A Space in the Crowd: Tarping & Entitlement

Phish Pittsburgh
                                                        Summer Tour

“I feel the feeling I forgot.”
~ Phish

To tarp or not to tarp? Is that the question?

It is certainly a hot topic. My answer is a resounding no.

The real question is – who are we? Yes, the collective “we.” When I came on the scene there were high-five’s on lot all day and someone shouting “Free Hugs” could be heard with every step you took. After the show strangers telling strangers – travel safe, see you next run, much love. That was the community that we were all part and it was our safe haven. Tour was a place to be as free as you chose and feel safe while doing it, it was very communal.
Recently while on the floor at Phish in Dayton, Ohio, I was walking back to where I had been prior to set break. As I stopped for a moment to get my bearings, I was pushed. At first I thought it was someone walking by, but then I immediately felt an elbow in my back and then a push from my side. All of this occurred within maybe 10 seconds. I turned around and was told, “You are too close to our tarp! Move!” I explained to them (one guy and two girls) that I was just trying to find my previous spot and that they needed to chill. They informed me that they didn’t care, and I needed to move. As I turned to walk away, the guy pushed me again. I am a woman who travels to shows somewhat alone or splits from my group and that is the first time I have felt uncomfortable at Phish. It was disheartening to say the least. Their behavior was so aggressive and completely unnecessary.

I went back to my previous spot in disbelief, confused by what had just occurred, and looked down. I noticed that there were tarps, blankets, towels—you name it—duct taped to the floor of the indoor arena. In those areas, there were also huge gaps in the crowd because of the tarps … meaning they did not “need” the space. They felt entitled to it. In their minds, they “owned” that space. I could not stop thinking – who are “we?” what have “we” become? Is this the new idea of family? Do they even understand what they are part of?

Somehow certain people have decided that their general admission ticket is also a free pass to own a piece of concrete. From where does this mentality come? The idea that you are entitled to something that isn’t yours. This is OUR show. All of us. Part of what makes Phish so great is the crowd, the energy, the “We are all in this together.” I kept thinking: What if this had been my first show? How would I speak of this community? Honestly, I probably would have considered leaving.

I was fortunate in that I wasn’t hurt and I found my way back to where I had been. I spent the rest of the night sharing the groove with two wonderful people. We hugged at the end of the night and went about our ways. In true Phish fashion, when I arrived to Pittsburgh and walked through the General Admission doors of the next concert venue, we literally bumped right into each other again. I thanked them for giving me a safe space the night before, and we all settled in for the show. Little did I know my safe space happened to be, Steve Pollak (AKA “The Dude of Life”) and his friend Julie. They were nothing short of wonderful to me. They restored some of my faith in the community. I will say when I looked on the floor in Pittsburgh, I personally did not see any tarps – you could feel the difference. The vibe was completely different than it had been in Dayton. Energy is infectious be it good or bad in my opinion.

I was welcomed into this scene with open arms almost 20 years ago and I am thrilled to encourage others, perhaps younger to go, experience it. Live it. Breath it. Come back dirty and filled with stories! I stood there thinking, maybe I need to start letting them know, they are part of something. They aren’t “the” something.

Sadly, I believe that if we continue to allow this level of entitlement we have lost touch with what brought us together. This isn’t just music; it is a family, a community, our good vibe tribe. In some ways, it is kind of a secret society. Now I am asking all of you: “Who are we?” Who have we become? How do we want our family—our brothers and sisters—to look and act? Is a tarp really worth the trade-off? Claiming general admission space at the expense of an entire community is completely unacceptable. I refuse to believe that this is who we have become. Are we no longer “strangers stopping strangers just to shake their hand?”

There are so many wonderful things that have come from this community: The Be More ProjectWaterwheel, and my own shop Grateful Momma Bear to name a few. Each of these came from this family and gives back in its own way to make things better for all of us. However, now we are forced to have things like GrooveSafe, an unfortunate necessary evil to help protect our own from unsolicited sexual assaults, advances, and harassment. We are better than this. We are not the entitled suburbia upper middle class kids – not here. Here, my space is your space. My water is your water. That is who we are.

I challenge you to be the change—to bring back brothers looking out for sisters and vice versa, to bring back “Free Hugs!” and high fives … to bring back the community. This is what sets us apart: “We are all in this together.” Act like it.

