Darron Collins was a freshman at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor when in January 1989 he crowded in with a few hundred other people to the Great Hall of the Turrets on campus and saw Phish play one of their first shows in Maine. Nearly 25 years later, Collins is now the president of COA, and Phish just performed on the Bangor Waterfront in front of an estimated 16,000 people.
“It was absolutely one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen. Whenever I go into the Great Hall I think of it,” said Collins of that first show at COA. “It’s funny, though — that was just before the Internet started coming together, and back in the early ’90s when you’d do a Web search for College of the Atlantic, the first thing that would come up would be ‘Phish at COA.’ It was like that for several years, before we had our website up and running.”
Collins’ friend Dawn Lamendola, who now owns House Wine in Bar Harbor, was also a freshman at COA, and was one of the students who brought the Vermont four-piece to MDI.
“I met them at Goddard College in Vermont, and we really, really wanted to bring them up,” said Lamendola. “We knew people had to hear them. They all crashed in my apartment. It was an amazing night.”
There are as many stories as there are fans out there, whether it’s from those who have seen the band 50, 60, 70 or more times, or those who saw them once in Limestone, and haven’t since. Mark Stevens of New Gloucester has seen them eight times — a number he admits is tiny, compared to others — but his first time was at The Great Went, Phish’s first of three shows at Loring Air Force Base, back in 1997.
“I’m originally from Fort Fairfield, and at the time, it was like, ‘Who are these people? What on earth is going on?’” said Stevens, who now runs guided brewery tour company Maine Beer Tours. “I was a senior in high school. I’d never heard them. I instantly fell in love. I had never been to a concert in my life, and all I kept thinking was, ‘Where am I?’ It was one of the best experiences of my life.”
Cory Deshane, assistant manager at Bull Moose in Bangor and guitarist and vocalist for local band Magnetic North, has been a fan since he first heard the band as a kid in middle school.
“I finally got to see them in 2003 when my brother brought me to the It festival in Limestone,” said Deshane, now 29. “We left at 8 a.m. the day before the festival, and thanks to traffic, pulled into the gates at 6 a.m. the following morning. It was my first, and this show in Bangor was my seventh.”
As the band has changed — their concert in Bangor on Wednesday was, according to many fans, one of the most tight, diverse, unique shows they have played in years — so have the fans. Many have grown up right alongside the music.
“Despite being 10 years older, now married — luckily, to a fan — and much more mature than I was at my first show, the feeling is still the same. Walking through the gate brings on a smile that doesn’t fade until the following morning comes and reality sets back in,” said Deshane. “Being at a Phish show is not just being at a concert, it’s being a part of some artistic collective, to which every attendee is a contributor. You don’t feel like you’re at the show, you feel like you’re in the show.”
Stevens echoed that sentiment.
“Life gets so busy,” he said. “It’s a break from reality. It’s another planet. You forget about the rest of the world.”