Both on-site police and concertgoers agreed the strongest similarity between the original Woodstock and Phish's 80,000-strong New Year's Eve shindig was neither the music nor the mellow, retro-hippie visuals. It was the traffic. In an eerie replay of Woodstock's opening scene of cars simply abandoned along the roadside, on Wednesday, December 29, almost 50,000 Phish-fan toting vehicles converged on Alligator Alley from across America, all heading for exit fourteen -- Snake Road -- whose single lane wound toward the Phish concert site on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation. Add in the regular daily I-75 traffic of 12,000 cars shuttling between Fort Lauderdale and Naples, and the result was an absolute standstill. Network news helicopters buzzed overhead, transmitting images of the nation's largest traffic jam as thousands of motorists sat in their vehicles (or simply turned off their engines and relaxed along the side of the road) for an average of twelve hours.
The area's location in a tangle of four jurisdictions certainly contributed to the tie-up: Broward and Collier counties are responsible for the eastern and western halves of I-75, respectively; the southern half of Snake Road -- the sole way into Big Cypress from I-75 -- is the domain of Miccosukee Indian police; the northern half of Snake Road ending in Big Cypress is Seminole Indian turf. Local sources, however, are quietly pointing the finger of blame at members of the Miccosukee tribe, who allegedly took one look at the descending horde of Phish fans and saw dollar signs.
The only gas station on the 76 mile-long Alligator Alley is owned by the Miccosukees, and is conveniently located smack at the I-75 turnoff to Snake Road. It did a booming business during the traffic snarl; according to an employee with whom Kulchur spoke, the gas pumps were refilled by a tanker no less than three times between Wednesday and Friday morning while several hundred cases of beer flew out the door -- also requiring repeated deliveries from a beverage warehouse. (For the curious, Samuel Adams and Hard Cider were the beverages of choice. Marlboro Lights also were a Phish-fan favorite.)
As cars backed up in a chaotic mess at the gas station entrance, Broward and Collier police, Florida Highway Patrolmen, and Seminole Indian police all begged the Miccosukees to turn the one-lane Snake Road into two northbound-only lanes in a bid to loosen traffic congestion and get concertgoers into Big Cypress as quickly as possible. The Miccosukees refused, even as Broward officials lifted the Alligator Alley tolls (giving up an estimated $50,000 in revenue) in a desperate bid to help the situation.
Could the Miccosukees have been bitter about the Seminoles' cut of the more than $13 million Phish grossed from the event -- a deal they had no stake in? Were the Miccosukees trying to ensure an open (and lucrative) route from the north, in order to continually restock their gas station amid the traffic jam? Or do the Miccosukees (who booked the decidedly unpsychedelic Julio Iglesias for their own millennium party) just hate Phish?
Spokespersons for both tribes refused to comment, but Florida Highway Patrol Maj. Ronald Getman told the Naples Daily News: "There was definitely some friction between the Seminoles and the Miccosukees that made it harder to get things done. The tribal police are federal, so we had no control over the fact that the Miccosukees didn't want to run two lanes [north] on Snake Road."
Getman also expressed hope that all the involved parties can agree on logistics before next December; Phish and the Seminole tribe already have signed a contract to stage concerts on the Big Cypress site each New Year's Eve through 2004.
Jah has left the building, or at least the airwaves of WDNA-FM (88.9). After nearly twenty years of hosting the much-loved Saturday-afternoon radio show, The Reggae Beat, the distinctly British-accented Steve Radzi has packed up his collection of vintage reggae vinyl and called it quits. Radzi explains the commute from his new home in Coral Springs just makes it too hard to justify giving up his only day off from work to trek to WDNA studios. "I really hope WDNA keeps reggae on in that time slot," he says, "but I've done it for twenty years now. It's a done deal for me."
While calling it the end of an era might be an overstatement, Radzi says there's been an oceanic change in the local radio scene since he arrived in Miami in 1981 after a stint in Jamaica. "I went around to all the stations and nobody could understand why a Polack with an English accent wanted to do reggae programming," he says with a laugh. A friend suggested he knock on the door of WDNA, which at the time had a gloriously freeform programming philosophy and a diverse staff that aired everything from punk and rap to experimental composers and live radio plays. Fondly remembering that period, Radzi says WDNA's program director at the time had only one question for him: "When do you want to start?"
In contrast to the market-driven spirit of both commercial radio and the current wave of Miami reggae pirate stations, Radzi explains, "The point was to play music that you can't get a hold of, all those seven-inch ska singles you couldn't find anymore, all the musicians everybody had forgotten about. I got this great audience of Jamaicans who couldn't believe there was this white character from out of nowhere who had this collection of records they hadn't heard since they were teenagers."
Radzi's playlist extended into the rock-steady period of the late '60s and through the roots and dub currents of the mid and late '70s. What you wouldn't hear was dancehall, which exploded in popularity as the '80s progressed. Ironically, as roots reggae found an international audience with its message of black consciousness, spiritual transcendence, and social justice, it fell out of favor in its native land, replaced by dancehall's focus on braggadocio, gangster chic, and materialism.
Radzi concedes this trend added to his growing disenchantment with being a DJ. "The way that a lot of reggae is going these days isn't a direction that I feel is positive," he says. "Dancehall makes a lot of money, but as someone who believes in the religion of Rasta, it's not music that moves me. Things have changed so drastically within Jamaican culture, and the music has changed along with it. You listen to WAVS [the predominantly Jamaican Top 40 outlet at 1170 AM] or 96.1 [the dancehall-heavy FM pirate] and you're not going to hear about Haile Selassie I." He sighs and adds, "Kids today just aren't interested in Rastafari; they have different values."
While Radzi leaves open the possibility of a DJ stint closer to home in Broward, for now he intends to concentrate on another of his passions, one that flows from his background as a graphic artist (that's some of his work in the animated film The Hobbit): sumptuous, hand-drawn renderings of ancient Mayan temples (see his site at www.mayavision.com for examples). Radzi's fans pining for classic roots rhythms (at least the night owls) can, thankfully, still tune in to Clint O'Neil on WLRN-FM (91.3), weekdays from 1:00 to 5:00 a.m.
Send your music news, local releases, and general gunk to Brett Sokol at 2800 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33137. Fax to 305-571-7678 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Miami New Times' biggest stories.