Over two decades have passed since the band Phish first graced the former Loring Air Force Base in 1997, bringing tens of thousands of fans along and even briefly making the small town of Limestone the most heavily populated in Maine.
The band held three festivals at the former base: 1997’s “The Great Went,” which takes its name from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks; 1998’s “Lemonwheel,” an anagram for “Hello, new me,” and play on words based on Limestone’s name, as both contain citrus fruit; and 2003’s “IT,” which was made into a two-disc DVD featuring a PBS documentary of the band.
In addition to drawing numbers of people never before seen in The County, the shows each had an economic impact on the region.
Loring Development Authority President Carl Flora, who served as LDA vice-president during all three shows, said each show brought “tens of millions” of dollars to Aroostook County, and that the IT festival in particular made $8.4 million through ticket sales alone.
When the band first came in 1997, more than 65,000 fans flocked to the former base, making Limestone the state’s most highly populated municipality by topping Portland’s census numbers at the time.
“I don’t think the community was really ready for the first year,” Flora said. “We heard that some stores were completely cleaned out. The shelves were bare; they didn’t have even basic things like ice and bread.”
For all three shows, University of Maine at Presque Isle art professor Andy Giles brought a 35mm camera along with wide angle, telephoto, and 50mm lenses and a “whole bag of tricks” while navigating the undulating sea of concertgoers to document the event.
He noted that, just a few years prior, B-52s equipped with hydrogen bombs had been taking off on the runway.
“Then, all of a sudden it becomes a gigantic venue for a huge festival,” he said. “It’s an interesting dichotomy.”