This has become such a topic in the jam band scene that I was interviewed by the WallStreet Journal regarding this article. To read that interview click here

7 Comments on “A Space in the Crowd: Tarping & Entitlement

    • FYI Raoul I see a ton of music across many bands and genres but specifically between Panic and Phish I’m pretty equal.. love both bands for very different reasons. Specifically on this topic: As much as both fan bases have a lot of angst against each other they are *very similar. When it comes to the behavior up front tho I have seen *way worse behavior by the rail at Phish than I ever have at Panic. For whatever reason I see this specifically in CO more than any other state too but rail-world at PhishDicks is straight up mean. When you have a large number of people holding enough space to be spinners feet from the rail and literally assaulting anyone who has the gall to trickle into those gargantuan holes that’s straight up evil. …and honestly as much as Panic on average feels more friendly everywhere else Panic at Red Rocks the front is pretty bad too made worse by the f$%^&ing seats.

      Me: I’m not one to wait in line all day but I do get there early enough to get a good spot and generally that means I’m in the venue shortly after doors and in my “spot” for the following 5-6 hours (Thank you big bladder!). The amount of space I consider “mine” is pretty tight.. If someone comes up late and stands on my feet or puts them in a place that displaces me I’ll be a rock and “big” making clear the “get off my shit” But if there’s room and you can physically get up there I’m a live and let live kind of guy. I’m used to Metallica and Tool pits where we spend an entire show packed together like sardines and in some cases literally wrestling for position the entire show. Phish is not that kind of vibe but I still feel the entitled who think they can defend a space 5+ times their body size need to step back a bunch. AND physically assaulting someone (when you’re not in a metal pit 😉 is just plain wrong. The fact that security at Dicks for sure and to a lesser extent other venues actually allows this and in many cases *assists makes me very angry.

      On a brighter note: After the fights front row at Dicks last year ended up on the stream the vibe in the front got WAY better night 2 and night 3 was damn near friendly. I’m hoping we can progress that way in general…

  1. Pingback: An Evening with Bella Anastasio: An Inside Look at Phish and Her Life - Grateful Momma Bear

  2. At Dicks one year a guy brought a 20’ x 30’ tarp in right after doors and tried to claim the entire area in front of the board. I just went and stood on it dead center, and dared him to do something about it. A few minutes later venue security came by and made him take it up- “no tarps” was clearly printed on the venue rules. The guy then called me an “East coast asshole”, while he slinked away. Pretty funny since I am from Athens, Georgia.


      – Do You Deserve A Rail Space If You Wait Hours And Are First? – Fuck yes. Go for it. I’ve done it in 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 and it is grueling. You deserve the rail….. but not 5 spots around and behind you for yourself!

      – This goes for General Admission just as it does for seated venues – Go buy 5 tickets, and place them around yourself if you need to take up 5 spaces. It’s pretty clear logic.

      – Venues Actually Measure GA Space For Selling GA Tickets – I’ve seen small pit areas (like at Merriweather or Camden) where the front row has 10 people with 40 spaces and the back of the GA pit is CRUSHED because there’s no room for them in the back. =(

      Last – The Fighting And Getting Physical will come to a terrible point, where we will not be able to do GA. Someone is going to get hurt. I saw someone throw punches on someone who stepped on a towel at MerriPP.

      @Nathan and @Mark – Yes, this ALL started at Red Rocks. And the reason is because Red Rocks is open early and people wanted to save their spots for friends that couldn’t get there. Somewhere over the years, the VERY understandable “Waiting In Line Gets First Dibs” turned into an entitlement for “As much space as I can physically take up with inanimate objects is mine”



  3. New generation. Look at old photos i.e. Albany 2000 poster where people respected each other.

  4. Great post — sorry you experienced that. The “space claiming” has gotten progressively worse. I like to solo-mission at shows, and remember literally tripping over people at Sugarbush back in the day, and people understood, and were actually helpful. Fast forward to Dick’s this past year and I got pushed for venturing too close to someone’s territory. Funny thing is I brought a gallon of water in with me and wound up sharing it with the dude who had pushed me earlier. Meeting/partying with strangers…experiencing IT with strangers is one of my favorite part of shows — don’t let the tarps take that away.

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