The Great Went
On Sunday, August 17, 1997, I was involved in a “once in a lifetime” performance for a classical musician. I performed on the main stage of “The Great Went,” a two-day Phish phestival that took place in Limestone, Maine in front of an audience that some were estimating at over 70,000. I conducted Bangor Symphony Orchestra musicians in the hour-long, narrated version of Stravinsky’s Histoire du Soldat. The work and our group was introduced to the Phish phans by Trey Anastasio, Phish’s leader, who just prior to our performance requested a short history lesson from me on the genesis of the work. He dutifully took notes and introduced it to the crowd as a sage professor yields words of wisdom to the admiring class. How, I hear you ask, did this come about? Trey had sudied music in college and was a great fan of Stravinsky and Debussy. He simply desired to share his enjoyment of this music with his followers and expose them to new kinds of music (for them). It was quite a thrill in spite of the fact that it was wicked cold on stage and the wind was blowing so hard that the music stands had to be duct-taped down to the floor so as not to sail away. And it was a strange sensation, indeed, at the end, after having acknowledged the narrator and the musicians, turning to 70,000 pairs of eyes, raising my arms in acknowledgment of their attention, and receiving a roar of appreciation in return. After the Stravinsky, a string quartet played an arrangement of Clair de Lune while a glider performed aerial stunts to the music, at times crossing right through the full moon of the early evening. It really was beautiful, …seriously.
The whole event was awesome in the true sense of the word. For two days, the former Loring Air Force Base (now Loring Commerce Center) became the second largest city in Maine. It had a little “village” complete with Post Office, ATM, many (but not enough) Porto-potties, and lots of food and crafts stands. Once the gates were open to the concert and village area several things became immediately noticeable: the omnipresent, pungent aroma of marijuana wafting through the air; the sprint for position at the main stage (even though the concert would still be 3 hours away); and sheer joy on everyone’s faces. Among the ancillary events at the festival was a photographer’s attempt to set some kind of record by photographing 400 nude people at once — he got 1,100 Phish phans to pose. Some of them, delighted with their newfound freedom, decided not to get dressed again after the photo shoot and continued to parade around as nature made them. Once the music began, a strange sort of individual dancing emerged: reminiscent of whirling dervishes.