PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Even if you did not get to the concerts, most people who live in Aroostook County can remember the three Phish music festivals that took place in Limestone in 1997, 1998 and 2003.
There were the legions of fans in dreadlocks and corduroy pants, traffic jams on U.S. Route 1 as fans tried to get to the concert venue, and store shelves stocked full of bottled water, natural foods and microbrews to cater to the taste of concert goers.
As the University of Maine at Presque Isle stands poised to hold a retrospective of the event later this month, campus officials are ready to provide County residents and tourists with a prominent visual reminder of one of the Phish concerts.
At 3:30 p.m. today, a special ceremony will be held to unveil the IT Men — two 20-foot-tall, lime green traffic control figures constructed out of plywood that once stood at the concert gates of the IT music festival put on by Phish in August 2003.
The IT Men have been installed on the west end of Pullen Hall in honor of the Phish Retrospective, being hosted by UMPI’s Reed Art Gallery from Sept. 29 to Nov. 21.
“Although we have had the figures hanging for a bit already, we really want to host this unveiling to officially welcome these artifacts to the campus community,” Sandra Huck, Reed Art Gallery director, said Wednesday. “The IT Men were made by the employees and people of Phish.”
It was more than a decade ago that the first Phish music festival, The Great Went, was held at the former Loring Air Force Base. The group returned in 1998 for the band’s Lemonwheel concert and in 2003 for the IT festival. Together, the three concerts brought more than 200,000 concert-goers to northern Maine and pumped more than $25 million into the economy.
After the IT festival ended, UMPI professor Anderson Giles worked closely with then Loring Development Authority Director Brian Hamel to salvage the IT Men after the fete. Huck said that Giles moved them to the UMPI campus with the intent of using them at some point as reminders of the Phish concerts.
Giles said he does not see them as just artwork from the concert.
“The intent of their installation is the broader aspect of what they represent, beyond the rock spectacle — the illumination of higher education, for example, and the role aviation has played in the history of Presque Isle, Limestone, and Aroostook County,” he said. “They also bring recognition to our university’s fine art program on campus. With their arms in the air, pointing, and hands holding guiding flames of light, they are the perfect symbol of educational enlightenment and icons of creative thinking.”
Huck said President Don Zillman will be on hand today to reveal the IT men. The artwork has been carefully restored to resemble the way it appeared back in 2003.
Huck noted that Giles has been protecting the IT Men figures for six years and that UMPI facilities employees helped reconstruct and refurbish the figures under Giles’ guidance.
The figures were lifted by crane and then bolted onto to Pullen Hall. She acknowledged that, initially, the project raised some eyebrows.
“At first, people wondered what we were doing,” she said. “But then people got into it. They’re fun.”
Huck said she is not sure how long the figures will stay up.
“That depends on the community,” she said Wednesday. “It depends on their feedback.”
A week and a half after the IT Men are unveiled, the Phish Retrospective will kick off on Sept. 29 with a documentary on the IT Festival by Gudren Finchwillow.
The retrospective will continue with lectures, art exhibitions, discussions and other events.