June 17, 2010

Hoodstream.com: How Streaming Live Phish Shows Came to Be a Favorite Summer Past-Time


Last summer, the Phish community was a-buzz with a new use of technology – live, streaming web casts of each show. Some had video and the shows where a crisp, clean Internet signal was available, that night’s show was delivered via UStream.com to Phish-heads all across the world, although mostly in the U.S.

But the story of how the streams started and evolved into HoodStream.com has never been told. In an exclusive interview with TheWagger, Joephus, one of the original "Inside Eight” (also known as “i8”)– the people who made it possible for all of us, when we weren’t lucky enough to be there in person, to listen to each show from the comfort of our living room, live, as it went down – explains the evolution of HoodStream.com

The following is, word-for-word, a conversation I had with Joephus

WAGGER: So tell me how the idea formed for web casting Phish shows live as they happened.

JOEPHUS: Really, PhishTube started the streaming phenomenon. After the Fenway Park shows, Phish stopped in Jones Beach for three shows, the first which I missed due to a family function. But that first Jones Beach show I was listening to it being streamed live online. Then I found out about Wigman (the mysterious webcaster who wore a massive, black wig and provided post-show raps for everyone listening), but it was a problem trying to figure out where on the Internet you could find a live stream of that night’s show.

For Phish’s 2010 Summer Tour, the “Original Inside Eight” – (all HoodStream.com user names) Wigman, PhishSpac, CostaPete, DogLog, Joephus0311, The_Man_Mulcahy, honorary member BubbleMan (he lives overseas but helped with the formation of the group in more ways than one, Joephus said), and one other partner who wishes to remain anonymous – have worked out many of the bugs from last summer, and hope that this summer, every show will be broadcast live on the HoodStream.com web site with clean, crisp audio.

WAGGER: Yeah, Wigman became sort of an online legend, almost overnight, thanks to his hilarious webcasts from Jones Beach and the practical jokes he played on those of us trying to find where we could pick up the stream of the show.

JOEPHUS: The second night of Jones Beach was my first attempt at a stream. It topped out at somewhere between 6,000 and 7,000 viewers – on my first stream! I was pretty amazed, to say the least, that so many people were logged on. I couldn’t believe so many Phish-heads were watching an iPhone stream with such poor quality, just at the chance of being able to hear that night’s show. It was exciting, to say the least.

I remember my two friends I went to the shows with were also amazed – they couldn’t believe it. So, that night I went home, I passed out immediately from exhaustion. When I woke the next morning I had a multitude of emails from people thanking for me for the stream, and others begging me to buy extra battery packs, because that first stream barely lasted through the first set.

So, the first thing I did after reading those emails was to get a friend to drive me to the Apple store somewhere on Long Island to purchase battery packs. I actually called the Apple store before hand, inquired about the battery backs, and begged the lady working there to open the packs and fully charge them because I was already on the way to the show and would have no time to fully charge one battery pack, let alone both of them, beforehand. Even though it’s against Apple store policy to pre-open packages, I basically begged this lady, and eventually she agreed to open one and charge it to make sure I had one fully-charged battery pack for the show that night. We drove from Brooklyn to the Apple Store somewhere on the east end of Long Island, picked up battery packs, thanked her a million times for fully-charging the one, and took them to the show.

WAGGER: So, what did you learn from your initial experience of trying to stream a show live through an iPhone?

JOEPHUS: From my first experience streaming at the second night of Jones Beach, when my phone died in a little more than one hour, I learned that streaming eats up an enormous amount of battery power. Just the fact that it’s not only capturing video, it’s transferring it over a 3G (network), and the phone is on and running the entire time. All three of these issues combined added up to a depletion of (battery) resources.

The second show I streamed, I remember sitting in my friend’s car, duct-taping a GorillaPod to the battery pack. I was barely able to use it that night because I was constantly being hassled by security; I actually had to run once when they saw I was doing, uh, something out of the ordinary. The tri-pod, or GorillaPod, works fine but unfortunately I had to hold it half the time.

I was able to stream the final night of Jones Beach, and I had close to the same amount of viewers – 6,000 to 7,000. Still, using one extra battery pack was not getting the job done; I was only able to stream that show until just before the end of the second set. That’s when my battery pack went dead.

WAGGER: I remember very clearly watching those Jones Beach shows and thinking to myself, “Only Phish-heads could even conceive of a way to stream each show live, as it happens.”

JOEPHUS: Well, from there we went to Great Woods the next night. We tried streaming that show but we were unsuccessful due to difficulties with the local network. I was able to connect to the Internet a little, but for most of the show I could not stream.

When I got to Great Woods, I got inside the venue a couple of songs late, and I tried streaming the first set, but my connection kept booting me offline, and it happened several times during first set. I kept looking for a spot with better reception and sound, and then disaster struck.

Close to the end of the first set, my iPhone fell out of my pocket and I lost it – GorillaPod attached to it and all. I completely freaked out, as you can imagine, and I frantically called my phone non-stop during the set break to see if anyone would answer it. As I was calling my phone, I was simultaneously searching the crowd, trying to see if I could see someone looking at this giant contraption of an iPhone. After I had a neurotic, frantic, nervous, upset set break – any adjective you can think of that describes stress – the lights went down for the second set, and Phish started to play. At this point I told myself ‘I’ll deal with my phone at the end of the set. Let me at least enjoy this set, because I couldn’t enjoy the first set at all, running around frantically like I was.

Anyway, at the end of the second set I had completely forgotten that I lost my phone, probably because the set was so good. So, I decided to give it one more try and called my phone one more time, and some guy answered. The guy said, “I have your phone, if that’s what it is.” The guy said he was in section so-and-so, which just happened to be right behind me. So, I looked up and the guy was 10 feet away from me holding up my phone. I gave the guy a huge hug and thanked him a million times. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the guy’s name anymore, but if you’re reading this, again, thanks soooooo much! I guess you could say it was meant to be. Still, that second set was one of the most enjoyable sets I’ve ever seen in 60-plus shows.

