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62,000 Attend Phish's Great Went

From the reception Phish phans received from the small towns along the way

to last weekend's (Aug. 16-17) Great Went concert in Limestone, Maine,

you'd think the festival-goers were returning war heroes.

"Everyone was out on their lawns, kids and parents, waving to us," said Rob

Foley, a 23-year-old Phishhead from the band's hometown of Burlington,

Vermont. "They had signs that said 'Glad You're Here,' 'Phish Phans

Welcome.' One little kid had a kiddy fishing pole with a sign that said

'Have Phun.'"

Foley, along with nine friends, caravaned from New York and Vermont to the

Great Went Phish festival, which was held at the decommissioned Loring Air

Force base. The Great Went (the title stems from David Lynch's film

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me) was the successor to last year's

Clifford Ball, staged at the decommissioned Plattsburgh base in Upstate New York.

As more than 60,000 phans pored into Limestone over the course of three days, they

wound up creating the state's largest city out of its typically rural

climes. Portland, Maine's largest municipality, is located a hefty six-hour drive away.

Phish manager John Paluska told ATN that the band was amazed to see this

year's event outdraw last year's Clifford Ball. At the same, he said the

Limestone's remote location cut down on potential problems for the event.

"By moving it up in extreme northern Maine, we figured it would filter out

a lot of the more casual onlookers, and filter it down to the people

committed to a full weekend experience."

Although exact ticket counts are not yet available, Paluska said the Great

Went sold 62,000 full weekend tickets -- which provided access to both

Saturday's and Sunday's concerts--as well as some individual tickets for

the Sunday show only. Last year, when tickets were sold on a per night

basis, the Clifford Ball hosted 58,000 phans each night.

Phan Foley attributed much of the Great Went's success to concert

organizers, who mapped out a two and a half mile runway into numbered

camping, parking, concert and vending areas, as well as to the friendly

vibe that permeates nearly every Phish concert. "Everyone was really open,

really friendly," he said. "We forgot a hammer to put the stakes in for our tent, and

the guy next door said, 'Here, use mine.' And one couple we were with was

having trouble with this small tie-down tent and he completely helped them

tie it together."

While the event featured the attendant vendors, sandwich shacks and

piercing trailer that are requisite features of the '90s tour circuit, the

Great Went also laid claim to a number unique ingredients. There was the

Maze of Maize, for one, a human-sized labyrinth cut into a cornfield. For

those wishing to spread word of the event, the Great Went offered its own

Phish post office, complete with band postcards and Great Went postmarks.

The festival also featured its own FCC-sanctioned radio station, which

broadcast live Phish tunes, as well as those of such Phish influences as Sun Ra

and the Meters. Also on hand was performance artist and photographer

Spencer Tunick, who staged one of his surgical strike naked photo sessions

on the grounds Sunday morning with more than 1,100 eager participants.

For phans like Foley, however, the music was the primary draw of the

weekend. On both Saturday and Sunday nights, Phish played three extended

sets (the first set Saturday lasted a full two hours), plus encores. As is

typical for the band, known for it's Grateful Dead-like tradition of

improvisational jamming, each set was completely different, and no song was

repeated.

"They did a bunch of stuff that they don't do at other shows,"

said Foley, who has followed Phish for six years. He cited Saturday

night's fireworks display as well as something of a performance art piece

on Sunday night as examples.

At different points during Sunday's set, each of the four Phish members

moved to the side of the stage, where they painted pieces of wood and

metal, which were then melded into one piece. "Then they brought it out

and decided to pass it from the stage, through the sea of people," Foley

said. The piece was then placed in the middle of a similar creation that

had been made by phans throughout the weekend, and set ablaze to close out

the set.

"Burning it during the music symbolized that the fans and the band were

connected by the music," Foley explained. Having the piece created by

both Phish and their fans signified the unique connection between the two

groups.

Both the Bangor Daily News and the Portland Press Herald

reported an overwhelmingly favorable reaction to the Great Went from the

citizens of Aroostook County, which lost its biggest employer when the

Loring Air Force base was decommissioned. Organizers estimated that local

communities saw an influx of $10 to $20 million as a result of the festival,

according to the Press Herald. Of the 1,000 workers required to

stage the Great Went, about half came from Aroostook County.

Asked whether next year's follow-up to the Great Went will be held at

Loring, Paluska said, "There's definitely a pretty good chance. We were

welcomed by the local community and the local businesses in a way that

we've never experienced. The state police were really wonderful to deal

with and we had a minimum of problems, so we're pretty encouraged by our

experience this year."

Wherever the event is held, Foley said he intends to be there.

"Definitely," said the phan. "It's all about the music."

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