Thursday, August 07, 2003
High-Tech Phishin'

This article in today's New York Times (registration required) describes how Vermont-based jam band Phish used technology to oull off last weekend's big rock show in Maine. The key technologies: Walkie-talkies and Wi-Fi.

And MP3s.
The concert organizers collaborated with Apple to open the House of Live Phish, a sort of next-generation Internet cafe. Using one of 20 iMacs, concertgoers could not only surf the Web and send e-mail, they could also burn free custom CD's from the 154 live Phish tracks that were loaded on each computer.

Although they waited to use the iMacs in lines that began at 30 minutes on Friday and stretched to two and a half hours by late Saturday afternoon, fans seemed unperturbed. Referring to the remote location and the horrendous traffic jams outside the site, Andrew Grabel, 28, said, "I spent 27 hours in the line to get here, so two hours here is nothing.''

Jason Pinsky, a 30-year-old technology consultant from Brooklyn who was running the House of Live Phish, said visitors burned almost 2,000 CD's over the weekend.

The fans are not the only ones who seem to be enjoying new forms of digital music. Brad Sands, 33, Phish's road manager, said that portable MP3 players were allowing the band to mine its own musical heritage more deeply.

"All the members of the band have these little Sony speakers and iPods,'' Mr. Sands said. "They have like 300 original songs, and traditionally, there was no way for them to just pull something up. Now Trey will sit in his hotel and scan songs and say, 'Hey, that's a cool song and we haven't played it in 10 years or 5 years. Let's play that.' ''
To that, add the following instructive words to any engineer of any form:
In the end, It was all about the music, but technology allowed the artistic experience to bloom far beyond the stage and, more important, allowed the logistics behind the festival to come together. Hadden Hippsley, Phish's production manager, may have best captured the festival's overall approach to technology.

"You always have three backup plans instead of one,'' he said. "You always focus on what will fail rather than what will work. If you look at every situation from the light of what could possibly fail, what you're left with is solutions.''
There's a lesson there.