I got to live the dream last night – VIP backstage passes at a rock concert, the fancy food spread, even hanging in out in the musicians’ dressing rooms. And the band was Phish, who I’d last seen in 1994 and had always wanted to see again.
I was chaperoning my teenage daughter, who’d made friends with one of the band members’ kids at summer camp, so I had to behave. No snorting coke or picking all the green M&Ms out of the bowl. Instead I just watched the concert and observed the goings-on backstage.
As an aside, when we met my daughter’s friend and realized her dad was in Phish, the dialog was hilarious:
“I’m going to be in NY because my dad’s a musician and has a gig there.”
“Oh cool, maybe we can come see his show. What club is he playing at?”
“Madison Square Garden.”
(Phish sold out seven straight nights at MSG this summer)
My top backstage take-always:
Automation has evaporated the backstage workforce. I always imagined there’d be dozens of people scrambling around backstage, yelling orders, frantically working the lights, moving props and instruments around, whatever. But it’s practically empty! Has AI has taken over already? As a VIP guest you go back and forth to a special stage-side viewing area through the same ‘tunnel’ the musicians use to go on and off stage, and the only people on the backstage side of that tunnel are a couple of security guards. No one else in sight.
The security guards (beefy New Yorkers) were super friendly. And a little bored. They love the Phish shows because the audience is super chill and doesn’t cause trouble (by contrast with last week’s Drake concert apparently). But they wish they didn’t have to breathe so much secondhand pot smoke (MSG was one big cloud of it)… an occupational hazard.
The band has great amenities, but not what you’d think. We’re talking laundry machines located directly offstage (apparently rock stars have the same laundry problem with hotels we mortals do), a ping pong table, SUVs waiting backstage to drive you and your family back to the hotel (there was also an ambulance back there). But no sign of any special weird stuff you always think of musicians wanting… you know, the live boa constrictor, the six-foot pink love seat, unusual flower and alcohol requests, etc. I did notice some ‘throat coat’ herbal tea in one of the dressing rooms, and whole peeled oranges and grapefruits in the catering area, but that was about it.
The backstage crowd is friends and family, not groupies. The band is in their late fifties – about my age – so it was a mix of their teenage kids, music biz associates and friends who happened to be in town, and randos like us. There’s also a special ‘investor room’ for MSG investors (we had the ‘guest’ pass but not ‘all access,’ so couldn’t go in there). Everyone was very polite. When I accidentally opened a door to one of the band’s dressing rooms during intermission, the band member was in there having what looked like a serious business conversation.
The real audience looks like they’re having a lot more fun than you are. By intermission I was wishing I was out on the floor, lost in the crowd, dancing, swaying, wondering how long the bathroom lines are. But hey, the grass is always greener!
P.S. Here’s some pics.