Over the weekend, some surprising information leaked about the ticket sales for this weekend’s Super Ball IX—there haven’t been many! The rumored number of pre-sold tickets has hovered around 25,000, a number that even with 10,000 walk-ups, will be far cry from the band’s northeast extravaganzas of lore. The Clifford Ball hosted 70,000, while the The Great Went brought 75,000 fans to Limestone, Maine. 60,000 trekked north for Lemonwheel and 65,000 attended Camp Oswego. Big Cypress drew 85,000 to the Everglades, while IT and Coventry each came in around 60,000. Sure this isn’t the late-‘90s and Phish’s fan base is older, but, shit, even Indio—on the west coast—drew 40,000! So with the smallest Phish festival in history likely about to go down at Watkins Glen International, what the heck went wrong?
Business-wise, Super Ball seems like a clear case of over-saturation. Putting the festival so close—both in time and physical space—to Bethel and Darien’s leg one shows (not to mention 15 other east coast affairs) the driving need for people to be at Super Ball doesn’t seem to be there. With plenty of more Phish on the horizon this summer, especially for west coasters, there is little incentive for many fans to travel far away for a holiday festival when Phish will soon come to them. After just feeding their core fan base a month of stellar shows and about to visit the west in August, it seems like only the most passionate and local Phish fans (who had budgeted this weekend into their summer) will be attending Super Ball—a factor that could contribute to a dreamlike vibe. Tack on a late announcement for an event on July 4th weekend—a summer holiday that often entails family commitments—and you’ve got the recipe for the most intimate Phish fest to date.
For fans, this number will likely mean reduced traffic, reduced stress, and a generally easier time navigating the festival grounds. The multi-mile walks from campgrounds to the concert field will shrink with no need to push people so far from the central part of town. But what will be the band’s reaction? Will they be disgruntled by a less-than-full concert field? Phish has always been pretty good at going with the flow, and if I had to make a guess, any sort of attendance count won’t change their musical output. In fact, many fans have sited “The Dark Side Axiom,” theorizing that Phish will throw down harder with fewer people there. But with many thousand more set to tune in via Sirius radio (to be announced soon) a la Festival 8, who knows the real answer?
I suspect the weekend will be phenomenal—unaffected by any shortage of the masses—and blossom into an intimate and memorable party for 35,000 people. The numbers are meaningless to us, if not a bit fascinating, because when the first notes bellow out of those speaker towers, the last thought on any of our mind’s will be the number of people in attendance. Once you and Phish and endless dance space converge, little else tends to matter.Tags: 2011, Festivals, Summer 2011, Super Ball IX