When I woke up in my tent on August 16th, 2018 life was looking pretty good. Oh sure, m’lady and I were still licking our wounds from having our first-ever house purchase fall through the day before – which had been the closing date – but weighing very heavily in our favour this morning was the location of our tent. For it was nestled amongst the tents of our brethren in the Glen Close camping area at Phish’s Curveball festival in Watkins Glen, New York. Our VIP tickets had allowed us to arrive a day early and we had done just that, so here we were already onsite whilst dozens of our bestest friends were heading our way from all directions.
Ironically, it was our early arrival at a previous Watkins Glen Phish festival that prompted us to spring for the VIP section this time around. For Magnaball in 2011 we pulled up to the gate as early as our basic tickets would allow and were in well before most attendees. So imagine our surprise when we discovered on day two when we walked to the concert site for the first time that we had been directed to the furthest possible camping area, easily a mile and-a-half from the stage. Don’t get me wrong, we still had a great time, but when Curveball was announced it was unanimous that we weren’t going to risk the same fate. Plus the VIP section came with tons of other perks like real showers and bathrooms, free merch and an onsite concierge but really, the proximity to the concert area was the thing and we had it. Our tent was about 200 feet from the stage.
I started my day with a shower (foreshadowing: I wish I hadn’t) and a lot of friendly, genial relaxing. When noon rolled around our friends started arriving; first Jaybone and then Stapes, who both set up beside us, while tons of others were busily setting up in the general camping area. By early afternoon the collective joy of everyone was starting to reach a fevered pitch when out of the blue I heard someone nearly out of earshot say “It’s cancelled.”
Then it started coming from all directions: due to extreme rainfall during the previous week the county had put the entire area under a boil-water advisory and for our own safety the county was revoking the festival’s license; Curveball was cancelled. People were scrambling for hard information hoping against hope that this was some sort of prank – a “curveball” as it were – but soon enough it was announced on the festival’s own popup radio station, The Bunny. It was official: Phish would not be playing and anyone already onsite had until noon the next day to pack up and leave the grounds. I suddenly felt like I needed a shower to wash away my morning shower.
A couple at the next site over started crying. Group hugs were erupting everywhere. Someone nearby shouted out in frustration: “Thanks a lot, Obama!!!” That made me laugh.
Lots of people started packing up immediately. For my part, my first thought was of all the expensive beer we had purchased. It was only Thursday afternoon and we had bought enough to last us until Monday with two cases left over to bring home (the maximum allowed across the border). I took inventory. We had 175 tall-boy crafty IPA beers; we were definitely spending the night.
By nightfall about half the people in Glen Close had left while the rest of us clung to a rumour that the band was going to play a set for those of us that stuck around. When I saw roadies start to dismantle the speaker columns around 6pm I knew that dream was over.
And so we spent the evening hanging out with a great crew of good friends over in regular camping where the mood seemed to be “what the heck, we’re all here so let’s just have a good time tonight.” Just like me, everyone had an entire long weekend’s worth of alcohol to go through and while we did the best that we could it was clearly not enough.
We had to make a plan.