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Saratoga gears up for annual Phish visit

Thursday, July 3, 2014
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Summer employee Meghan Hampton, has been preparing many "Phish Food" ice cream cones and dishes for customers at the Saratoga Ben & Jerry's the last few days.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
Summer employee Meghan Hampton, has been preparing many "Phish Food" ice cream cones and dishes for customers at the Saratoga Ben & Jerry's the last few days.

Phish at SPAC: 22 years and counting

Here is the history of Phish concerts at SPAC:

July 3-5, 2014 (three shows)

July 5-7, 2013 (three shows)

July 6-8, 2012 (three shows)

June 19-20, 2010 (two shows)

Aug. 16, 2009 (one show)

Aug. 14, 2007 (w/ Dave Matthews Band, one show)

July 2, 2006 (Trey, Mike and The Duo (G.R.A.B.), one show)

June 19-20, 2004: (two shows)

June 20, 2003 (w/The Dead, one show)

Aug. 5, 2001 (Trey Anastasio Band, one show)

June 26, 1995 (one show)

July 10, 1994 (one show)

July 27, 1992 (w/ Santana, one show)

Source: Phish.net

— They are back, a Saratoga Performing Arts Center staple that could be considered a house band. And they will bring their crowd — three nights’ worth, actually — that may be a tad older and tamer than years past but still vast in numbers.

Phish returns to Saratoga for a three-show run — their 19th, 20th and 21st concerts at SPAC — starting tonight and running through Saturday. Expect sellout crowds pushing 30,000 at each of the concerts, as well as throngs of visitors filling Broadway and the rest of Saratoga Springs by day.

“They have a tremendous history here, no question,” said John Huff, general manager of promoter Live Nation. “To a certain extent, this is hometown play for them, being so close to [their native] Vermont.”

Ben & Jerry’s on Phila Street has stocked up on extra Phish Food ice cream (chocolate with marshmallow, caramel and fudge fish). Police will beef up their numbers — expect a heavy Stop-DWI presence, a given anyway considering the shows coincide with the Fourth of July weekend. Up the street from the ice cream shop, the Magic Moon is prepared with stickers, concert blankets, T-shirts and other necessities at what one reviewer described as a “metaphysical boutique.”

“We always see a big influx, especially this weekend. It’s always a favorite spot for people who come up for Phish,” manager J’lyn Coppola said.

Is it overwhelming? “It’s a very fun overwhelming. It’s more of a rush … with the energy of the people,” she said.

Tushita Heaven, another shop, also looks forward to the crowd working its way downtown.

“The Phish crowd tends to come to our store,” said Talyah Alpern, a retail associate. “We love it when the people come out.”

Saratoga Springs police Lt. Robert Jillson said it’s the size of the crowds, rather than any general unruliness, that presents issues.

“They are not all creating issues or problems,” Jillson said. “They come in and they do their thing and they move along.

“We have to keep a more prolific presence for this particular event. We will probably put additional cops out there just because of the volume of people.”

Jillson said he has not seen a great difference in the Phish crowd through the years, but Huff said while the band continues to attract younger fans, the original followers are getting older and less rowdy.

“It certainly has grown up with the band,” Huff said of the crowd. “A lot of Phish fans have careers and families but still love the music and want to be part of the culture.

“The Phish fans are a lot better behaved than they were 12 to 15 years ago.”

Marcia White, SPAC’s president and executive director, agrees.

“They are a very respectful group; our box office staff says that every year,” she said. “Many of them are maturing to the point they have become a little more mellow.”

SPAC is not only preparing for Phish, but also the New York City Ballet, which will perform at SPAC from Tuesday through the following Sunday. Workers this week installed the needed stage lights and scenery for the ballet, which will remain hung but hidden through the Phish shows.

“Preparation for Phish and the New York City Ballet is taking place simultaneously,” White said. “We’ve done this before.”

Live Nation said it has this Phish-at-SPAC thing down.

“It takes more staffing, of course, and more coordination of that staff and times,” Huff said. “We are certainly ready. This is the third season we have done three shows in a row with Phish.”

Phish phans attending tonight’s show should be prepared for potentially tough pre-concert weather.

“Thursday night there is a threat of showers and thunderstorms, which could produce some very hefty rainfalls,” said meteorologist Vasil Koleci of the National Weather Service. “It will be more earlier in the evening. We are looking at … 3 to 8 p.m., then scattered showers.” Temperatures will be in the 60s by showtime.

Friday and Saturday pose no major weather threats, with nighttime lows in the mid-50s.

 
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