One ‘phamily’: Phish fans come together in Knoxville

Dressed in a leather vest, cowboy hat and sporting a handmade tie-dye shirt, James Brittan hoped to sell similar shirts to Phish fans in order to purchase a ticket to Wednesday night’s concert at Thompson-Boling Arena.

“My wife said, ‘Just one more concert.’ She told me go have a good time, and that’s what I’m gonna do,” said Brittan, who drove nine hours from Baltimore.

Like Brittan, for many people a real Phish concert starts hours before the show in the venue’s parking lot.

Before the Knoxville show, fans set up tents and tables in a lot next to University of Tennessee soccer fields off Neyland Drive, selling items from ham sandwiches and whiskey drinks to homemade keychains and bootlegged Phish T-shirts.

Many hope to make enough cash to see the show and travel to the next Phish concert.

Phish — whose music blends styles including jazz, rock, bluegrass and funk, highlighted by improvisational jams and creative concert antics — is known for its die-hard, colorful fan base. Wednesday’s concert drew 21,000, and the band is playing for the opening and closing of the Bonnaroo music festival in Manchester, Tenn., this weekend.

One vendor on Wednesday sold organic juices and had aprons made from recycled denim skirts decorated in dazzling glitter and patches. A few lots down, a man sold glass smoking pipes and offered a free hit of marijuana or some Oxycontin.

The crowd is diverse, brought together by a love of the music.

“I can’t travel with these guys, but I’m still one of them. We’re all Phishheads and we’re a phamily, with a p-h,” said Greg Akin of Knoxville.

A brand new hybrid sport utility vehicle idled behind a rusted Volkswagen microbus loaded down with passengers, suitcases and lawn chairs as Phillip Fulmer Way was brought to a standstill.

Neither set of passengers seemed to mind.

The line of traffic showed many out-of-state license plates, indicating that people had driven from New England, out West and even Alaska, happy to be within a mile of Thompson-Boling.

This is Phish’s first tour in five years because of the band’s recent hiatus from music, and for many of the “phamily,” it’s like a high school reunion, only everyone likes each other.

“You basically see the same people at different shows, and if you don’t know someone, you know their friends,” said Allison Harris, an interior designer from Alabama who sells jewelry at concerts made from semiprecious stones, pewter and silver.

Lt. Ralph Moles of the UT Police Department said officers patrolled parking lots and planned to search bags as fans entered the concert. Metal detectors also were used.

“Vending is not our major concern; it’s people’s safety,” he said. “We’re trying to get people in safe and avoid any major problems, and we’ll take care of any alcohol and drugs we see, but (fans’ safety) is our major concern.”

Beth Ann Walker may be reached at 865-342-6336.

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Comments » 2

DBoo writes:

Phish Phans are slobs to say the least! Thanks for leaving the Campus one philthy pile of trash, broken glass and other assorted garbage.

Realist writes:

If you plan on going out, make sure to bring a shower in a bottle. You never know when you might come across these Phish fans. Do them a favor and spray generously!

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