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
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
"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
"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
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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