Super Tuesday was even more exciting with the announcement of Phish’s Mike Gordon and Jon Fishman, along with six-piece The Mallett Brothers, playing at the Bernie Sanders rally held in Essex Junction, Vermont
The crowd walking up to the Champlain Valley Expo Center was a mix of different ages of people, but all with the same excitement. Before even getting into the building, Bernie had won the Democractic vote in his home state of Vermont, a surprise to almost no one.
As we headed through security, I noticed a person with a Fishman scarf being flagged by security — an all too familiar site — but security was just letting the fan know no hard water bottles or big bags were allowed in. Since this was a political rally and not a Phish show, no one seemed to mind the added security and thorough pat-downs.
The expo center was vibrating with love and fluorescent light with excited Phish fans were scattered throughout the building, recognizable by clothing emblazoned donuts and smaller, more discreet nods to our favorite band.
Campaign volunteers greeted attendees by arming them with blue Bernie signs, that also worked great as a fan in the stuffy but giant expo center.
The Bernie merch table was filled with pins, water bottles, tote bags and impressively about eleven different posters. The official event poster was done by fan Derek Perez. With Bernie smiling under a sky of red donuts, I had to have that.
After a few speakers, the musical portion kicked off with Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son.” A grinning Fishman and Mallett Brother’ Brian Higgins started whaling on their kits. The Americana ballad was a perfect kickoff to the rally and seemed to get both phans and non (or not-yet-phans) alike excited and dancing.
It’s easy to forget Mike’s bluegrass roots with his coiffed hair and now-signature flashy sneakers, but it seemed natural to be standing, cactus-esque next to a mandolin player.
Almost as surreal to seeing Fishman out of his mumu and in jeans, was the song choice. For some reason, I’ve had “Fortunate Son” stuck in my head for the last few days. As I took a look around the crowd, I knew that even in this world gone mad, everything was exactly how it’s supposed to be. While it doesn’t take much for a Phish fan to relate their life to the music, this felt beyond serendipitous.
As they performed Mallett Brothers’ “Too Much Trouble” rang out, you could feel the audience absorbing the lyrics, reminding us we were at a political rally, not just another concert.
Mike then invited his daughter Tessa to stage, who was greeted with cheers and waving Bernie posters. When asked by her dad, Tessa said she wanted “a good president.” That sentiment flowed into their song choice of “A Life That’s Good.”
Next up was a beautiful rendition of George Jones’ “Why Baby Why,” showcasing Tessa’s young but sophisticated voice that I still have stuck in my head the next day.
Switching up the vibe, rapper Spose came to the stage with a song “Off Road,” a song written just last week. The beat and lyrics revved up the already high energy in the building.
Surprising the audience and delighting the Phish fans in the room, Mike launched into his song “Whirlwind”. The high energy made everyone at least bop their heads, but the Gordo-fans in the crowd were easy to spot as they cheered and danced enthusiastically
Some attendees, presumably there for the political aspect, not necessarily the music, looked on a little confused but happy at the dancers in the crowd.
Throughout each song, you could see a smile on Fishman’s face. He was in his element not only as a drummer, but also a state-elected official on the stage supporting his choice for president. Each song didn’t end til both drummers said so, and the rest of the band was fine with letting them take off and show off their enthusiasm.
The band continued on with Mallett Brothers’ “Last Man Standing,” each song echoing the message of the rally.
Tessa came back on stage to join for “Ring Them Bells,” and stayed on stage as her dad asked if they could sing one more song.
A familiar rift started playing, and Mike led the band and the crowd into his hit “Let’s Go.” Even people who didn’t know the singalong knew to chant “Let’s go!”
As the musical portion of the night wrapped up, the crowd decidedly thinned out. A few more speakers came on the stage to keep the energy going as the voting results were coming in. The “set-break” music as we waited for Bernie to come out was curated to keep up the energy of the rally, including “Dancing in the Streets” and Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House”, which have become synonymous with the campaign.
A little after 10pm, Bernie came on stage announcing he had won Colorado, and reinvigorated the tiring crowd. On a big screen in the front of the building, polling results were being projected with results not as favorable as the Bernie supporters had hoped.
His message of equality for all remained consistent, and he seemed more determined than ever to fight for what he believes this country needs for policies and a president.
He also reminded the crowd that exactly 31 years ago, March 3, 1989, he won the mayoral nomination for Burlington, despite being an underdog.
Bernie’s ideals seem to resonate with Phish fans because of their similarities to newer, “3.0” lyrics. The set list of a night perfectly melded with the speeches of the rally, although I do think a “Crazy Sometimes” would’ve been very fitting.