Phish: Super Ball IX: Watkins Glen International Speedway

It really is a world unto itself. Only – and stick with me here – it’s so much more than that! Superball IX, the three-day music festival extravaganza hosted by Phish – the only band to perform throughout the entire weekend – drew approximately 30,000 fans to the beautiful Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. Held at Watkins Glen International speedway, the event took place under splendid, cerulean skies, with only a short sprinkle arriving late Saturday night while many finally caught some rest. While not scorching, the blazing sun did nonetheless leave its mark on many skins throughout the course of the weekend.

The fans all were drawn by the music, eight sets by the host band – including a stealth, unannounced late night set. Over the course of the weekend, the band performed nearly 100 songs, including several first time covers, some rare treats as well as many classic Phish tunes. On stage at its own festivals the band opens up, stretches out and loosens song structures far more than they might at an individual concert with more strident time constraints. The lighting of Chris Kuroda was beyond comparison, and fans added to the spectacle by tossing glow sticks at exactly the right moments of musical peaks.

The band dedicated the campgrounds to seven states that it has yet to perform in, and the gravelly, dusty road leading into the track and festival grounds was dotted with a plethora of vendors and scattered campgrounds.

But it really was inside the track and the concert grounds, affectionately known as Ball Square, where most of the fun took place, as fans played in Wiffle® Ball games or took part in yoga sessions, shopped at a large farmers market or one of several Phish related stores centered around the concert field throughout the weekend. A marching band paraded through the site and even performed while riding the Ferris Wheel; a large cinema screen showed movies of all sorts and even played a Mets vs. Yankees game. A lounge/bar was decked out as a life sized pinball machine.

Saturday began with the running of the Runaway Jim Memorial 5K race, which made it’s way into the festival grounds and wound around the track to a finish, and closed out with a surprise set, dubbed the “Storage Jam” due to its location inside a newly constructed USA Storage locker, which found the band shadowed behind glazed windows.

The site grounds were festooned with hand constructed, life size art installations that reflected on America’s past including the industrial revolution, and its future. Fans could climb into giant moving gears, including one that worked eerily like a human hamster wheel.

And of course what holiday celebration would be complete without a fireworks spectacular!

Keep an eye out on PopMatters for a full length review in the coming days.