As I exited the Richmond Airport that early afternoon, I quickly saw one of the most important, if not the most important person of my life get out of her vehicle. My mother had also gotten up at six o’clock in the morning and drove seven hours from Hilton Head, SC all the way to Richmond to pick me up at the airport. I hopped into the car and we were on our way to a town neither of us had ever been before: Portsmouth, Virginia. We had a room booked at the Marriott, checked in and quickly started getting down to business.
Step 1: Load the sink in the bathroom with ice, beer and water
Step 2: Put on our dresses
Step 3: Make a sign
After we filled the sink and had cold beer and water, we cracked a couple and said a “cheers” to the night ahead. Our dresses were on and the only other thing that we needed to do was make a sign. Let me preface this by telling all of you that I have NEVER, ever made a sign before. I had been scheming for a few weeks on what I wanted my first and only sign to read. I finally had it figured out the night prior to leaving. It would read: “31 Minute Piper, For My 31st Birthday,” mainly because I thought that coming full circle to another Father’s Day/Birthday show, perhaps I could get another epic Piper like I had at my birthday show at SPAC in 2004. If they played Piper in Raleigh, I was going to ask for a 31 minute Twist. To my dismay, as the setlist rolled in on the 18th, both Piper and Twist were played. Walls of the Cave has always been one of my favorites and one of the songs I feel never got the notoriety it should by the fans. Compostionally speaking, it has its ups and downs, twists and turns and the lyrics are beautiful to me. Step 3, done! “31 Minute Walls of the Cave,” on one side and, “For My 31st Birthday,” on the other side.
We hopped the ferry from the Marriott over to the venue with a boatload of excited fans. As soon as we got over there, we got in line for the Pollock poster, and then we decided that it was more important to me for this show to get as close as possible to the band in hopes they would a.) see my sign and b.) experience the band up close since my friends and I usually post up back by the soundboard. We left the back of the Pollock line and jogged over to the venue entrance. We quickly found our spot, about 10-15 deep in between Trey and Mike. Now the waiting game.
We spent the next hour and a half talking to the people posted up around us. Everyone was extremely friendly and excited for my mom’s first show. My friend called to see where we were, and I asked him if he would mind swinging by the merch tent to see if there were any posters left. Within minutes, he called back saying he scored me one! I went out to the Waterwheel tent to meet him to grab the poster and bring him down to where my mom and I were hanging out. About this time Page’s dad was spotted on the side of the stage, youthfully showing off his tap dancing skills for a pleased crowd. The children were also spotted side stage which led a lot of us to believe it would be a third year for a Brother opener.
Around this time, I decided to stand up and hold up my sign. It was two-sided so I had to face the stage and then turn and face the crowd so everyone could see what both sides read. I got a thumbs up from three guys on Page’s side of the stage, which I didn’t think too much of at the time. It was almost show time. You could feel the energy quickly start to flow through this amazingly intimate venue.
Lights! The boys began to walk on stage and the crowd went crazy. Everyone in all directions surrounding me seemed to have signs, and I remember thinking, “There is no way they can see my sign right now,” but it didn’t bother me. I was just so excited to be there at that exact moment, with my mom, celebrating the day. The last thing anyone in that place expected from our favorite band was, “Om-pa-pa oom-pa-pa oom-pa-pa oom-pa-paaaaa !” Instantly, all the signs went down and the place bounced up and down with surprise. Right before the typical narration part of Harpua, I noticed that all the signs were down, and if I had any chance at all in getting my 31-minute Walls of the Cave played for my birthday show, I should raise my sign at this very moment.
“Welcome! You know, we had to start with this song because this is the very town where IT all went down. This is the town where it all went down for YOUR 31st birthday.” Trey pointed at me as he said this and my jaw instantly dropped. As any fan could imagine, I began freaking out. “Is this really happening?” I wondered. For whatever instinctual reason, I decide to point at my mom and mouth to Trey (since we are quite a bit back), “That’s my mom! That’s my mom! That’s my mom!” over and over again until he could make out what I was saying. He started playing me “Happy Birthday” on the guitar and then continued with, “Oh and your mom is there too! It went down for your mom! YES! I’m not sure if your mom knows the story of Harpua, does she? I’ll tell it to her personally, she’s right there.” Trey quickly began to tell my mom the story about Harpua “and mom of birthday girl, you may not know this but the cat’s name was….” and everyone, including my mom, yelled “Poster Nutbag!” The only reason my mom knew this was because I, in fact, have a cat named Poster Nutbag.
The rest of the show was very special for me, as you could imagine. From the first note Page struck on the piano, I went crazy as they began to play my requested Walls of the Cave in the second set. And while Walls wasn’t nearly 31 minutes long, it didn’t matter. During the Slave, it all kind of hit me and I began shedding tears of joy, happiness, elation and thanks. The Sand was something to write home about as the jam progressed to a stop/start pick up no one expected. Backwards Down the Numberline, although played quite a bit, is a very special song to me. Not only was this the third birthday show in a row where they have played this song, but in general the history of why this song was written is quite special.
Yet the best part of my evening, was looking over at my mom throughout the show and watching her sway back and forth in awe. It brought me back to my first show where I experienced the same feelings as she was this very evening. Prior to this experience, I didn’t think my mom and I could get any closer, since we have had a great mother/daughter relationship. But after the show, we had formed even a closer bond. Finally, she understood. Finally, she knew why this band was so special to me.
I still cannot believe any of this went down! Sometimes I wake up and ask if it all was a dream. “And if you go there, and after you do, all of these dreams, would be yours to pursue. The rest of your lifetime, devoid of a care, if you keep your eyes open, you may find yourself there.” This experience definitely taught me that dreams can come true. Thank you, Phish!