Jul 12, 2012

Penn Station Monday


Faces full of purpose

Exit from the train

Up the steps they run

A massive human wave

Enters its daytime world

Faces masked from fear

The secrets that they hide

Pretending not to matter

Left behind in Nowhere

Vanquished from the mind

Faces etched with pain

Playing little games

Walking thru the paces

Looking for that miracle

While knowing that it's lost

(Paula Hill)
C 2012

Vulcan Mind Meld

At the TED conference two years back, author Matt Ridley argued that history shows how the engine of human progress has always been driven by the meeting and mating of old ideas to create new ones

It's not about clever people, he said; it's all about collective smarts.

Something says he took both a Sociology and a Jungian Psychology class in college.


Jul 11, 2012

16 Takeaways: Phish @ SPAC 2012

1. Phish, the Band

The label, of course, is that of “the world's greatest/biggest jam band.” But such a tag sells this group short; the reality being that this is not just a great jam band, but also a great rock & roll band as well. Plain and simple. Then we get to the “sum of its parts” equation; here is the epitome of what the word band is all about.

2. You Did, Huh?

I saw them when they played at that joint on Caroline Street way back when.” If every person that uttered that line was actually there, the place would have needed to fit 2,000 people. It didn't. This and the many other local connections make it all very special. It is only appropriate that Phish becomes the first Special Event act to convene a three-night run at the facility.

3. Show Virgins

I ran across a great many Phish first timers, with most of them being locals. The reaction was universal, along the lines of “now I get it,” “simply amazing” or “WTF?” Welcome, where y'all been? Good stuff. The local zen can only benefit.

4. Jon Fishman, Drums

What separates your better jam band drummer from their straight ahead rock counterparts is their jazz sensibilities, hitting various skins all over the place and on different time maps. No better example is out there than this guy; the one in the tutu.

5. Page McConnell, Keyboards

With all due respect to the red head with the big smile, McConnell is the glue holding this band together. His chord meanderings bring visions of Bill Evans, providing the perfect roadmap for any given song's journey to somewhere. Maybe this is really better classified as a jazz band, hmmm?

6. Trey Anastasio, Guitar

One wouldn't likely rank Trey as a top axeman of all time; from a technical perspective at least. But does anyone make the dipsy-twiddle to rock-jam climax transition better than the way he does? It might come down to Trey and Jimmy Herron of Widespread Panic for that honor. Let's call it a draw.

7. Mike Gordon, Bass

When you look up on stage at the four, Gordo becomes someone you think is possessed by an external force, his life form taken over by a spirit intent on using him as a vessel to generate an emotional tsunami among the assembled masses. The funny thing is, such thinking might actually be true. Magically creative bass lines and runs, all night long.

8. Best Line of the Weekend

At the Formula 5 after-party on Saturday night, a pair of young men approached the venue's door for entry. One arrived with a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon (naturally) in tow while his companion was armed with a half empty/half full bottle of Jack Daniels. When greeted by a staff member with a “you gotta be kidding me, right?”, the retort was a beauty: “ Oh, sorry man: I lost track of where we were.”

9. Greatest Comeback Ever?

No; not Phish. We're talking about the aforementioned PBR. As predicted in an earlier post, this was the beer of choice for this crowd. Just ask the DPW street cleaning crews; they can no doubt verify this theory.

As someone who knows a little something about this kind of stuff, I say we're looking at one of the most innovative and successful brand turnarounds in modern consumer marketing. Pabst was something you drank in the 60's and 70's only because it was there in front of you, one of many cheap domestic options of the day with nothing to really differentiate it from the dozens of others. By the 80's, it had disappeared from the national radar screen; I'm not sure if it was even brewed for awhile.

Then somehow in the past decade, it reincarnated as the quaffing favorite of both Jam Band Nation and the urban hipsters. Think about that dynamic. In addition, every blue collar bar seems to have it on tap, usually as the least expensive choice. Likewise, every music club and festival loads up on it as well, and it's the top seller.

Something like this doesn't just happen by accident. We need to know the name of the person who designed and executed this campaign. We have a medal to pin on his or her chest! The Nanoburgh Awards?

