60,000 Phish fans make their way home Stores bustle with business; state police help traffic flow

This story was published on Aug. 05, 2003 on Page B1 in all editions of the Bangor Daily News

LIMESTONE – The exodus of more than 60,000 Phish fans started around 11 p.m. Sunday from the Loring Commerce Centre, the LCC, and continued through the night into Monday as people from all over North America made their way home from the two-day It festival.

Police departments south of the festival venue all reported massive traffic, but no major problems, as the estimated 23,000 cars ambled off the former Loring Air Force Base at the rate of about 2,000 per hour. The venue was clear of concertgoers by 4 p.m. Monday.

By late Monday afternoon, police reported nearly two dozen accidents in Aroostook County, but no injuries. Three people were hospitalized after a rollover on I-95 near Medway.

Organizers claimed they sold 60,000 tickets, but police put the numbers higher, stating as many as 75,000 people attended the event.

“It’s traffic, traffic and more traffic,” a Presque Isle Police Department dispatcher said at midmorning.

“Steady but no problems,” his counterpart at the Houlton Police Department said.

“Just outstanding, a huge success,” Brian Hamel, president of the Loring Development Authority, or LDA, which oversees the commerce center, said Monday afternoon of the festival. “It was the best of the three shows they have had here.

“The fans had a great time, and they were behaved,” he continued. “Everything went off well, including the music, the fireworks, the light shows, and the concert promoters are extremely happy.”

Although there have been no formal discussions about a return concert by the Vermont-based jam band, Hamel said band leader Trey Anastasio said, “See you next year” at the end of the event.

“I suspect that we will [see them again],” Hamel said.

The LDA received $500,000 as compensation for the concert being held at the LCC. The money, according to Hamel, is earmarked for aviation infrastructure improvements.

“This was five times as much revenue as we got in the past,” Hamel said. In previous years, the LDA was paid $1.50 per ticket. This year, the authority received a flat fee. The LDA could get more money, if more than 65,000 tickets were sold.

It will take 10 days to two weeks to dismantle everything set up for the festival. The cleanup will take as long, Hamel suspected. The work started as soon as the band was done Sunday night.

Efforts made on Monday to speak to representatives from Great Northeast Productions, which organized the event, were unsuccessful.

Traffic on Route 1 north of Limestone was slow Monday, but out-of-state cars, mostly from Canada, were making their way home, heading for border crossings at Limestone, Van Buren, Madawaska and Fort Kent.

A few fender-benders took place on the roads heading south, including Routes 1 and 1A, the major roadways leading from the venue. Some were using Route 163 west from Presque Isle to get onto Route 11 where traffic was lighter.

Traffic on Main Street in Presque Isle at noon was bumper-to-bumper, but moving, synchronized by the traffic lights.

Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, reported bottlenecks at Littleton and Mars Hill at midafternoon Monday. Maine State Police were using the breakdown lane south of Mars Hill as a travel lane to assist the movement of vehicles.

The most serious accidents in the exodus included a rollover in Easton in the early morning, with no injuries; a vehicle that caught fire in Monticello, in which there were no injuries; and the Medway rollover, in which three people with minor injuries were taken to a hospital.

McCausland said police estimated the crowd at 75,000.

“For a crowd of that size, the amount of arrests was small,” he said Monday afternoon. “Our big challenge now is getting them off the base and on their way south.”

Lt. Darrell Ouellette, commander of the state police in Aroostook County, said 35 arrests were made during the weekend. Twenty-five of the arrests were made by the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, and 10 by other police officers.

Other than drug arrests, people were arrested for domestic violence, simple assault, shoplifting, aggravated criminal mischief and two for outstanding warrants from other states.

“This went extremely well,” Ouellette said. “People were in a partying mood, they followed directives, and less than 1 percent caused problems.”

He said festival-goers who left during the night were “eyeballed” by police to control tired drivers and people under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

The fans left as they came, in compact cars, old and new vehicles, pickup trucks, SUVs, and motor homes.

