I went to Curveball this past weekend.
“Wait,” you’re thinking. “What’s this guy talking about? Curveball got cancelled.” You’re right, of course. Not a single note was played. But despite that, Curveball was very real. It was all there. The setup was beautiful. The art installations were incredible. The billboard signs along the fence—which weren’t finished until Sunday at Magnaball—were completed and ready to welcome us. Jim Pollock had painted us a wonderful mural. As he lamented in a Facebook post, “you would have loved it.” Anyone who stepped on the grounds felt the Phish festival feelings they never forgot. As one of the signs on the grounds offered on behalf of the band, “We are so glad you are here.” And they really were.
Amid the various art installations in the venue was “BIG SILVER,” the focal point of the Curveball grounds. As noted in the Curveball program booklets, most of which never made it out of their boxes, “Steps from the concert field, and towering nearly six stories off the ground, BIG SILVER is a massive chrome sphere, surrounded by constellations of smaller orbs. During the day, come by BIG SILVER to relax and reflect on the world around you. Come sunset, the constellations come to life and offer visual and audio delights deep into the night.”
Testing “BIG SILVER” At Curveball
[Video: paul languedoc]
The Curveball Guide merely hinted at the magic that was due to emanate from that giant chrome sphere. Mounted above a raised platform, BIG SILVER was surrounded by stacks of PAs and lights, facing both inward toward the ball and outward toward the crowd. Rumors have floated about a video element, incorporating the reflective translucence of the sphere to full effect. Smoke machines were affixed to the platform below BIG SILVER, and a trapdoor underneath it seemed to portend a certain four guys appearing beneath the ball late Saturday night for a secret set for the ages. Now, the secrets of BIG SILVER will never be revealed. Now, we’ll never know…
I’ll never forget the scene around me when the news broke. We had just pulled into the village of Watkins Glen. We milled outside a local bar, where we’d meet up with a group of friends to caravan into the campgrounds. It was a beautiful, sunny day. Spirits were high. And just like that, Curveball was cancelled. Some people cried. Some people got mad. Some people panicked. Most were just in shock. We were there…so close.
As we pulled into the festival gates, the police on duty confirmed the bad news we already knew. “Festival’s cancelled,” said one sympathetic officer, “but you can party as hard as you want until noon tomorrow.” I think it helped to see the grounds, to continue with the Thursday tradition of finding friends and catching up unimpeded. People donned their Saturday night regalia, pulled out every last glow stick they’d brought for the weekend. There was laughter. There were tears. It was almost like a funeral gathering. Everyone was heartbroken but so grateful to be together, to see their loved ones, to commiserate. We all wished it was under happier circumstances, but you can’t change the hand you’re dealt.
On Thursday night, as dejected fans wandered the grounds, people traded stories about how Curveball threw a wrench in their plans, about where they were when they heard the news. Each one was more heartbreaking than the last. One couple was planning to get married over the weekend and was scouting locations for the wedding on site when the announcement came in. Others had quit their jobs to be there. People had travelled from all over the country and the world and were now stranded until their flights home on Monday and Tuesday. One fan had flown in from Jerusalem. Another, from New Zealand. Another, from Korea. Many people never made it to Watkins Glen at all. Nobody was immune. Nobody was prepared. We had all been thrown a nasty curveball.
The next morning, we scattered, soggy and muddy and unsure of what to do next. But while there was no more festival to go to, the wonderful group of people that attends these events—the secret ingredient of every Phish fest—was determined to make the best of it. The rest of the weekend coalesced under a unifying theme: making lemonade. While Thursday and Friday were littered with stories of loss and disappointment, Saturday and Sunday were highlighted by the fans’ defiant commitment to finding positives in this negative situation.
People headed to Knuckleball, a pop-up festival not far from Watkins thrown together in the wake of the cancellation. Some found campsites in the area, where they set up camp and celebrated with their friends anyway. Some went to Niagara Falls. Others set up their tents in their living rooms. Our crew made its way back to New York City, where we built ourselves a “day set” out of the exhibits we saw at the Natural History Museum and imagined what could have been as we strolled through Strawberry Fields.
Despite the objective shittiness of the Curveball cancellation, Phish’s fans spent the weekend defiantly having fun anyway. We didn’t take our wristbands off until Monday morning, and I’m proud of that fact. That’s the thing about this band. A Phish festival is about more than just Phish. It’s about the people Phish brings together, the connections you make, the adventures you have together. We still came together. We still made new connections. We still had unexpected adventures. We’ll be telling these stories forever. Looking back, I can say with conviction that, despite the obvious obstacles, I genuinely had fun this weekend. Most people I saw and spoke to agreed. It wasn’t the weekend we intended to have, but good or bad, it was a weekend none of us will forget.
A few days ago I took this photo of my dear friends @treyanastasio & Patrick Jordan (@quarterroy) on the stage at @phish ‘s Curveball festival. I could sense by their postures that something was wrong. It broke my heart once I found out what just happened and that I had captured that very moment. So many people worked so hard for the past year preparing and planning. A lot of hard work on site when stage, art installations, vendor booths and other necessary things had been built during pouring rain. So sad for all of you, and everyone who traveled from all over to experience what would have been a fabulous weekend. I hope everybody is doing alright. We will move on and connect again soon. Travel safe! ❤️ #phish
I’ll leave you with this. As we stood along the concert field fence on Thursday evening, gazing over the grounds in a haze of disbelief and disappointment, I overheard a conversation between two fans.
“Well, this has to be the worst day in Phish history. Worse than Coventry,” said the first. “Sure, that was a shit show, but at least we got to see the band play.”
“Not a chance,” the second said, quickly and assertively shutting down the notion. “At Coventry, we wasted away in the mud and rain while we watched our favorite band play for the last time ever. Then we went home with nothing to look forward to.”
This sucks, Curveball family. There’s no way around it. The fans that burned their money and time off to get there. The vendors that spent thousands on merch and food to sell. The volunteers and artists that slaved for days in the rain and mud to build this beautiful playground, only to take it down before anyone could enjoy it. The town that lost out on millions of dollars in local commerce. The band that never got to perform… Nobody won this weekend.
But we’ve also got Dick’s in a couple weeks. We’ve got fall tour in a couple months. We’ve got little birdies chirping about New Year’s runs and returns to Riviera Maya in the works. Eventually, they’ll throw another festival, and we’ll love it that much more for having lost this one.
We may not have a Curveball, but we’ve still got a band. And so, we forge on.