People wait in line before the Phish concert on the Bangor Waterfront Tuesday evening. Credit: Gabor Degre

Phish fans — or ‘phans,’ as they’re sometimes referred to — from all over the country began to descend upon Bangor on Tuesday afternoon, ahead of the band’s Tuesday evening concert at the Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion.

While lots of concerts on the waterfront sell more than 10,000 tickets, very few bring with them the kind of cult following that Phish does. The list of bands that can boast of fans who have seen hundreds of their shows — sometimes entire tours — is very, very short.

J.B., a Pennsylvania resident who declined to give his last name, was in town with a group of four other friends from towns and cities across the Northeast, whom he had met while attending Phish shows over the past 20 years. All five said they had each seen at least 200 shows, if not more, including Lemonwheel and IT, two of Phish’s massive festivals at the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone in 1998 and 2003, respectively.

[A brief history of Phish’s 30-year relationship with Maine]

All five friends also considered their travels to see the band as being as much about friendship as it is the music — though the music is, of course, the reason why everyone shows up.

“I think the special thing about these shows in Maine is that, because it’s a little further away from everything else, it really makes sure that the people here are coming for the music and because they love the band,” J.B. said. “I think that then makes the band play an even better show.”

Adrian Sharpe and John Napolitano, both from Charlotte, North Carolina, are longtime friends and Phish fans, and have been following the band for more than 15 years — 20 years in Sharpe’s case. They both had booths selling T-shirts and other accessories next to each other in the Shakedown area, a.k.a. the pop-up market that band followers set up before each concert.

Credit: Gabor Degre

Bangor’s Shakedown was located right next to the concert venue and featured vendors selling everything from grilled cheese sandwiches and strawberry shortcake to limited-edition tour posters and glassware.

“I remember being kind of blown away when I first started that you could not only go to the show, but you could also make money beforehand,” Sharpe said. “I think that’s the really cool thing about it — that it’s this traveling economy that goes from town to town.”

Phish fans are a bit like a traveling carnival — a carnival full of people who like to have a good time while dancing and imbibing, yes, but a carnival that brings with it an economic boost. Hotels throughout Bangor were near capacity, and those offering airport shuttle service saw guests from all over the country flying in just to see Phish.

“Yesterday I picked up people from New Jersey, from Texas, flying into Bangor by themselves just to see Phish,” said Terri Giardi, an associate manager at the Residence Inn by Marriott, near Bass Park. “We are definitely much busier than on a normal concert night.”

Local shops offered discounts to concert-goers if they showed their tickets, and local restaurants and bars including Blaze and Nocturnem Drafthaus curated beer lists featuring brews created for Phish fans, such as Sierra Nevada’s Foam and Feelin’ It and Orono Brewing Company’s new IPA inspired by Phish.

Phish’s charitable foundation, Waterwheel, donates proceeds from merchandise sold at each concert to a variety of nonprofit organizations. Another organization, the Mockingbird Foundation, was started by Phish fans and makes donations in each tour community to support local music education. According to Mockingbird executive director Ellis Godard, $1,500 was donated this week to the Bangor School Department music program.

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Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.