Feels Like Home: Phish in Maine
by Adam Perry for the Kennebec Journal
In the mid-to-late ’90s—Phish’s peak in popularity—the Vermont jam-rock band regularly sold out multiple nights at big-city sports arenas like Madison Square Garden and repeatedly drew as many as 85,000 people to remote locations such as Oswego, New York, and Limestone, Maine. The group continued packing mega-venues during its first spate of touring after a two-year hiatus from 2000-2002 and could’ve easily continued to do so after taking another break from 2004 until last year. However, on its current tour Phish is treating fans to more intimate shows in small towns like Manchester, N.H., Amherst, Mass., and—on Tuesday—Augusta.
According to local Phish-Head Steve Goedeck, longtime owner of the notable head shop Cosmic Charlie’s, Phish’s impending visit to the 8,000-capacity Augusta Civic Center is no surprise.
“Well, I would like to say it’s happening because this is, like, their home,” he says. “Maine is kinda their home turf, so the shows that happen here are always just magical. I guess that’s the best way I can explain it: It’s all about Maine, the energy that floats around Maine for some reason. It just feels like their home.”
Despite rumors, Goedeck had nothing to do with bringing Phish to Augusta on Tuesday for their first-ever show here.
“I got Phish to come to town? I would hope I had some influence in it, but no. I just think, with [Phish drummer Jon] Fishman living here in Lincolnville, and their free shows at Amy’s Farm back in the day, this is kind of their home state.”
Goedeck, like many Phish Heads, has seen the band many times—“probably 50 or 100 times,” he says, “somewhere around there.” But last November’s concert in Portland, at the Cumberland Civic Center, was the finest he can remember attending. That night, Phish covered Lynyrd Skynyrd, Los Lobos and the Velvet Underground, and wowed Maine fans with a seamless second-set that featured tunes from its 1988 debut Junta through its latest release, 2009’s Joy.
“That was a killer show—unbelievable,” says Goedecke. “I think it’s the best Phish show I’ve ever seen, and I went to the ‘Y2K’ one down in Florida on New Year’s Eve  in the Everglades. I’ve seen them every time they played up in Limestone, and I’m telling you, man, they crushed it [in Portland]. They were just on fire, man.”
In 1997, 1998 and 2003, Phish played two-day, six-set concerts at Loring Airforce Base in Limestone that attracted approximately 65,000 fans each. At the August 2003 “It Festival” in Limestone, the quirky Vermont quartet even appeared without notice at 2am on top of the 100-foot control tower for an hour-long improvisation complete with aerial dancers suspended by safety ropes. It’s hard to argue the ambitiousness of such stunts, which harken back to Phish’s performance in a flying hotdog at Madison Square Garden 15 years ago, but some music lovers simply don’t go for the combination of rock ’n’ roll and improvisation. Others can’t warm to the idea of thousands of hippies descending on their town, either, but Goedeck is anxious for Phish to return to Augusta for a larger event.
“I was trying to get Dan Nichols, the Community Economic Development Leader with the city [and also a Phish fan], to come down, because I’ve already had a couple of meetings with them about, you know, rolling out the red carpet for [Phish]. Maybe send them some nice flowers, find out what their favorite fruits are, some beverages or something, and mail ‘em to their hotel room…just to get them, in the future, to come back and maybe do a multi-day venue. I tell you, the economic impact is just incredible.”
And then some. Phish’s three Limestone concerts have brought in approximately $1.5 million each to Maine.
“That’s a lot of money,” says Goedecke. “We want to promote a positive message about this, because, seriously, if they would come and play a weekend venue here, every hotel would be booked 30-40 miles around; you’d have a ton of people here; every store in the area would do well; it would just be a lot of money for the area. And it needs it. We really need some money brought here. Our downtowns are struggling.”
Just a few months ago, the 2,000-population mountain town of Telluride, Colo., was able to host Phish and its traveling fanbase for two shows without the sort of problems irresponsible Phish Heads and Dead Heads have previously caused in and around smaller communities than, say, Boston. The trick was to cut off entry to the city to anyone without a ticket or proof of Telluride residence. Whether that can and will happen in Augusta is yet to be seen, but for now fans like Goedeck are really more concerned with hearing their favorite Phish tunes on Tuesday.
His pick? “I’d like to see ‘Velvet Sea.’”
We’re hoping for something more adventurous. Maybe “Col. Forbin’s Ascent” or “Reba.”