What do you make of the concept of the multiverse? Is it possible for a person, or say a band, to exist in multiple realms simultaneously? Thanks to the marvel of video streaming technology, this has become a regular part of our reality over the past 15 years. It’s admirable for any band to put up a feed of their gigs on Facebook Live. It’s a whole other thing to acknowledge the elite level of professionalism achieved by select artists presenting their concerts to global audiences across cyber space. The use footage from as many as a dozen cameras getting the kinds of angles no fan could ever aspire to at the actual event. We can all experience these shows in the comfort of our living rooms while sharing meals, folding laundry or making snow angels on the carpet (pants optional). The convenience and intimacy are a huge part of the draw, yet the emotional impact is only realized when sharing the novelty amidst a group dynamic.
Since reopening under new ownership in December of 2012, the Crazy Horse has established itself as one of the preeminent hubs of live music streaming in the country. You’d have to go to San Francisco, Portland, Denver or New York to find other venues bringing people together to witness the marvel of a live webcast. Leave it to Nevada City – the biggest little town in the west – to offer a refuge for those who crave to devour every note without the effort and expense of actually being there. If everything was normal (major stretch of the imagination), we’d be preparing to watch Phish close out the year with another one of their epic performances on the big screen. In honor of this, we offer a retrospective of our streaming history.
It began on the auspicious date of 12/12/12 with the Rolling Stones playing a benefit to raise money for victims of Hurricane Sandy. The details of the show are a little hazy now but there is one thing that stands out. When I called the number listed on the screen, Whoopi Goldberg just happened to answer the phone to accept my donation. You can’t miss that voice. A few weeks later we hosted our first Phish Madison Square Garden New Year run and never looked back.
The Crazy Horse streaming rig consists of an Epson HD projector with a seven-foot projection screen. We have a designated laptop which is only used for streaming. From the beginning, we have done everything possible to fine tune the process. Namely securing the fastest internet speed possible by hardwiring and avoiding Wi-Fi. At a certain point we added a PreSonos Audio Box which cracked the code to provide the stellar sound we had been seeking.
Even in the perfect scenario, streaming is not always flawless. Experiencing dropouts and buffering is the kiss of death. There’s nothing worse than hearing the whole room groan in unison as the stream grinds to a sudden halt. I would feel personally responsible, even though I knew we had done everything to avoid any issues. One of the ultimate highlights was showing the three-night run of the Grateful Dead Fare Thee Well shows from Chicago’s Soldier Field in early July 2015. Shrugging off a sweltering heat wave, deadheads emerged from the hills to share in the band’s 50-year anniversary celebration. In contrast to all the bliss was the agony of the stream freezing during one of the peak moments of modern music history as Trey Anastasio belted out “Scarlet Begonias.” Fortunately that was probably long forgotten by the time the Empire State Building danced with synchronized illumination during “U.S. Blues” on the final night.
There are too many amazing memories of Phish streams to mention. There were only a few of us there to confirm that the street light out front did in fact combust on 11/2/18 because they were jamming “Sand” with such savage ferocity. Naturally the high-profile occasions stand out the most. Two of the best have been the band’s Halloween performances when they donned their “musical costume” and covered another band’s album. We celebrated this in 2016 as they covered David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust.” We hosted a costume contest with the winner being a guy dressed as Trump which I still attribute as the jinxing factor for that fateful election.
Halloween 2018 was even more memorable as the band’s cover selection was shrouded in mystery. They unveiled an album by “Kasvot Vaxt” along with one of the most elaborate set designs of their career. Many stood dumbfounded as they thought we were hearing songs by an obscure Scandinavian band. It turned out to be the ultimate trick and treat with Phish writing a whole album of new material under an alias. The sense of bewilderment in the audience was delightfully amusing. They played so long that the band we had slated to play afterwards – Deltaphonic from New Orleans – only had time for a 40-minute set at the very end of the night.
Some nights of streaming like those Halloween shows were just as packed as if a band was playing in the flesh. Everyone is dancing or staring at the screen totally captivated. Some wander in off the street having no idea what they are looking at. If I notice them, I might sidle up and offer a friendly explanation. I’m sure many new fans have been created from such random encounters. Then there are other nights were there is just a handful of hardcore fans there who might as well be watching in their living rooms. But it would never look or sound this good at most people’s house with the sound cranking through our full PA. We even bring in a sound engineer for each stream to make sure everything is totally dialed in.
Many of the streams are from the east coast and it can work out rather nicely to start at 5pm. These lend themselves to being family affairs as people bring their children, take over tables, enjoy meals and make an evening out of it. It has often worked out perfectly where Phish ends and then we have a live band ready to carry on the entertainment. These select bands go forth with the proud distinction of claiming that Phish once opened from them.
The zenith of the live streaming experience at the Horse has to be Phish’s “Baker’s Dozen” when they played 13 shows in a row at Madison Square Garden in July and August of 2017. It was an unprecedented cultural phenomenon which is unanimously considered not just as a crowning achievement of the band’s career, but as one of the greatest in the history of rock ‘n roll. We streamed 9 out of the 13 shows and each one was a totally different experience (which, if you didn’t know, featured not a single repeat song). Going with the theme, fans brought donuts to share with others in attendance. There was a communal spirit as strangers became friends while dancing together and exchanging awe-filled expressions. People traveled from around the region as fans from the Bay Area, Sacramento and Tahoe all shared the once in a lifetime experience. When the band drops into the familiar funky groove of “2001,” the arena rock eruption of “Tweezer Reprise” or the iconic multi-part fugue of “You Enjoy Myself,” it’s as if we are all breathing through the same lungs and dancing with a collective set of limbs.
While Phish owns most of the notches on the Crazy Horse streaming bedpost, we have explored other avenues of visual, musical splendor. Umphrey’s McGee, Widespread Panic and Dead and Company have all made their impact. On a Saturday afternoon a loyal crowd of Deadheads waited out a long rain delay in Boulder, CO until Dead and Company finally came on to deliver a crackling performance. Just before the pandemic hit, we hosted The Allman Brothers 50th anniversary show live from MSG. During a lull in the pandemic, we even squeezed in Umphrey’s playing at an Atlanta drive-in. It’s an integral part of who we are and what we do. Tomorrow is New Years Eve and we should be exploring another chapter of the colorful Phish legacy. Instead, we’re all at home trying to entertain ourselves in the best ways we can. Hopefully we can reflect on the amazing experiences we’ve shared in the past and take a sojourn in the multiverse where we can all dance together again.