Phish fans descended on Lee’s Park Campground this weekend for three days of good vibes and improvisational jams at nearby SPAC, where the band is playing three shows through Sunday evening.
Shakedown Street, which could loosely be described as the main drag at Lee’s where most of the vendors congregate, was awash in tie-dye and dreadlocks, the air redolent with the scents of bug spray and marijuana.
Bingo Pete, named after his hometown of Binghamton, was doing brisk business Saturday afternoon at his T-shirt stand selling Phish- and Dead-related merchandise. He makes his living following legendary jam bands and their reincarnations — such as Dead & Company, which is made up of John Mayer and members of the original Grateful Dead — and selling T-shirts at their shows.
Phish, he said, certainly fits in that legendary category.
“Some of [Phish’s] songs really aren’t positive at all,” said Bingo Pete. “But it’s the improvisation, these bands are playing different shows every night.”
“It’s like life,” he said of Phish’s improvisational live style as well as other acts like Warren Haynes, which he’s followed to venues in Atlanta, Chicago and Tanglewood in western Massachusetts. He’s put 12,000 miles on his “church van” since the beginning of June. “It’s like a roll of the dice, you don’t know what’s coming next. Then you could hear one line in a song and it’ll hit you when you need it the most.”
Bingo Pete stopped going to Phish festivals in the 1990s because the fanbase was immature. Now, he said, things have changed.
“They’ve all grown up now,” he said. “A lot of the young punks are like elders now, some of them have kids. And the elders help keep us all in line.”
Nearby, Olivia Fauv and Josh Bailey were talking about the show Friday night, expounding on the sonic genius of Phish lead singer and guitarist Trey Anastasio.
“It was amazing,” gushed Fauv, who was seeing the band for the first time. “The show was a multi-dimensional vortex.”
“We were tripping balls,” chimed in Bailey. “Trey is a multi-dimensional warrior.”
Surrounding Shakedown Street on Saturday was a sea of cars and tents. Fans milled around with beer-filled coozies and munched on food. Many waited in line for the big yellow buses, provided by the campground, to take them to SPAC for Phish’s 7:30 p.m. set.
Chris Faso of Buffalo was also selling tie-dyed T-shirts. He said he’s been screen-printing textiles since he was 5 years old and has seen Phish between 30 and 40 times.
“The whole place is very friendly,” said Faso. “Everyone wants to run away with the circus.”
Faso, like everyone else, said Phish’s improvisational creativity is what brings people back year after year.
“Every show is different,” said Faso. “People want the freedom to do what they want, and they like the excitement of not knowing what’s going to happen next.”
There’s also the revelry component. Terrence Schoonerman of Troy stood under a nearby pop-up tent and told a reporter his tent was spinning Friday night from too much booze.
But despite the copious consumption of alcohol and substance, most conversations turned quickly to Phish’s music and the congenial community that it created in its devoted fan base.
Schoonerman’s friend, Rob Weber of Clifton Springs, said he’s been to every Phish show at SPAC going back to 2004.
“The music, the vibes, the energy,” said Weber, describing what he likes about a weekend at Lee’s and watching Phish. “Everybody’s pretty chill, every show is different.”
Dottie Mintline, who has worked at the campground since 2002, estimated there were well over 3,000 people at Lee’s this weekend. Mintline was managing the shuttle buses and had only good things to say about Phish fans.
“These guys are fabulous,” said Mintline. “For the most part they’re clean and they pick up after themselves.”