Story by David Bienenstock
Photo by Kevin Dohner
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It had been a long day. It’d started the night before with a 15-hour drive from New York to Limestone, Maine, and now it was ending in the fantasyland carnival parking lot at Phish’s two-day end-of-the-tour camping extravaganza. The ground where I stood had once been Loring Airforce Base, but it was no longer. Now it represented something quite the opposite – freedom, music, hippie girls, and vendors eager to satisfy every appetite. I wondered what the old Base Commander would think if he’d been there to see it.
Jaime was a hardened veteran of 85 Phish concerts; this had been a good show for her so far, but nothing overly special. For me, the draw at these festivals has always been the spectacle and the autonomy, not so much the music, though I’d been treated to a few of my favorites, including "AC/DC Bag," "Down with Disease," and a ripping cover of the Velvet Underground classic "Rock and Roll." Between the rockers, Phish were fairly diffuse – they would drift away, and it would go on for a long, long time before they returned to any recognizable chords. But that’s par for the course with Phish. IT was nothing I didn’t expect.
Jamie and I crisscrossed the immense rows of tents and happy campers for a few hours, grooving on the post-modern blend of communal spirit and hard-core capitalism. Hugs were free, and everything else cost money. But there were no corporate sponsors. And the cops kept to themselves. If you weren’t careful, you might have been fooled into thinking you live in a free country – an illusion, even if temporary, which was in itself worth the cost of entry and 30 hard hours in the backseat of the car.
At some point, Jaime and I stopped for a rest. We just so happened to be sitting in front of the base’s imposing, almost sinister-looking air traffic control tower (see pic above). And then it just came to life, right then, right in front of our supernaturally wide and disbelieving eyes. Purple lights flashed from the control tower in every direction, quickly followed by giant strobes. Strange noises began emanating from the structure, building in intensity. I couldn’t be sure, but it looked like tiny men in all-white outfits were repelling down the sides. In three words: What the Fuck? And then up on top of the tower, barely large enough to be distinctly discernable, the silhouette of the Phish quartet appeared from the ether, jamming away on some ambient tangent, outlined by multi-colored projections, smoke, and the sky. IT was really, really cool.