grand piano without missing a note.

The song Fee is even sung though a bull horn, you just never know what to expect, and guessing is half the fun, but outside of their antics, they continually put out new music and are only getting better.

Four decades of improvisational playing displays an intuition and skill unmatched, that any concert goer simply cannot help but get Swept Away on a journey that will “set the gear shift for the high gear of your soul” and “blaze on” as you “focus on today, you’ll find a way, happiness is how rooted in the now, because everything’s right, so just hold tight”, “your trip is short”. 

Another rememberable show, July 9, 2016 that will go down in history for me not to be forgotten, but not for being lucky, even though it was also at Great Woods (I refuse to call it Xfinity Center) it was for a different reason, on a horrible night, one of my worst, I overserved myself in a bad mindset, looking to escape something I was grieving, and not in good company.

What the experts will advise with using psychedelics is that internal and external environments are important. I only had half that equation on this particular night.

Even though I didn’t laugh, dance, or have any fun, I had a profound mental breakthrough, that course corrected my life, after I regained control of my thoughts and bodily functions, I was able to see I was fooled—and fooling myself—that something real was there, but truly it wasn’t. I had been ignoring red flags and opinions of trusted friends and relatives, from what felt like being under a spell, something I was not cognizant of until that trip unveiled it.

Under the spectacular light show of Chris Kuroda, said to be Phish’s fifth member, all I could see was the joker beside me. He didn’t have to do anything specific, or say anything incriminating, with one look, in that brief of an instant, I knew he was a scammer, without any doubt and would walk away to do the exact right thing.

After that experience, I took a break from drugs—of all kinds, a sober period only second to my pregnancy—and dove deeper into my spirituality through yoga and mediation, chasing that familiar freedom of mind, body and energy pulsation communicating wisdom beyond the ego.

Now older and wiser, I resumed my friendship with psychedelics after learning about micro-dosing when a phriend offered me a tiny dose of LSD at a show.

Still afraid from what I remembered of the war on drugs campaign, I resisted at first, but then trusted my gut with the reassurance from them it would feel like a (good) mushroom trip, and thus a new way of seeing music, life and my mental health was born. 

If I could feel like my most authentic spiritual being, laugh all night long, feel held in the collective energy of my favorite music, dance the stress out of my body, while working out my latest psychosis through each setlist convinced its delivering me a message, than of course I try to get to as many shows as possible, and bring along a magic mushroom chocolate bar. 

It is no wonder psychiatric psychedelic sessions are gaining popularity. If I can lose the fear that keeps me wanting to avoid my emotional trauma, and see the root of experience with a broader lens, beyond the hurt and pain, I can only imagine the healing that can be done while tripping in the supervision of a trained professional.

Micro-dosing has become wildly popular and there are a couple well known protocols to follow, I have just started to investigate for myself what I can do on a more consistent basis. To reap these rewards outside of Phish tour, especially since I was only able to see five shows this summer. 

Who knows what I might accomplish when my mind is more free, my creativity ablaze, and my soul liberated from fitting into this corrupt and soulless American democracy that keeps stripping away our rights, reinforcing scarcity, and dividing us from one another more every year. 

This so called war on drugs has only made us pawns in the governments war on humanity, maybe these drugs will be the way we get our power back and fight the real enemy, our own psyche. Maybe this won’t be a fad, unlike hot yoga, that will help us learn how to control our minds, so we can gain control of evolving humanity.

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