The vehicles all had a couple of things in common: They were filled with people and loaded with clothes, food and gear.

Amir Zachor, 17, of Chesterfield, Mo., a seriously injured festival-goer, remained in serious condition with head injuries Monday at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

Zachor was injured when he ran across the Houlton road at Fort Fairfield directly in front of an oncoming vehicle at about 4:45 a.m. Saturday.

Douglas Born, 42, of Auburn was being released Monday afternoon from EMMC. Born, a stagehand working on a tower at the Phish venue on July 29, fell 35 feet to the ground. He suffered severe internal injuries when he fell from the second-floor roof of the LCC control tower late in the evening.

Jeannine Palludan, 22, of Upper Saddle River, N.J., was in good condition Monday at The Aroostook Medical Center in Presque Isle. She suffered leg fractures after she was caught between two automobiles Friday night. Her friend Michael Tenny, 22, of Harrington Park, N.J., was treated at the same facility and released.

Before the concert, an organizer with Great Northeast Productions died in a motor vehicle accident. James Willox, 43, of Dedham, Mass., died in the early hours of July 29 when his car went off the road. He was returning to his Caribou motel when his car drifted off the road and struck an embankment.

Chris Doody-Chabre, executive director of Cary Medical Center in Caribou, said the hospital treated in excess of 25 patients brought to the facility from the festival between Friday and Monday.

Two of those were transferred to EMMC, but most of the cases were minor.

Northeast Mobile Health of Portland, contracted for medical services at the festival, and Peacemakers, a group that travels to concerts offering medical services, saw 2,200 patients during the weekend, she said.

Those cases included everything from putting on a bandage to providing urgent care on site, and sending more serious cases to local hospitals.

Chabre said the Caribou hospital also provided two physicians and other medical staff at the concert venue.

The Aroostook Medical Center treated fewer than 10 people.

During the two previous Phish concerts at Limestone, six people died in traffic accidents.

Craig St. Peter, owner of County Quik Stop in Caribou, was grinning from ear to ear Monday morning while he stood outside his business observing his crew and the nine cars at his gasoline pumps.

“It’s been great, steady from 11 p.m. last night [Sunday] to 3 a.m.,” he said. “It slowed for a while, but it has been picking up again in the last hour or so.

“They are getting gas, drinks, food, breakfast sandwiches, pastries, just all kinds of things,” he said. “They are using the port-a-potties we set up and then head south.

“They are great people,” he said after talking with many of them. “Nice kids. It’s great for the area, and I think we should welcome them back any year.”

Traffic in Houlton, where Route 1 merges with I-95, was heavy throughout the day Monday, but was moving steadily with no significant tie-ups, according to Houlton police.

Traffic also was reported heavy but moving well on Route 11 through the western part of The County.

Business was brisk for businesses along Route 1, especially those north of the I-95 overpass in Houlton.

“Unbelievable,” was how Troy O’Bar, manager of the Dead River I-95 Food Trend-Dunkin’ Donuts, described Monday.

There were lines at the gas pumps, restrooms and doughnut counter.

“We opened at 4 o’clock this morning and it’s been nonstop,” O’Bar said, adding that coffee and breakfast sandwiches were the most popular items sold.

On the other side of the highway, at the North Street Irving, the day was busy, but slower for Manager Jack Forbush and his workers. He said business was not that much different from a normal busy summer day.

“We’d been through this before,” said Forbush, referring to the Phish concerts of 1997 and 1998. “We knew that southbound, we wouldn’t be getting anything” from the departing traffic.

After the previous Phish concerts, the state rest area in Houlton, which is close to the southbound on-ramp, resembled a campground the mornings after the performances ended.

There was little of that this year. Local residents who use the area to walk and other travelers who were exercising their pets seemed to take little notice of the handful of fans who were still sleeping on the ground at 8 a.m.

The sleeping fans, as well as a few others who camped out on the grass at Wal-Mart across the street, woke and packed up quickly once rain started to fall shortly after 9 a.m.

NEWS reporter Wayne Brown contributed to this report.