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A Band And Its City: The Great Went

By Brian L. Knight

Read about Phish's Performances in Worcester and Albany During the Fall of 1998

Read about Phish in Las Vegas-Halloween 1998

Hear an opinion about The Lemonwheel-Summer 1998

Read an Interview with Tom Marshall

This past weekend, the Southern Vermont Review visited the largest city in Maine. Portland? We hate seafood. Bangor? Sounds too muck like anger. Augusta? Capital cities reminds us too much of politics and taxes. No, we visited Limestone where, for a three day period, the population surged to over 60,000 people. This city was located in a relatively small geographic area known as Loring Air Force Base.

No more than five years ago, Loring Air Force Base was an instrumental component of the United States' nuclear strategy. From this Air Force Base, B-52's were to take off, fly directly over the North Pole and bomb Mother Russia. Loring Air Force Base gave the surrounding areas economic vitality, as over 30,000 serviceman and their families were stationed on or around the base. As a result, the surrounding retail, service and entertainment industry flourished.

Luckily for humankind, the Cold War was brought to an end and the base was never used for its intent. Unluckily for the people of Northern Maine, the end of the Cold War brought an economic decline to the entire region. While this section of Northern Maine wasn't totally bust, thanks to the prevailing logging industry, the towns surrounding the Base could only pray for some kind economic boost.

The answer to Northern Maine's economic problems came in a flash-hold a concert importing thousands of concert goers eager to spend all their money in the region. Such a plan was implemented during the summer of 1996 with an event called Spudstock. The towns threw all their weight behind the festival, but unlike Field of Dreams, once it was built, they did not come. The towns were very discouraged by the outcome of Spudstock, but fortunately they were willing to keep on trying.

The townspeople read in the paper about a band holding a concert on an abandoned Air Force Base in upstate New York and how the whole area flourished as a result. They also read about how peaceful the event was. Most importantly, they read about how this band needed a new venue for the following summer's concert. To the people of Northern Maine, it was like pieces of a puzzle coming together.

And so on August 15, 1997 this new city in Maine was created. Over 60,000 people converged together to pay homage to a band, that like so many other rock groups was once a college band. This band grew and grew until soon its following could no longer fit in the local taverns and beer halls. Instead this band had enough popularity to sustain the biggest city in Maine.

Like most cities of similar size, the primary industries were retail and food service. Plenty of exciting and affordable food could be found within this metropolis. There were simple necessities like grilled cheeses, burgers and hot-dogs. For the fine-dining enthusiasts, there was an exciting array of stir fries and vegan lentil stews. For those looking for a thirst quencher, cold juices and soda were available. There were three legal beer halls in this city, but a plethora of private drinking establishments existed where one could find a shot of tequila or a Bloody Mary. Luckily for the retailer, there were no permits, health inspections or liquor licenses in this city, but the buyer had to be wary.

After a nice bite to eat, there was always time for shopping. Whatever your pleasure, it was bound to be found: hand-crafted gifts, clothing, incense, and candles. Of course it was then time for everyone's favorite activity, the after dinner pipe.

The public services for this city were available free of charge, but a bit inadequate. The sewer systems were overburdened and one had to either rediscover nature or learn the sewer trucks' schedules. The water supply was ample. Thanks to the proliferation of cellular telephones within the individual communities, there never seemed to be a communications problem. With all the commercial activity within the city, there was a desperate need for more than the one existing Savings & Loan.

When one thinks of moving to a city, local amenities are immediately considered. What does the city have to offer me? In this case, it was entertainment. Every night, the denizens would make a pilgrimage to the city's end and come together as one. Like pagans of the past, the community did not have one god, but four. These gods yielded instruments and sent out sounds that hit the people like painless bolts of lightning. The band made sure that the crowd was kept happy by placing large speakers throughout the grounds and two large screens that showed the band at work, and made visual praise easy for all.

During the two days of music, fans were invited to paint pictures on pieces of wood. The band provided the palettes and the paint, while the fans provided the inspiration. During the final set of music of the weekend, the band members placed their own painted art on the stage for all the crowd to see. At the evening's end, the band had everyone's art work piled into a big heap, which was promptly ignited by a giant matchstick. It was a ritualistic end to an almost surreal weekend.

The following morning, the city broke camp and the inhabitants began to head their separate ways. Many a good-bye was made, but there was a promise was made to reconvene one year later. As for Northern Maine, they cannot wait for next year, as they openly embraced the coming of the band, its fans and all the money that followed them.