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Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation. Home of Phish's notorious 1999-2000 New Years Eve gala in which nearly 80,000 people attended.

I was at a rave in October of 1999, and I went around talking to everyone in the damn place thanks to a certain notorious empathogen-enactogen, and I got a lot of email addresses, including the one of a girl named Remi. I emailed her off and on, and out of the blue, I get a message from her that starts out, "Do you like Phish?" Apparently, she had an extra ticket to their New Year's concert and the guy who was going to go with her couldn't go. She had a car and tent and everything all lined up. All I had to do was say yes.

My friend Jon purchased a ticket and joins us in the crusade, and on the morning of December 26th, Remi picked us up in her new Neon and we headed south. It turns out that Remi is a pharmacy technician (vicodin, klonopine, and hydrocodone, oh my!). For the next three days we drive, listening to Phish, Lords of Acid, and trancecore and slightly hazy if we aren't in the driver's seat. (The best way to pass a long road trip).

Around noon on the 28th, traffic on the Florida interstate comes to a halt about ten miles before the Alligator Alley exit. See, two interstates run along the sides of the state, and Alligator Alley runs from one across to the other. Both interstates were packed with people trying to get into the one lane that went towards the Indian Reservation on either side. In the middle of the state, the two lanes of traffic on Alligator Alley are trying to get onto the one lane that goes into Big Cypress. More than 80,000 people were there. You can see why traffic problems would ensue.

For hours we were basically just sitting. This was my first and hopefully only experience consuming alcohol behind a steering wheel (I wasn't being irresponsible, if the car has been in the same place for three hours, I don't think that you can consider that drinking and driving). We finally get into the campsite about 1 in the morning and for the three of us being fucked up (and none of us are what you could consider the outdoors type), it took almost no time at all to set up the tent. After that was done, Jon and I went out to party! I came back about four in the morning (Jon and I got seperated as he spotted someone with balloons).

The next day, we all walked around and explored the strange little city that had been set up for us out in the middle of nowhere. It was completely crazy. There were police officers on horseback there, but they didn't care about drugs or anything (they must not have, because people were buying things right in front of them).

We made our way to the concert field for the first set of the event. Jon forgot his tray so he used my bare back as one. About five people took pictures of that...well, there goes my chances at a political office.

12/29/1999 Setlist:
Water in the Sky
Light Up or Leave Me Alone
Suzie Greenberg
Corrina Corinna
Limb By Limb
Native Greeting Song
Alligator Song
Ya Mar
Character Zer0

The Curtain
Golgi Apparatus
Wolfman's Brother
Gotta Jiboo
Harry Hood
Good Times Bad Times

Chalk Dust Torture
Moma Dance
Run Like an Antelope
The Sloth
When The Circus Comes
Mike's Song
I am Hydrogen
Weekapaug Groove
Boogie On Reggae Woman
Tweezer Reprise

It was right before the first set of the afternoon that Jon got lost. We're all sitting down, waiting for the concert to start. "I'm going to the bathroom, I'll be right back." Big mistake. Thirty seconds after he left, the concert started and there was no way he was going to find his way back. That was a given, we'd just thought that he'd meet us back at the tent and enjoyed the first set. He didn't come back to the tent in between sets, and so we went without him again for the last two. Then we went back to the tent to wait for him, and fell asleep.

I'd forgotten to change into warmer clothes so I woke up around 4 am shivering in the cold. Jon still isn't back. I leave heard techno music playing so I leave the tent and follow the sound. They have turntables set up on top of some campers and everyone is dancing. I join them, thinking, 'If Jon's out partying, he's sure to come here!" The sun rose, and it was so beautiful. The last sunrise of the year. It was incredible.

I spent the entire day looking for Jon. Remi stayed at the tent in case he came back to make sure he wouldn't leave, and I roamed the huge campsite. I must have walked over ten miles and I came back with a wicked tan, let me tell you. I met a lot of people but never ran into Jon. I reported back to the tent every hour or so, and then we went to the afternoon set.

Afternoon Set:
Runaway Jim
Funky Bitch
I Didn't Know
Punch You in the Eye
Bouncing Around the Room
Poor Heart
Split Open & Melt
Get Back on the Train
After Midnight

It was almost midnight and Jon still wasn't with us. Remi and I injested our magic mushrooms and headed for the concert. I was sad, I would have to spend New Year's Eve without my best friend.

