This Tuesday and Wednesday, Phish will take the stage for two shows at the Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion — bringing the band’s total number of shows in Maine to 46 by the time the lights go down Wednesday night.
Just as Maine holds a unique place in the legendary jam band’s history, Phish means a lot to many Maine residents, who have watched the band grow from humble beginnings as a ragtag New England jam band to its status today as one of the greatest live rock acts of all time.
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No other rock band can boast such a long and colorful history in Maine — not even the Grateful Dead, the band that Phish most closely resembles in terms of impact. The Dead played 16 shows in Maine in the 1970s and 1980s, the most famous of which was a 1980 concert in Lewiston that drew between 25,000 and 30,000 people. The Great Went, Phish’s first festival in Limestone in 1997, drew around 70,000.
Here’s a history of Phish’s more than three-decade relationship with Maine.
October 1984: Singer-guitarist Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon and drummer Jon Fishman, alongside former guitarist Jeff Holdsworth, had been playing together for a year as of October 1984, but that month is when they performed in their hometown of Burlington, Vermont, for the first time under the name Phish. Keyboardist Page McConnell joined the band in September 1985, and Holdsworth left in March 1986, solidifying the band’s four-piece lineup.
January 1989: Phish played its first shows in Maine over the course of a freezing January weekend in 1989. The band’s very first show in Maine was at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor on Jan. 20, followed by a show on Jan. 21 at the Oronoka Restaurant, a now-defunct eatery and bar on Route 2 in Orono. A third show was played on Jan. 25 at the Penny Post, a long-gone music venue in downtown Old Town.
Darron Collins, now the president of the College of the Atlantic, was a freshman at the college back in 1989, and was at that very first Phish show.
“It was absolutely one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen. Whenever I go into the Great Hall I think of it,” Collins said in a 2013 interview when Phish last played in Bangor. “It’s funny, though — that was just before the internet started coming together, and back in the early ’90s when you’d do a web search for College of the Atlantic, the first thing that would come up would be ‘Phish at COA.’ It was like that for several years, before we had our website up and running.”
Later that year, Phish played several shows at the long-gone Tree Cafe in Portland, at Bates College in Lewiston, and at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, before returning to College of the Atlantic in November 1989. The band played in Portland a number of times in 1990, before playing a locally famous concert in November 1990 at Lengyel Gym on the University of Maine campus in Orono.
August 1991: In 1991, a few years after it began touring nationally, Phish headlined its first full-fledged outdoor festival at Larrabee Farm, a horse farm in Auburn. Larrabee Farm was run by the band’s first big fan, Amy Skelton, who attended the University of Vermont with Fishman and most of the rest of the band.
The “Amy’s Farm” show is mythical in Phish lore, as it was the first large-scale concert the band played, drawing more than 2,500 people. Drawing huge amounts of people to far-flung locales in Maine became a running theme for the band in the years to come.
November 1994: Though the band’s first-ever show in Bangor was on May 7, 1993, its Nov. 2, 1994, show at the Bangor Auditorium has become the one committed to the Phish history books. Zeth Lundy, public information coordinator for the city of Bangor, was a senior at Orono High School when he attended with his bandmates from his band Polyester Juliette.
[After two decades, Phish concerts continue to evoke strong memories in Limestone]
“We were a jam band ourselves and a few of us were really into Phish, so to have them come to town and play a show blew our little minds,” Lundy said. “I remember everyone standing up from the seats and just bouncing the entire time — the whole place felt like it was bouncing.”
The band’s 30-minute version of “Tweezer” at that 1994 show in Bangor — an improvisational jam that has been a staple of Phish shows for nearly 30 years, and has changed and morphed with every successive tour — is one of the band’s definitive versions of the song. The Bangor version of “Tweezer” was included on “A Live One,” Phish’s 1995 live album, which went on to sell more than a million copies, making it the band’s first platinum-selling record.
August 1997: In 1996, the band played its first major festival, the Clifford Ball, held at the decommissioned Plattsburgh Air Force Base in upstate New York, just across Lake Champlain from Burlington. Buoyed by the success in Plattsburgh, a second two-day festival, The Great Went, was held Aug. 16 and 17, 1997, at another decommissioned base: Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, way up north in Aroostook County.
The Great Went attracted close to 70,000 people, temporarily making Limestone the biggest city in Maine. Though the vast majority of attendees were from outside the state, lots of Mainers contributed to the festival — including the Bangor Symphony Orchestra, which was hired to play Debussy and Stravinsky on the Saturday afternoon of the festival.
As Phish fan Scott Bernstein wrote about Limestone-area residents in his 2017 remembrance of the festival, “They were as intrigued by us as we were of them, and each local I met was nicer than the next. Most seemed to appreciate the boost to the local economy.”
To this day, on phish.net, the band’s biggest and longest-running fansite, the first day of the Great Went is rated by fans as among the band’s top 10 best shows of all time. In 2017, on the festival’s 20th anniversary, the University of Maine at Presque Isle ran a retrospective of photos and artwork from attendees and locals alike.
August 1998: A year after The Great Went, Phish returned to Loring to host its third festival: Lemonwheel, which on Aug. 15 and 16 drew almost as many people to The County as the first Loring festival. Lemonwheel boasted some unique attractions in addition to the band itself: a ferris wheel, circus performers, a live elephant and, at the end of the weekend, an enormous elephant sculpture that sprayed water all over the audience.
August 2003: After a massive Millenium Eve festival held in Florida, Dec. 30-31, 1999, Phish took nearly four years off from festivals, and took more than two years off from performing or recording entirely.
The band returned to festivals with It, held Aug. 2-3, 2003, once again at Loring. The festival again drew more than 60,000 people, and the sets the band played over the festival’s two days are held in nearly as high esteem by fans as the sets played at The Great Went six years earlier — especially the 3 a.m. “Tower Set,” when the band played from atop the base’s air traffic control tower.
[Phish fans share memories of concerts past]
It would be the band’s last festival at Loring. Though Phish has played in Maine many times since, its shows have instead been at established music venues in larger towns, such as the Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor, the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland and the Augusta Civic Center.
2006: Though no one in Phish is a stranger to Maine, the band’s connection to Maine was further solidified in 2006, when drummer Jon Fishman and his family moved permanently to the Waldo County town of Lincolnville. Fishman and his family have since established deep local roots in coastal Maine. In summer 2017, when Fishman was elected to the Lincolnville select board. In October 2017, Fishman and his wife, Briar, opened the Lincolnville Center General Store, a popular grocery, bakery and eatery on Main Street.
In 2018, Fishman even toured with the Mallett Brothers Band, one of the most popular bands in Maine.
June 2019: Phish is set to play its two biggest shows in Maine in six years — and its longest run of shows in the state since It in 2003 — when it plays Tuesday and Wednesday at the Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor. The two concerts come just over 30 years after the band played its first show in Maine.