Bottums Up

On the weekend of March 6, the hamlet of Hampton, Va. was descended upon by neo-hippie, funked-out jam lovers, ecstatic at the opportunity to see their version of Elvis, The Beatles and The Grateful Dead, all rolled into one goo-ball of rock-n-roll fun. The super-group I refer to is, of course, Phish, reunited on stage for the first time in almost five years. Though there were only an estimated 35,000 ticket holders, about 75,000 Phish-heads were roaming the streets, motels and Waffle Houses of Southern Virginia, most of them with a sign around their neck or a finger in the air, tacitly screaming “I need tickets!” I got a ticket, but the concert was only a secondary goal to my primary task, research for this week’s “Bottoms Up.”

My research assistant, Taylor Mikell ’09, and I spent the beautiful, sunny weekend sampling a vast array of brewski and spirits while meeting lots of new friends. While most of these encounters were amicable, almost all of them were enlightened, especially for our alcohol palates and imbibing information.

Interestingly enough, perhaps the largest population of Phish fans down in Hampton came from areas not too far from our college. The members of Phish themselves hail from Burlington, Vt., and got their start at the renowned Nectar’s Bar & Restaurant. Even though that was back in the late ’80s, Phish fervor still pervades the city on Lake Champlain. In fact, one University of Vermont student insinuated to me that it was rumored that the Phish comeback was scheduled to coincide with the University of Vermont’s spring break. However, not only have the Vermonters exported their music and independent lifestyle nationwide, but also they’ve managed the same with their beer, especially the well-known microbrew from South Burlington, Magic Hat.

Taking a much-needed break from a bongo circle, I asked bongo-playing Jon, a native of Vermont, if we could interview him about his alcohol selection. In response he smirked and said, “Depends. You got a lighter?” Luckily, like all good boy scouts I had my flame handy. Thinking he was going to light a cigarette, or perhaps start an impromptu bonfire, he surprised us and used the lighter as a makeshift bottle opener, cracking a Circus Boy open and tossing it my way, saying, “The only thing that makes listening to Phish better is listening to them with a lot of Magic Hat handy.” Like any good reporter, I feigned agreement. Taking a swig, my fake grin turned into an unadulterated smile – the sweet nectar perfectly represented its name, full of sweet, playful and tangy undertones, reflecting not only the mentality of Jon the Bongo Drummer, but the entire weekend and all the people there in general. I immediately understood what Jon was talking about and nearly finished the bottle before my research assistant could get a taste.

The interview was abruptly interrupted as Jon reentered the bongo circle, but our palates had only tasted the fruit of temptation. Wanting more, we approached perhaps the most interesting new friend we would make all weekend. His name was Trey, and we first noticed him sporting a Virginia Department of Corrections ankle monitor, a Phish sticker slapped on its side. We asked him what his alcohol of choice was, and he responded by singing about tequila with an excerpt from the Phish ballad “Mexican Cousin.” At that point, he stumbled a few steps and forgot he was talking to us. Evidently, tequila is the one alcohol that will make you have a great time you may or may not remember. I’d suggest the clear Durango Tequila. It is just bold enough to make you think twice before taking multiple shots, but is almost undetectable in margaritas, making it a favorite for all, hippies and non-hippies alike.

Among the majority of fans in Hampton that weekend were middle-class Caucasians who like to dance in poor, weird, flowing fashions. Yet we should not generalize, for Phish draws crowds from all walks of life. There was rumored to be a group flown in from Japan just to see the show – we determined that interviewing them was a necessity. When we finally came upon this group of a couple dozen or so, hidden better than a real-life Waldo, they seemed to be enjoying the scene and the company of fellow Phanatics as much as we were, which was surprising considering the lack of proficiency with which they spoke English. Using broken language and hand signals, I tried to ask what alcohol they most enjoyed and why. After much effort, the one response I could procure was “bathtub gin,” the equivalent of moonshine in the American South during Prohibition, but also the title of a song in the Phish canon.

Despite this, the group seemed to be enjoying very liberal amounts of Canadian Club Whiskey, something that they oddly referred to as “real American goodness.” Again, I feigned my journalistic agreement and happily accepted the golden-brown concoction, one that I am fairly familiar with. It burns only slightly, leaving a sweet, almost maple aftertaste and radiating a warm rush from your stomach outwards. We never found out if they made it in the show, but their smiles and cheers made it seem like it would almost be enough if they didn’t. Or maybe it was just the effects of the “real American goodness” from our crazy Canucks to the north.

Either way, like Jon, Trey and all our Japanese friends, we more than enjoyed our weekend in Hampton, making new friends and learning about what people from around the globe drink – all to inform you, our loyal readers.