The show was still incredible. The band rode to the stage on a giant hot dog right before midnight. The crowd counted down and it was midnight. I was subjected to the best display of fireworks I have ever seen as giant balloons (and we're talking giant) bounced over the crowd. Trey told us to chant "Cheesecake" rather than clap and cheer at the end of the song..."The crowd appears to be chanting...cheesecake?" says a thoroughly confused ABC correspondant. It was an excellent way to start the new millenium.

New Year's Eve
Midnight to Dawn
Here's Mud in Your Eye
Auld Lang Syne
Down with Disease
Bathtub Gin
Heavy Things
Meatstick tease
Twist Around
Prince Caspian
Rock & Roll
You Enjoy Myself
Crosseyed & Painless
Quadrophonic Topplings
Slave to the Traffic Light
Uncle Pen
David Bowie
My Soul
After Midnight reprise
The Horse
Silent in the Morning
Bittersweet Motel
Lawn Boy
Love You
Roses are Free
Harry Hood intro tease
Wading in a Velvet Sea

When the show was over, after a few scant hours of sleep, we awoke. Jon still wasn't back. This wasn't funny, everyone was packing up camp and leaving. Remi started to cry. I wanted to, but felt that I needed to pull this situation together. We walked some more, talked to a police officer. Maybe he had been arrested, but no one had. He wasn't hurt at the on-sight hospital. Surely he hadn't wandered off into the woods and died?

I didn't know what to do, so I found a nice person with a cell phone that worked out here and called his house back in our hometown. No one was home. Then I called my mom. "Jonathan just called!" Oh my God, where was he? We were so happy to know that he was all right. My mom told us that he was waiting at the only gas station on the road.

We packed up everything, including the tent, in less than a minute, I swear...only to enter into traffic gridlock. We weren't going anywhere fast. So Remi took the Neon offroad a little and we were soon out of Big Cypress Indian Reservation. We saw 18 alligators off the side of the road!

Jon wasn't at the gas station. I called my mom again. Apparently he got a ride to Miami to try to take a plane home since he hadn't seen us in days, but he was on his way back to Big Cypress as we spoke. After half an hour he showed up, looking like all hell. I couldn't help but be mad at him, geez, we thought he might be dead! But when I saw him I wasn't mad at all. We got the heck out of there and I started crying and he started crying, but we were all happy to be together at last.

Despite all the problems, I still had a blast at Phish New Year's Eve 2000.

Big Cypress--or, the longest traffic jam ever!

At around 2:30 PM on December 29, my friend and I left Lakeland, Florida to hear Phish bring in the new millenium. Phish planned to play on New Year's Eve from just before midnight to sun-up, for seven and a half continuous hours. 75,000 tickets were sold.

To get to Big Cypress, the Native American reservation, you have to take "Alligator Alley," an interstate that connects Miami to Tampa. Which is cool: when we started going east, I made sure we got a full tank of gas, because who knows whether the reservation would have a gas station?

3:30 PM.

We hit some traffic. No problem... although I have no idea how far we are from the exit, it seems like everything is cool. "Alligator Alley" is three lanes wide, and all three lanes are totally full of cars.

4:00 PM.

It looks like we're moving pretty slowly. A big delivery van to our left seems to be eyeing the "median," a forty foot wide sloping gulf of grass. The driver appears to have no idea as to why there's so much traffic. I roll down my window and tell him there's a concert... he nods, confused, never having heard of Phish.

4:30 PM.

The van off-roads it, carving a huge semicircle in the grass before scraping the asphalt on the other side and turning back to Miami. In this last hour, we have not passed any exit ramps. I look at the Honda's dashboard clock: hopefully we'll get there by sundown, to get rest and be ready for the first set the next day.

5:30 PM.

To be optimistic, it looks like we move 100 feet every 15 minutes. Everyone waiting has taken to turning off their car unless they can drive in a burst of a few car lengths.

6:30 PM.

It's getting dark. A fourth lane has formed on the shoulder. People flirt with creating a fifth "lane" in the grass. Passengers are getting out of their RVs, vans, and cars, and are walking on the lane dividers.

7:30 PM.

Fundamentally speaking, humans only have a few basic needs. A lot of people have been "holding it" for a long time, and can't any longer. Groups of women walk to the fence by the swamps lining Alligator Alley and alternate between shielding one another and going to the bathroom. There must only be like five exits on the whole of Alligator Alley. There are definitely no rest stops.

The fences are supposed to keep the alligators away.

8:30 PM.

The police come and make everyone merge out of the far left lane, so that the people not interested in Big Cypress can go about their vacations. Surprisingly, few Phish fans take advantage of the "fast lane," mainly understanding that the lane is in everyone's best interest. This makes quite a few carloads of kids very happy.