WAGGER: Other than seeing Wigman’s stream, what was the impetus behind starting HoodStream.com? The reason I ask is because it’s not a for-profit enterprise; it’s basically a hobby for the "i8"and it takes up a lot of time.

JOEPHUS: Now that I think about it, going back to the beginning, one of the main reasons I started to stream was because one of my best, oldest friends, Arnaud Azoulay (an artist whose work can be seen at YouEnjoyMyArt.com). He caught his first show at Ventura 1994, and his second show was Chula Vista in 1999; that’s how I got into Phish, the tape of the Chula Vista show from 1999, and listening to Picture of Nectar, believe it or not. I saw almost every show with Arnaud when we were younger, but he got married, he and his wife had a baby and they moved to Paris, France. Since the technology was available, I really wanted to bring the streams to him. So, he was the real reason why I got into streaming. He introduced me to Phish in college. He had seen one or two shows before then and said, “Dude, you have got to check this band out.” Me and a couple of other friends went with him to the next show in Chula Vista 2000 and we were immediately hooked.

WAGGER: So, back to your original streams during Phish’s 2009 Summer Tour …

JOEPHUS: The next show of the tour was Camden – the one where they broke out that Fee. I brought a friend of mine to the show with me to Camden. At the time, I was convinced that the (Phish) organization was jamming our signal, especially that night because when I went walked to the courtyard in Camden I could connect, but as soon as I walked half way up the stairs I lost my connection. I didn’t think it was worth it to spend them show streaming it from the bottom of the stairs near the merchandise booth, especially because listeners wouldn’t be able hear that much and not very clearly. iPhone makes stealthy microphones, which we need, but they still are not that great as far as sound quality.

WAGGER: I remember people were upset at this point that every show was not being streamed, even though the entire concept was only birthed about one week earlier. People were really pissed that nothing came out of Camden because those shows were pretty good.

JOEPHUS: We were trying our asses off, but this was all new and most of it was being done on the fly, learning as we went along. I missed the next show in Asheville, but Wigman streamed Asheville. The next show was Knoxville, which was funny because I was also frantically looking for a signal inside the arena. I got all the way to the back of the venue, almost near the concession stands, and finally got a clear signal and was streaming. But as I was streaming the show, I was leery, looking over my shoulder making sure no one was coming after me. I saw Wigman cruising around with his posse, but not streaming the show. Wigman later told me it wasn’t him – he was never there, meaning there was a Wigman imposter floating around Phish’s 2009 Summer Tour!

After Knoxville I drove to Bonnaroo. The first night of Bonnaroo I was able to stream from the VIP stands on the side of stage; the sound was killer, to say the least. The second night I streamed the show from (near) the soundboard. It was unbelievable how clear the audio was from my iPhone, but I just happened to be standing in the right location. I remember I had a few guys glancing over at me from time to time, but I really had no problems at all, all night long.

WAGGER: After Bonnaroo, the Phish tour moved on to St. Louis, which many people were calling is the show to see that tour because it was out of the way and in a small venue.

JOEPHUS: Unfortunately, I did not attend the Fox Theatre show because I couldn’t get tickets. However, St. Louis was the first show where, in the chat room, the “i8” decided to join forces and have one place where all of the streams could come together in one location so that people wouldn’t have to frantically search the Internet for the streams. That’s why HoodStream.com was created – so that there would be one, central location everyone could meet, join the chat room, talk to other Phish-heads, and know that every night the Phish show will be streamed.

Once HoodStream.com was created by the Original “i8” it became all about sharing equipment with each other to figure out what worked best. We would FedEx battery packs to each other and microphones we were testing. Each one of us lives anywhere from Cali to Chicago to Vermont, so we have most of the country covered between the eight of us. We just kept shipping equipment and batteries to each other from one show to next hoping for a decent stream.

WAGGER: We should mention here that HoodStream.com is all volunteers, and that anyone who wants to get involved, pretty much, can.

JOEPHUS: We never do anything for profit. We’re all, unpaid volunteers – we pay our own way to get to shows, for tickets, hotel rooms, rental cars – we do this purely out of the love we have for Phish I our hearts. But once we created HoodStream.com, due to demand and requests from visitors to the site, we decided we needed to stream something that would entertain people between Phish tours. So, we decided we were going to start streaming shows 365 per year – old shows, new shows, and everything in between, 24 hours per day. We have more than 24 volunteers who help us keep the site up and running all day, every day. HoodStream.com is not an automated station; it’s people who take the time out of their day to change the shows in the queue each day. I really want people to know that we’re not just open when Phish is playing a live show; we’re here all year long. So, come visit us, enjoy some good tunes, chat with other Phans, and have a blast.

In fact, right now we are on a recruitment mission, asking anyone with an iPhone, Blackberry, Droid or any kind of smart-phone, to help us stream the shows. We’ve set up a HoodStream.com calendar online that lists all of the streamers for a given the show, and we also list people who say they will be streaming that night. That way, people will know whether or not that night’s show will be web cast live or not.

WAGGER: So, how are things shaping up for HoodStream.com coverage for Phish’s 2010 Summer Tour?

JOEPHUS: Right now, we have about half of the shows covered Phish 2010 Summer Tour, but we’re always lookingxz for more volunteers, and we’re always willing to help out with tips and advice to get people started streaming the shows.

NOTE FROM THEWAGGER: If anyone would like to help out they can contact the “i8” at Hoodstream@gmail.com; we are more than willing to help out with tips and advice on obtaining a good stream.

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