TELLURIDE – With the jam band Phish coming to Telluride in August for two sold-out concerts, law enforcement and emergency responders are gearing up for what some have suggested may be an “iconic event” for followers of the band with the potential to draw as many as 2,000 to 5,000 “phans” above and beyond the 9,000 who have already secured tickets for each show.
“I don’t know that we’ll see that many,” Telluride Chief Marshal Jim Kolar briefed San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office, Mountain Village Police Department, Telluride Marshal’s Office, Telluride and Norwood Fire Protection Districts and Telluride Medical Center personnel on Wednesday morning.
At the same time, “They keep painting a picture of how this is not really going to be a big event for us,” he said, indicating his belief that the concert promoters may be downplaying the potential crowd size as much as the rumor mill may be overstating it.
While knowing exactly how many people in excess of those ticketed for the concerts might show up is difficult to guess at present (they’ll have a better idea based upon the size of the band’s Greatful Dead-style traveling entourage that attends the Berkeley, Calif. shows immediately preceding the Telluride dates), in speaking with law enforcement from jurisdictions that have previously hosted Phish concerts, one thing seems clear.
“There are a lot of drugs involved with these folks,” said Kolar, describing the range of expected narcotics as “a whole potpourri of illegal substances” including marijuana, cocaine, LSD and heroin in addition to “a lot of drinking.”
Additionally, “This crowd is really into nitrous oxide,” he said, describing how dealers arrive at the shows with vans stocked with canisters of the gas that sold is then sold by the balloon-full.
Kolar said that one of his main concerns is the stress that rampant drug and alcohol use could put on emergency medical services, noting that one concert venue slightly larger than Telluride reportedly shipped out 15 people “on full-blown ventilators.”
Given the expectation of drug use at the shows the town will employ a novel-to-Telluride approach to dealing with it in as non-punitive a manner as possible.
Attached to the medical tent normally set up for large events like the Bluegrass and Blues and Brews Festivals will be a secondary “trip tent” where those high on hallucinogens can essentially go for a time-out if they need to.
Softly lit and containing cots and chairs, the tent will be manned mostly by concerned friends of the trippers and overseen by some Emergency Medical Services personnel, said Chief Paramedic Emil Sante.
“They can stay as long as they like,” he said, noting that the goal is to prevent law enforcement holding facilities from being clogged up with trippers.
“As long as they’re not a threat there’s no reason they can’t be in the tent,” said Sante.
“If that changes, then they go down to Bill’s house,” he continued, referring to the San Miguel County Jail overseen by Sheriff Bill Masters.