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Phish Fans Attend Lemonwheel

August 15, 1998 GMT

LIMESTONE, Maine (AP) _ A lonely air base transformed virtually overnight into a teeming tent city where Generation X rock ‘n’ roll fans gathered for a weekend music festival alongside runways where B-52 bombers used to come and go.

While baby boomers returned to hallowed ground at a Woodstock anniversary concert in New York, a mostly younger generation of tie-dyed music lovers convened for Lemonwheel, two days of Phish jam sessions in a remote corner of the country near the Canadian border.

The Vermont-based rock band considered the successor to the Grateful Dead staged their end-of-summer festival for the second year at the former Loring Air Force Base, shut down in 1994. Promoters didn’t release ticket sales figures but police estimated the crowd at about 60,000 when the music started Saturday evening.

For almost as far as the eye could see, the landscape was covered by colorful tents housing camping rock fans, their vehicles and the young people themselves, socializing in anticipation of the Phish shows Saturday and Sunday nights.

``Everybody is having fun,″ said Chris Scott, a 19-year-old Penn State student. ``It’s just great vibes.″

Tents were set up wherever there was a blade or two of grass, and many tents flew flags from the fans’ home states and countries.

Amateur vendors cropped up selling pancakes sizzling on hot plates and brewing coffee next to more organized setups offering pizza and breakfast burritos. There was even a general store set up at one tent, replete with newspapers, bananas, toilet paper, drinks and fruit.

Despite there being more portable toilets than during last year’s gig, there were still lines about two dozen deep, and a malodorous smell lingered despite workers’ best efforts to hose the portable toilets down.

Still, it was hard to find any discouraged fans.

``The camping’s nice, the scene not so bad, and the music is good,″ said Adam Hjerpe, a 27-year-old music teacher from Chicago.

He and others were hard-pressed to explain why they’d travel so far for the privilege of sleeping on the ground in one of the most remote areas of the nation just to listen to a rock band. They just shook their heads and smiled.

``It just gets better and better,″ said Jim Ryan, 19, of Concordsville, Pa., who has been to seven Phish concerts. ``You just fall in love with the music and the scene.″

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Ryan and other fans said a big part of the attraction, as with the Grateful Dead, is that no two shows are ever the same: There’s always a surprise.

In front of the stage was an odd fantasy land of Oriental and Polynesian structures created for show, including a Japanese tea house decorated in the orange, white and blue of a Howard Johnson motor lodge.

Art director Lars Fisk of Burlington, Vt., was particularly proud of his ``porta-potty pagoda″: five portable toilets stacked on top of each other with vinyl awnings jutting out from each one to make them look like Oriental houses.

``It was a notion to synthesize traditional Chinese architecture with crude American convenience,″ Fisk said.

To the south, in Bethel, N.Y., a more commercial view greeted a crowd of more than 18,000 attending a show on the original site of Woodstock celebrating the 29th anniversary of the landmark rock ‘n’ roll festival.

Unlike Lemonwheel, which only featured Phish, performers at the Woodstock memorial show included Pete Townshend, Richie Havens, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks, Third Eye Blind and Goo Goo Dolls.

In more than 40 shops, vendors were hawking everything from cellular phone service to sanitary staples such as deodorant and toothpaste. Portable ATM machines had longer lines than the portable toilets.

Woodstock purist Abigail Storm led a political rally Saturday to protest the commercialism he said clashes with the ideals of the original 1969 concert.

``When I saw the `Day in the Garden’ site, I almost cried. It looked like a mall,″ he said.

Mike Jones, a Phish fan with blond dreadlocks and baggy dark pants, had a different outlook as he gazed at the Phish stage.

``This is definitely for the new generation,″ said the 19-year-old from Binghamton, N.Y. ``It’s the music, the freedom.″