10. The Dead Shadow

A very tired argument is the long-running “Dead vs Phish” nonsense. Rooted mostly in the good old days nostalgia of the aging Dead Heads, its general theme is that Phish is nothing more than an inferior v2.0 of the original space cowboys. To this, there are only two replies necessary:

  1. Get there (see #3, above)
  2. After; please reflect on: a) how those long phreak-groove sessions you just heard reminded you of the old gang; and b) how the stop-and-go's and hard blasting crescendos didn't …

11. Economic Whatever

The Idiot Chorus of the Usual Suspects was not to go unheard from this past weekend. Their chant: a demand that the city of Saratoga Springs should somehow be “reimbursed” by somebody (SPAC, Live Nation, Phish, ticket buyers?) for the extra public safety expenses incurred as a result of these three massive concerts and the accompanying horde of followers that encamped locally over that period. How one responds to such nonsense --- or even why? --- are both legitimate questions, but we'll give it a go here:

Talking Point # 1: a convenience store owner having to call his beverage distributor for emergency re-stocks --- three times.

Talking Point #2: a local resident who rented his home out for the three nights – for $3,000.

Talking Point #3: hotels and campgrounds within a 30-mile radius were all sold out – obscene rates and all. One local motel owner boosted his per-nite charge from $120 to $300. They all made similar moves. No one seemed to blink.

Nanoburgh's sister event-production company (398Productions) even got in on the fun, hosting midnight Phish after-parties at the Parting Glass. Here's a look at those numbers:
  • 300+ people walked into the venue on each night, at a time when it would normally have been closed for the evening.
  • The crowds ate and drank – heavily – thereby boosting the venue's coffers nicely, as well as that of their local suppliers.
  • Extra work hours (and income) were therefore generated for the venue's staff
  • Each night also provided an extra pay day for: a band; a sound man; a lighting technician; door and security people and a show producer.

Now take these examples and dare project some semblance of scale across both the city and county, for all economic activity generated by those visitors that came for these three shows. Next, make some sort of estimate of where that newly gained monies are next spent by the people who just received them. Tally all of that up and add it to the mix. Repeat a couple of times. That there is what's called an economic multiplier calculation. Finally, make an estimate of sales tax revenues that end up in the city and county treasuries as a result of many/most of these purchases. Need we go further? Did we break-even here on paying for those extra cops yet?

For sure, this type of an event presents tough challenges to its host city. But so do the Olympics, the Super Bowl or the race course for that matter. But go whine to any other municipal official in New York, and you're sure to get a “now that's a problem I wish we had here” response. From the smart ones, at least.

12. The Economics of Traffic Control

There is one problem preventing the city from taking full advantage of the economic opportunity presented above. It's called traffic policy.

At the end of a SPAC concert, car traffic is often directed AWAY from the city. That's right, most exits result in one being forced to head south for the sake of maximum car flow and a mission of getting as many cars onto the Northway and Rt 50 ASAP. This is a problem if one lives north of SPAC, of course. But it also acts as a serious detriment to encouraging someone to head downtown after the show to drop some green there.

13. Intangible

Saturday's show was broadcast live on XM Radio. That's globally, folks. Now what's that worth to the Goodwill line of the city's Balance Sheet? Any CPAs in the audience?

14. The Emerging Police State

Don't get us started here. The last time we checked, alcohol was a legal commodity in this state. Not to mention the fact that alcohol is allowed in the Spa Park on all non-concert days. And what exactly is the rationale for treating these visitors as if they were an invading army of Huns and turning the place into a de facto war zone? How would this same action play if alcohol was also banned at the horse races? Shush; don't dare give them any ideas. And people are complaining about extra public safety costs (see #11)? This initiative could alternatively be viewed as a glorified make-work project for the law enforcement industry. Oops, sorry: we got started ...

15. Show Poster

Quite possibly the best SPAC poster ever? Mr Rich Kelly at work. Bravo!

16. Best Weekend Moment

At the Friday night after-party featuring The Garcia Project, a pair of tickets to Saturday's Phish show were up for grabs. They were provided by the good folks at Decresente Distributing. The winner was a young man named Safe Korwell-Ure.

Celebrating with the lucky gent, we found an interesting story. He is a new visitor to this country, having somehow landed in Virginia. There, he got caught up with a bunch of Phish heads, who invited him to tag along on the long drive to Saratoga for a weekend at the circus. Along he came, without even an admission ticket nor much of an idea who Phish was, for that matter.

Surprise of all surprises, it ends up that this Garcia Project show was his very first experience in hearing a live rock and roll band, in-person! No kidding. After his good fortune and lucky ticket stub, Phish became his Show #2. To say he was overjoyed would be an understatement. We couldn't have rigged this drawing to come up with a better result.