Apparently, Phish has set up an FM radio station for the Big Cypress concert, but we can't hear it yet. I take that as a Bad Sign.

9:30 PM.

I get out of the car and do a cartwheel on the white dotted lines, figuring this is one of the few times I'll be able to play on an interstate. Only drivers like me tend to stay in their cars. The passengers all meet one another, play frisbee, or dance to the jam band music blasting out of various cars and buses.

10:30 PM.

The traffic is getting worse, if that is even possible, because vehicles are running out of gas. Asking around, no one knows how far away the exit to Big Cypress is. Apparently there will be even more waiting after we get off the interstate.

11:30 PM.

You can see a lot of stars on Alligator Alley, because there are no cities nearby.

12:30 PM. Enough!

I decide to have my friend drive so I can walk to wherever we're going.

1 AM.

I get to the Big Cypress exit. Here I see the problem:

We have three lanes of traffic going east, all of which have to merge into one. There are pilgrims coming westward, as well--also three lanes of them, also merging into one. Those two lanes then merge into one lane: six ten hour lines turn into one. The merge is coordinated by two police officers who are taking their good time.

That one lane then passes a gas station. So many cars are pulling off--for water, for gas, for supplies--that no car can get by to go to the show.

We are waiting in the longest gas line ever created.

As I walk to the gas station, I notice some people sitting on a railing by the road. I wonder why they're there, but go on past them to get something to drink. I buy two gallons of water--the line's not that long--and start walking back.

1:15 AM.

One of the people sitting on the railing stops me as I try to walk by. He says, "the police won't let us go back to our cars. Someone was dancing on an RV and fell off when the RV moved."

"They got run over and died."

"Since then, the police won't let anyone walk on the side of the road."

The tragedy of the dancer's death is real, but I can't believe the police are trying to keep people from walking by the road. No one's in their cars. Only these two police officers are doing anything to stop pedestrians, and they're doing a terrible job. Some people walked to the gas station to get gas so they could start their car back up, and they were not allowed to leave.

I nodded, crossed the road to the side away from the streetlights, and snuck by the police to come back down the exit towards the car. I was willing to say anything to get them to let me go: my friend's bleeding, my car's on fire, I'm a lunatic...

1:30 AM.

On the way back, I tell people how long they've got before they get to the gas station. Someone comes by and lets me know that after I left, everyone scattered and passed by the police. Everyone seems to be happy, now that they have some sense of how long it will be.

2:30 AM.

We get by the gas station. Our fill-up before the Alley hasn't run out, so we can zoom down the road to Big Cypress. The FM Big Cypress station finally comes in.

3:00 AM.

We arrive at the gigantic venue entrance. They've gone all out: there are probably 10 lanes for cars. No one hired a traffic engineer, so they didn't realize the bottleneck was earlier, at the exit. We have "will call" tickets, which I pick up.

One hundred feet later, back at the car, I've lost my ticket.

This is the Zen moment of my life. I realize that the entire ordeal can be seen as a test or a lesson, as a way of learning what's important and what's not in life.

My friend doesn't feel the same way, and demands that I find my ticket. There are stragglers everywhere, trying to get in to the concert. We watch a guard open the trunk of a station wagon, and poke through bags to find a kid trying to sneak through. It's amazing. Probably twice as many people are here as have tickets. If I dropped my ticket in the grass, it's gone.

3:30 AM.

I find the ticket: it slipped between the car seats. We get a reservation map and find our "zone," and sleepily put up a tent.

4:30 AM.

Sleep, finally.

10:30 AM.

Florida stays hot, even in December. By now it's 90 degrees Fahrenheit and in a tent it's probably doubled. With my last breath I open the tent and crawl to get water out of the car. It will be a miserable day.

"Epilogue:" The Concert

The venue was huge. The campgrounds were divided into a grid, with resources (like water and toilets) at the cross-sections. The 1,000 gallon water tanks went empty, so at one point we climbed on a tank and dipped Nalgene bottles inside to draw the dregs.

The concert went on: two sets on December 30 (one of which I slept through, which I regret because I woke up to the echoes of a rocking Led Zeppelin cover), an afternoon set on the 31st, and finally the seven and a half hour New Year's Eve show.

Eight hours of a non-stop concert is a long time. The band had a Port-a-Jon on stage to make sure they wouldn't leave at any point. Probably the most masochistic point of the show was the end, at 7:30 AM as the sun came up, when the band was done and people were chanting for an encore.

The ride back was only five hours of traffic jams. I got to do another cartwheel in the middle of the road. For the next few days, I turned the car off at stop lights.

I have never since complained about traffic jams.

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