Phish back at Red Rocks 13 years after unofficial ban
The Denver Post
The last time Phish played Red Rocks Amphitheatre, in 1996, no one was prepared. And by the time police donned riot gear and started arresting the band’s fervent fans for overpartying in nearby Morrison, the damage was done.
In the midst of what one business owner called “an invasion,” 10 people went to jail, the town was turned upside down and the band was unofficially banned from Red Rocks for a decade.
This time around it will be different.
As Phish returns to the storied venue this evening for a rare four-night, sold-out stand, memories of the ugly clash between Phish-loving hippies and armored police are fading.
Thirteen years later, the “phans” have grown up, the cops are more cautious and local liquor-store owner Garry Briggs is stocked up.
“I’m ready this time,” said Briggs, who has erected a fort of blue-ribboned beer cases at his tiny Morrison Liquor store.
“I’ve got 700 extra cases of beer.”
No one, it seems, is holding a grudge against Phish, a Vermont-spawned quartet known for its improvisational shows and meandering, fun-loving compositions – as well as its allure to music lovers around the globe.
Certainly not the city of Denver, which owns and operates Red Rocks and heralded the band’s return with a mayoral proclamation that a Phish show at Red Rocks is “a quintessential Colorado concert experience.” The city has provided Morrison with portable toilets and extra trash Dumpsters.
The promoter, AEG Live Rocky Mountains, has opened a never-before-used parking lot and is welcoming fans to Red Rocks lots two hours earlier than usual, a nod to the band’s disciples, who appreciate the opportunity to commune before gathering stageside.
Police from the Colorado State Patrol, Golden, Morrison, Jefferson County and Denver are promising an “appropriate presence,” said Denver police spokesman Sonny Jackson.
“We are aware of the problems from 1996, and . . . we have a heightened awareness,” Jackson said.
And this time, the Phish Nation is a little more mature and a lot more affluent. In the past 13 years, nests have been left; lives changed. For many, jobs, kids and bills easily eclipse concerts. Phish fans likely had to run proposals for a four-day concert by their spouses.
“I didn’t know what to expect when I asked my wife,” said Bill McGilivray, a 35-year-old banking executive living in London who is joining his Vermont college pals – including an organic chemist, a Boston newspaper writer and a biotech firm exec – for a Phish-fanned reunion in Denver this weekend.
“I’ve always considered Phish the soundtrack and the behind-the- scenes fuel to both my career track and personal life,” McGilivray said. His wife agreed.
The band itself has taken an active role in preparing for the Red Rocks shows, said AEG Live vice president Don Strasberg.
“The Phish operation is the most professional and courteous in the music business,” he said. “They go to great lengths to be good partners with the local community, and they take great care of all their fans.”
The Red Rocks shows mark a resurrection of sorts for Phish, which disbanded five years ago as one of the world’s top-grossing touring acts.
Born in a Vermont dorm room in 1983, the band toured relentlessly for years, playing as many as 123 shows in 1994. The band harvested a spirited and loyal following that chased the four-top across the country, trading live recordings like small treasures. After more than two decades and nearly 1,200 live shows, the pace, the party and the whole scene eventually wore the band down.
This spring, Phish reunited, launching into an 18-show spring tour in March. Tickets were snapped up. The four Red Rocks concerts – at 9,000 seats, one of the band’s smaller venues – sold out in minutes.
It hasn’t all gone smoothly. Phish’s return to the stage in March was marred by a heavy police crackdown. Nearly 200 cops swarmed the parking lots surrounding the Hampton Coliseum in Virginia, arresting 194 fans and leveling 245 drug charges. A news release following the arrests trumpeted that police had seized – precisely down to the penny – “$1,213,882.80” worth of drugs. Undercover narcotics cops seem to work most every Phish concert. Jackson, with the Denver Police Department, declined to discuss any drug interdiction plans.
All the planning and preparations for the rare four-night string of consecutive concerts – only two other bands have played four sold-out nights in a row at Red Rocks: Huey Lewis and the News in 1985 and the Dave Matthews Band in 2005 – is anchored on the hope that Phish’s fans have matured.
The band’s fans do seem to be shouldering their share of responsibility for a safe party. Many are planning to take buses or shuttles to the venue.
“I have several friends going to the show, and they are going out for big dinners and getting hotel rooms and shuttles to the concerts,” said Jenny Schiavone, director of communications for Denver’s Theaters and Arenas division.
Michael Powers also sees today’s Phish fans as wealthier and wiser. His Sage and Spirit Travel has sold several hundred concert packages, at an average of $1,125 each. The deal does not include tickets but provides hotel rooms, shuttle rides to the show and late-night concerts at the Denver West Marriott, which has been overtaken by Phish fans this weekend.
“People seem to have grown up a little bit,” said Powers, who has been selling concert packages for six years. “But they still like to have fun, and there’s a sense of community in that.”
Jason Blevins: 303-954-1374 or firstname.lastname@example.org