They came to see Phish, they partied hard and some left in handcuffs.
The popular jam band’s three-night gig at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center last week resulted in about 200 fans being arrested on a broad array of charges — most associated with the possession or sale of drugs.
Authorities encountered a veritable pharmacy of illegal drugs during traffic stops outside the venue and patrols inside Saratoga Spa State Park. But compared with previous years, many say the Phish fans inundating the Spa City and surrounding area seemed rather tame. Though law enforcement was kept busy throughout the Independence Day weekend, relatively few of the arrests resulted in major drug seizures and none of the emergency calls associated with the concerts resulted in serious injury or death.
“While the number of arrests remained relatively consistent, this year was an improvement because we didn’t have death or serious injury,” Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy III said. “The vast majority of concert-goers had safe and enjoyable evenings.”
One teenage fan searched by police was found to have in excess of 40 heroin packets in a body cavity.
The concerts also resulted in 25 calls for assistance, including eight requests for an ambulance. It was unclear whether the ambulance requests resulted in hospitalization, but Murphy said his office wasn’t informed of any overdose deaths or other fatalities.
The joint operation this year between Saratoga Springs police, state troopers, state park police and Saratoga County sheriff’s deputies also resulted in the confiscation of 35 nitrous oxide tanks of various sizes. In total, the four law enforcement agencies netted 34 felony arrests and wrote citations for a host of misdemeanors and violations.
Saratoga Springs police issued 33 tickets and made 47 arrests associated with Phish. Lt. Robert Jillson said the arrests were all outside of the park and occurred over 17 hours of enforcement on July 3 and 5.
“Really nothing out of the ordinary,” he said of those arrested. “There was really nothing that shocked us.”
Likewise, Saratoga County sheriff’s deputies didn’t notice anything outside of what has become the norm for Phish shows — concerts that can draw up to 25,000 people per night. Chief Deputy Richard Castle said everything seemed to go smoothly; even the private campgrounds frequented by Phish fans seemed much more controlled than in previous years.
“Our interaction was much calmer than past years,” he said. “All in all, it was a smooth operation.”
Of course, attendance at the shows was likely less than in some previous years. The band’s July 3 performance was preceded by torrential downpours that prompted SPAC to open the gates nearly an hour later than normal.
Also, one of the three concerts was held on Independence Day, which could have held down attendance. Final figures for attendance weren’t available late Wednesday.
In the past, the hard-drugging crowd often associated with Phish has created a headache for law enforcement and emergency personnel. Shows in the past have resulted in a number of overdoses, serious injuries and even deathes.
Last year, a 40-year-old Vermont man was airlifted from SPAC to Albany Medical Center during one of the shows and later died of an unknown medical condition. In 2012, an addled woman was seriously injured after falling from a 25-foot portable light erected at the park for Phish.
Murphy said the Phish shows this year — though still making a lot of work for his office — fortunately lacked the degree of problems in the past. Though there were still a large number of arrests, he said the vast majority of Phish fans seemed to have no problems.
“Everybody had fun,” he said. “It was a win-win.”