COVENTRY, Vt. (AP) – A small town that became Vermont’s largest city for a weekend is still debating whether hosting the jam band Phish’s final concert was a good idea.

“There were a lot of life-changing experiences in Coventry,” Selectboard Chairman Mike Marcotte said, reflecting on the festival that rocked the town nearly two months ago. “Those were experiences for the fans and the people in this area. It will be talked about here for some time.”

A “Welcome Phish fans” sign still hangs outside Royer’s Service Station in the center of town, and the freezer in the store still has a disproportionate amount of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food ice cream. Life is slowly returning to normal in the town of 1,014 residents.

Many residents went away from the concert, which drew about 70,000 fans, with a positive experience, but whether the town would ever want to repeat the experience is a matter of debate.

Marcotte said the Selectboard is hearing adamant opinions on both sides of the issue. On Town Meeting Day the Selectboard will ask residents if they’d like to see a law drawn up that would give residents more control over who could take over their town for a big event.

When Phish, and their concert producers Great Northeast Productions, approached the town, there was little if anything the Selectboard could do to stop the company from hosting the concert. Permission came from agencies within the state and federal governments. Few towns in the Northeast Kingdom have any type of law that would allow control over huge gatherings.

State Police Maj. James Dimmick said he will be lobbying statewide for a change in the law. The law seems to encourage large gatherings, Dimmick said. That’s fine, he said, but there should be a way to define what type of event can happen where.

The way the law is written, it’s nearly impossible to deny a permit request, he said.

“The threshold for denial is fairly high,” Dimmick said. “Basically, it says you have to have a substantial problem with public safety. And even then, you have to put conditions on the permit, not deny it.”

The biggest glitch was the weather: Heavy rains turned the concert grounds into a soupy quagmire.

Thousands of fans who had tickets were told they couldn’t drive to the site because parking areas had become impassable. Many ended up parking on the shoulder of Interstate 91 and walking the last several miles.

Dimmick said if a similar application came forward now, he would fight hard to keep such hoopla out of a place like Coventry. “The infrastructure doesn’t support it,” he said.

AP-ES-10-02-04 0826EDT



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