There was a kind of Vermont mellowness at the Wellmont Theater last night, and the crowd of late 20-somethings who packed the filled-to-occupancy rock venue seemed extremely happy. Maybe it was the copious amounts of beer that they were consuming, or perhaps they just had a natural sort of Green Mountain buzz going. Whatever the root cause, it was upbeat wholesome in a head-bobbling and swaying kind of way. Certainly not typical fast-moving, loud-talking Jersey. And that was the mood before the music started.
Once Trey Anastasio and his band (called “TAB”) took to the stage, an estimated 99.5% of the audience stood up, in unison, and began to dance. For the duration of the evening, that’s what they continued to do, and they pretty much never sat down. But they were all good spirited, like they were at an outdoor festival. No one pushed or shoved, even though the two floors of the theater were shoulder to shoulder.
It seemed that, along with the happy spirit, there were mannerisms and TABisms that were well-known to the fans. There were certain hand movements that they all seemed to do at the same time. I was clearly out of the loop, but they were nice to me anyway, and even apologized for spilling beer down my head, face and body. But then, perhaps they recognized me as an old Deadhead, and were treating me with reverence. Anyway, I was a good sport about it all, ’cause I’m mellow, too.
Being more advanced in years than anyone else in the audience — or at least among the top 10 — I may have been one of the few there to have actually been to a Grateful Dead concert when Uncle Jerry was still alive. Anastasio’s original band, Phish, was often compared to the Dead, and there are certainly many similarities with his current ensemble as well. But where the Dead’s instrumentals were kind of meandering and deliberately spontaneous, TAB’s are clean, technically sharp and less… well, stoned. But still, it’s in the jam band tradition, and inspires jam band fan behavior. Secret hand movements notwithstanding, the younger generation audience bore a keen resemblance (minus the groovy clothes and crazy hair) to the genre pioneers. This crowd was more Mark Zuckerberg than Alan Ginsburg, but the spirit was there. After all, the younger ones were likely to have been raised by Deadheads.
Every concert at the Wellmont Theater has its own personality and feel. Each group of fans has a unique footprint, or outline. Last night’s mob was relaxed, even in between sets when an enormous crowd headed out the front doors to have a cigarette break (haven’t seen this many smokers in one place in many years), and there was a major, ongoing bottle neck blocking the exit. Everyone remained calm and cool, though, with new friendships being formed right then and there and old ones rekindled. Once they got out to the barricaded smoking zone, they stood, in the rain, dragging, and emanating happy mellowness. Not like “Om,” but more like “Harpua.”
The second set went on way into the night, perhaps too late for the five or 10 old-timers there. The younger audience apparently knew what was coming, which might explain why they were so serious about getting a cigarette in before the band came back out. While TAB’s music is much tighter and more rehearsed, like the hippie concerts of old, the band played on. There’s no doubt that this iteration of the jam band is continuing and improving upon the traditions created by their forefathers. Carry on, young friends.