Phish thrown for a curve, cancels music fest

Phish cancels Curveball music festival

Curveball was expected to draw 30,000+ fans of the popular jam band to Watkins Glen this past weekend.
Published: August 21, 2018
Phish fans walk through the empty Watkins Glen International grounds Thursday after receiving word that the three-day Curveball festival had been canceled.

A day before Curveball all was seemingly right at Watkins Glen International.

Caravans of music festivalgoers filed into the campsites at The Glen raceway throughout Thursday morning, creating a palpable atmosphere of anticipation and excitement for the latest iteration of Phish’s summer tradition.

Cars with state license plates from Maine, Ohio and Vermont were scattered amid the grid of native New York vehicles, now newfound neighbors for the weekend.

Curveball campers assembled elaborate setups by aligning canopies into pseudo-compounds bordered by multicolored tents, tarps and lawn chairs.

Hundreds of fans patiently waited near the entrances to the festival grounds trying to gather any information they could on when they would be allowed through the gates.

A group of Phish fans hoping to listen to Phish's soundcheck receive word Thursday that the three-day Curveball festival had just been canceled.

Time passed slowly, the scheduled 2 p.m. opening was pushed back with no definitive answer of when the main venue would be open to the public. Still, fans waited.

Attendees discussed rumors of the ritual full-band soundcheck, supposedly taking place around 4 p.m., while debating the location of the weekend’s secret set.

Some diehard Phish fans, commonly known as phans, had managed to make it inside the venue and believed the massive reflective sphere, officially dubbed Big Silver, to be the site of a surprise Saturday night performance.

But every rumor, whisper and prediction were quelled at 5 p.m. when the real surprise arrived.

Curveball was canceled.


Shortly after learning the music festival wasn't happening, a group of fans sings "Happy Birthday" to a young festivalgoer.


Curveball festivalgoers make their way to the exits at Watkins Glen International raceway.

The New York State Department of Health and Schuyler County reported flooding in the area from the past week had contaminated the local water treatment plant and made the supply, including the water in Watkins Glen, unsafe for consumption.

Festival-saving measures and options had been explored, but for the sake of public health and safety, the state department said it could not issue the required permits for Curveball to continue.

Two phans inside the main venue, Keith Glover and Spencer Bielewicz, were among the first people to see the news of the cancellation.

Glover, a 24-year-old veteran phan with 106 shows under his belt since Phish’s 2009 return, flew in from Colorado to attend Curveball.

I can’t believe that this is what’s happening,” Glover said. “If they were to reschedule, I don’t think I’d even be able to come back out here.”

Bielewicz, a fellow young diehard, was in disbelief at the news and noted the irony of the festival’s namesake.

“That’s the curveball,” Bielewicz said. “Everyone is going home.”


Curveball staffers begin dismantling the concert festival grounds.


State health officials said drinking water may have been contaminated as a result of heavy local rains earlier in the week.

The band was equally saddened by the cancellation of the festival and released an official statement on their website moments after the state department report.

“Our families are here, our gear is set, our tents are up. We keep waiting for someone to come over and tell us that there is a solution, and that the festival can go on,” the band said in the press release. “Unfortunately, it is not possible.”

The mutual heartbreak between Curveball attendees and the band became visible outside of the venue as some fans broke down in tears as they processed the news of the cancellation.

For other fans, however, there was newfound resolve in the wake of the day’s tragedy.


A mother and son play the piano at the nearly deserted Curveball festival grounds.

Curveball campers throughout The Glen had to be off the property by noon the next day, giving many of those planning on an overnight stay 18 hours to make the best of a bad situation.

While some caravans began departing at sunset, the party was just starting for the rest of the Curveball campers.

Many embraced the time left at The Glen, starting impromptu ditch parties along the dirt roads and laughing alongside newly made friends.

KC & The Sunshine Band’s “Keep It Comin’ Love” could be heard from one campsite, serving as a soundtrack for festival faithfuls passing by to sing and dance with.

Parties throughout The Glen continued onward until 6 a.m. before fans stopped to nap, pack up their belongings and leave the campgrounds.

Revised plans to camp elsewhere, donate surplus supplies and await the next Phish performance bookended an otherwise unfortunate turn of events for festivalgoers.

The band’s final Summer 2018 tour stop is slated for Aug. 31-Sept. 2 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Colorado before launching a fall trek Oct. 16-17 at Albany’s Times Union Center.