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Nature throws a curveball at ‘Curveball’

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Unsafe water conditions, caused by severe rain and flooding, forced the cancellation of Phish's sold out three-day "Curveball" festival, due to take place last weekend at Watkins Glen International raceway, in Watkins Glen, N.Y. Maine Phish fan Brett Slater of JEMP Radio snapped this image on I-86 West near Binghamton, New York. Unsafe water conditions, caused by severe rain and flooding, forced the cancellation of Phish's sold out three-day "Curveball" festival, due to take place last weekend at Watkins Glen International raceway, in Watkins Glen, N.Y. Maine Phish fan Brett Slater of JEMP Radio snapped this image on I-86 West near Binghamton, New York. (photo courtesy of Brett Slater/JEMP)

Maine fans react to Phish's cancellation of N.Y. festival

No one saw this coming. Severe flooding forced the last-minute cancellation of Phish’s sold-out three day “Curveball” festival last weekend at Watkins Glen International racetrack in Watkins Glen, New York.

As the band was preparing to take the stage for its traditional pre-festival sound check last Thursday afternoon, they were informed that the festival, more than a year in the planning, would have to be cancelled due to unsafe water conditions.

A collectively composed statement from Phish, written behind the stage moments after they were given the news, was immediately posted to the band’s website and social media accounts.

“We are still in shock,” the band said in the message. “The entire site is already set up and ready to go after literally months of work by our beloved hardworking crew, many of whom have been here for weeks. Our families are here, our gear is set, our tents are up. We keep waiting for someone to come over and tell us that there is a solution, and that the festival can go on.  Unfortunately, it is not possible.”

BUZZ---Phish-APThe New York State Department of Health and Schuyler County issued a joint statement outlining their decision to withhold required permits that would have allowed the festival to take place.

“This week’s severe storm created untenable conditions, including the inability to deliver clean drinking water to patrons and vendors as confirmed by test results delivered today,” the statement read in part. “Working collaboratively with Watkins Glen International and Phish, the County and the State explored all options to allow the event to continue as scheduled.”

While an official cap on the number of tickets sold was not released, it is believed that approximately 40,000 tickets had been sold for the “Curveball” festival, which was expected to include at least seven sets of music from the band over three nights. Phish announced in July that the event was completely sold out.

“Curveball” was to be the 11th weekend festival from Phish and the third to take place at Watkins Glen International, following 2011’s “Super Ball IX” and 2015’s “Magnaball.”

Many festival attendees with camping passes were already on location at the site when news of the cancellation broke, with thousands more en route to the location, including Maine Phish fans Race Ashlyn and Brett Slater, who traveled to the festival together to represent Phish-oriented online radio station JEMP Radio.

(Full disclosure: I host a weekly program on JEMP Radio called ‘The Other Mike’s Corner,’ airing each Wednesday at 2:00 p.m.)

According to Slater, host of the Grateful Dead-themed “The Dead Zone,” airing each Friday at 2:00 p.m. on JEMP Radio, he and Ashlyn were initially in disbelief when news broke of the cancellation. The pair was approximately two hours away from Watkins Glen International when they received the news in a phone call from JEMP Radio’s Andy Michaels, host of “All Things Reconsidered Live,” airing each Sunday at 7:00 p.m.

“We didn’t believe it at first,” Slater said. “Then we looked online and tweets started surfacing and then we saw the highway sign that said ‘Phish Festival Cancelled.’”

JEMP Radio founder Ashlyn says that he and Slater considered driving on to the festival location before making further plans.

“We were going to try to go to the venue to see what was going on, but decided against it when we saw video of the band buses leaving the site,” he said.

“We thought they might figure something out or come up with a contingency plan,” Slater added. “Then someone posted video of crews actually dismantling the staging and lighting rigs.”

Slater says that most fans handled news of the festival’s cancellation relatively well, knowing that the decision was out of the band’s hands.

“Most people were like ‘Hey, no problem. These things happen. We’ll see you in the fall,’” Slater said, adding that fans silently commiserated on the ride back to home. 

“On the way back east, we passed all of these campers with everyone wearing their ‘Curveball’ wristbands. We waved to each other, sadly, across the lanes of traffic,” he said.

Ashlyn says he feels especially badly for festival vendors who had stocked enough supplies, much of it perishable, to last for the entire weekend.

“The band probably had insurance for this kind of thing, but there are a lot of vendors at Phish festivals who probably didn’t,” Ashlyn said. “I feel the worst for those people who spent who knows how much time and money preparing to feed 30,000 people for four days or having enough beer on hand for a crowd of that size. I can’t imagine the financial loss they incurred. A lot of these vendors are small businesses. Phish allows them to set up and it’s a big payday for them. It’s a great opportunity to get in front of a lot of new people.”

Each of Phish’s previous festivals have featured unique surprises for fans in the form of bonus unannounced sets of music occurring somewhere on the festival site. For example, at 2003’s “IT” festival held at the site of the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, Phish performed an hourlong jam at 2:00 a.m. atop the base’s abandoned air control tower as acrobats rappelled from the sides which had been specially lit for the occasion.

Ashlyn, like most other Phish fans, wonders what the band had planned for “Curveball.”

“They had this amazing weekend planned and nobody, outside of the band, knows what it was going to be,” Ashlyn said. “When they do this again, will they call it ‘Curveball?’ Probably not. There’s tons of speculation and no one really knows what it was going to be or what is coming next.”

Though Slater says he shares the disappointment of all Phish fans over the cancellation of “Curveball,” he’s happy to be back at home in Wiscasset.

“I’m rested and showered. I came home with plenty of money, a suitcase full of clean clothes and a cooler full of beer from Boothbay Craft Brewery, so it’s not an entire wash,” he said.

Ashlyn says the one element of “Curveball” that he was most looking forward to is the one that most fans crave.

“The short answer is the music,” he said. “I was really looking forward to a weekend where the only thing we’re thinking about is wondering what they’re going to play next.”

Phish’s next performances are scheduled for August 31 to September 2 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado. A 14-date fall tour is scheduled to begin on October 16 in Albany, New York. 

Last modified on Thursday, 23 August 2018 13:38

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