Twelve years ago, a first-of-its-kind event was held at the former Loring Air Force Base that drew thousands of people and, for a few days, turned Limestone into the ‘largest city’ in the State of Maine. The 1997 event was called The Great Went and behind it was the American rock band Phish. The overnight-city phenomenon was repeated twice – in 1998 for the band’s Lemonwheel concert and in 2003 for the IT festival. Together, the three concerts brought more than 200,000 concertgoers to northern Maine and pumped more than $25 million into the economy. This month, a week-long event at the University of Maine at Presque Isle will be held to reflect upon the three Phish concerts held in northern Maine, the creative energy surrounding them, and their impact on Aroostook County.
The Phish Retrospective – which is being co-organized by Art Professor Anderson Giles, Cultural Affairs Director Carol Ayoob, and Reed Art Gallery Director Sandra Huck – will be held from Sept. 28 to Nov. 21. The retrospective will include a forum, a documentary film viewing, a guest lecture, and an art gallery exhibition.
“This event is a salute to the emphasis on communal creative energy which Phish should be acknowledged and remembered for in terms of redefining the boundaries of what concerts can be,” Professor Giles said.
As a precursor to the weeklong event, being sponsored by the University’s Reed Art Gallery, a special ceremony was held on Sept. 18 during Homecoming 2009 activities to unveil the IT Men – giant, 20-foot-tall, lime green traffic control figures formed out of plywood that once stood at the concert gates to the IT Music Festival and now have been installed on the west end of Pullen Hall in conjunction with the Phish Retrospective. These figures, carefully restored to resemble the way they appeared back in 2003, were unveiled to stand sentinel over the Retrospective activities.
The Retrospective event kicks off with a Phish Film on Tuesday, Sept. 29 at 7 p.m. in Wieden Auditorium. Organizers will show a short documentary film on the IT Festival by Finchwillow Productions. The film follows the 2003 music festival from set up and fan arrival to the many rock and art performances that took place during the festival and the aftermath of the event. Professor Giles will moderate a discussion to be held after the film is shown. The campus and community are invited to attend this event.
A Phish Forum will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 30 at 7 p.m. in the Campus Center. The forum will feature a discussion group and Q&A session on the three festivals and their many impacts on the northern Maine region. The campus and public are invited to attend.
On Thursday, Oct. 1, at 7 p.m. in the Campus Center, Brian Hamel will present a guest lecture on The Who, What and Why of Phish coming to Limestone, Maine. Hamel, the former director of the Loring Development Authority, will speak about the work it took to bring Phish to the area. The campus and community are encouraged to attend this event.
“When I took on the challenge of redeveloping the former Loring Air Force Base in June 1994, little did I know that this would lead to three memorable music extravaganzas performed by Phish,” Hamel said. “The economic, cultural and attitudinal impact of Phish’s presence in the County will be talked about for years, and I am glad for the opportunity to look back and reflect on the positive impact these concerts had on northern Maine.”
On Sunday, Oct. 4 at 2:30 p.m. in the Campus Center, the Retrospective will feature a talk by Mr. Kevin Shapiro, the band’s official archivist, on the inner workings of the Phish Archives and the historical context of the band’s festivals in Maine. His talk, Rock and Roll Archive: The Historic, Cultural and Musical Context of the Phish Festivals, will explore the connections among the band Phish, the culture of its fans and the relationship between art, music and festival participants. Audience participation is strongly encouraged for this interactive talk.
The Phish Retrospective culminates with the opening reception of the Phish Retrospective Exhibition on Sunday, Oct. 4 at 4 p.m. in the Reed Art Gallery. With a careful sense of documentation, Professor Giles has been able to put together an exhibition that will fill the gallery with a broad spectrum of artifacts and photographs that he has been actively collecting since 1997. The Phish Retrospective Exhibition will include an extensive collection of relics, memorabilia, posters, and art works from the three shows which will be featured in the gallery, located in the University’s Campus Center, from Oct. 4 through Nov. 21. The public is invited to attend the opening reception and view the exhibition during gallery hours throughout Nov. 21.
“With the current reunion of the Phish band, which is generating sell-out venues across the nation, we thought it appropriate to recall some of the fond memories of the three remarkable concerts held in northern Maine,” Giles said. “The Great Went, Lemonwheel and IT will be fondly remembered by legions of fans who not only enjoyed the concerts, but also the hospitality of Aroostook County people. These festivals were multi-layered creative extravaganzas, reminiscent of famed creative theorist John Cage’s ideas about the sharing of communal creative energy, in what he called ‘happenings.'”
Not coincidentally, the creative phenomenon that was generated by the Phish organization was recognized by national and international media outlets. Rolling Stone Magazine had a feature article about the IT Festival which remarked, “On August 2nd and 3rd, more than 60,000 Phish fans witnessed the end of Phish’s summer tour – and one of the most bizarre rock spectacles ever seen.”
All of this and more will be covered during the Phish Retrospective. WUPI radio will host guest Phish commentators and broadcast a rock jam or two. Organizers also have set up an interactive web site for Phish fans to record some of their memories and post images of The Great Went, Lemonwheel and IT Festivals.
For more information about the Retrospective, visit the website at www.umpi.edu/phish or contact Sandra Huck at 768-9611.