It’s midnight in downtown Asheville, and the Phish show has just let out, pouring thousands of happy phans into the streets.
Here they are, at the Rankin Vault: “They really know their audience,” one Phishhead says as the bartender pours a concoction of vodka, liqueurs and cranberry juice into a towering pint glass.
“I’m just in the mood for something that tastes good,” he says, taking the drink.
The place is mostly full; turntables are set up. The vault itself is reserved, with a crowd of guys watching a basketball game.
Here they are, on the streets: One, shirtless, displays two middle fingers against the night sky as he shouts “f**k the cops!” Sirens are a constant sound over the next hour, interlaced with the occasional pop of fireworks.
Also heard is the screaming of “I want a drink!”
They’re in the right city.
You may have recognized the breed, at least the out-of-town variety, though there are plenty of phans native to this fair metropolis. The water vendors did not stop with the concert, and they continue to hawk bottled water, even though free H2O is available in any number of the bars just a few feet away.
Some bring the bottled waters with them, setting them on top of the bar as they order beer en masse, that look of “Wowie—I’ve never been in this place before” glued to their faces.
The Flying Frog is packed. Ditto the Yacht Club. Those places not so full that they have to turn away new arrivals are still busy far past their norm. Whatever else the concert has brought, it’s put bustling business in many a downtown establishment.
Welcome to Asheville.
The phans’ exuberance is almost contagious. At the Thirsty Monk, an older man sporting a red shirt and a gnarled Mohawk exclaims to his friends: “That first song really set the tone. Those first eight minutes. That. Was. Perfect. Phish.”
For those needing a refuge from the frenetic crowd roaming the streets, the good news is that a cold beer and hot spiced Monk nuts are still as delicious as ever.
It is a night of surreal chaos. All along College Street the trashcans are packed high, Dasani bottles sharing the pile with the dead soldiers of Pabst Blue Ribbon. The noises of some last, late buskers still echo, and on Walnut Street, two be-dreadlocked guys play a game of Connect 4 on concrete steps.
The sidewalks are sticky, and beside one last packed-to-the-gills trashcan at the intersection with Haywood, there is a piece of excrement pounded flat by the tread of many feet. Hours later, the sound of the trash trucks can be heard as they make their way down the streets, emptying out the refuse of tonight’s raucous crowd.
By that time, phan and regular old bar patron both are united in the hangovers and memories they’ll nurse in the coming morning, while many a waiter, bartender and owner are counting their haul.
Good night, Asheville.