TELLURIDE – To the happy surprise of many, the popular jam band Phish finally gave its two, sold-out, back-to-back shows to nightly audiences of 9,000 in the Telluride Town Park this past Monday and Tuesday without ushering in Armageddon.
OK, that’s a bit hyperbolic, but as the local law enforcement and medical personnel gathered intelligence from other communities that have hosted the band considered by many as the Grateful Dead for a new generation and its “phan” followers in the not so distant past, the numbers weren’t looking pretty.
Over the years, the famously loyal admirers of the band have generally earned a reputation for rampant drug use, and the related overdose and minor criminal events that tend to accompany it.
After breaking up in 2004, for example, the band’s 2009 reunion show in Hampton, Va., saw 15 multi-day hospitalizations, and three overdose deaths, over the course of the three-day, 13,000-ticket capacity event.
And earlier this summer a two-day concert in Hartford, Conn. (daily capacity of 25,000) saw 80 people transported to the hospital to max out two level-one trauma centers, while
cops collared 25 people for drug distribution at a one-day show in Mansfield, Mass. (capacity 20,000).
Compared to statistics like those – especially on the medical side – Telluride got off pretty easy.
“We saw patients at the Med Center with drug and alcohol related injuries, but overall it was not an overwhelming amount,” said Diana Koelliker, MD, Medical Director of Emergency Services at the Telluride Medical Center and Medical Director of the Telluride Fire Protection District’s Emergency Medical Services.
“Nobody was [in critical condition] and we didn’t have to transfer anyone,” to a larger medical facility, she said.
Koelliker said that the TMC emergency department treated four Phish-related patients on Monday night and six patients on Tuesday night. Among the 10, Koelliker said that four (two each night) were seriously ill, but still not requiring a move.
“I’m feeling like it really went well, as well as I could have hoped for,” she said. “People were pleasant and respectful and happy to be here; the goal was to enjoy the music and Telluride and that’s what we did.”
As a preventative measure designed to decrease the odds of law enforcement and medical services being overwhelmed by unnecessary contacts, Telluride’s first ever “trip tent” was erected to provide a soothing and calm sanctuary where “phans” could go to ride out bad trips.
Stocked with cots, soft lighting, stuffed animals and cartoons, it turned out to be about as helpful a service to nursing mothers in need of privacy and parents trying to entertain small children as it was with those for whom it was actually designed.
“It was very, very mellow the entire festival,” said Chief Paramedic Emil Sante.
He said that five people used the tent on Monday night, but only two, really needed it.
“Both of them watched 45 minutes of Finding Nemo and ended up walking out,” no longer afraid or disturbed, he said.
Tuesday night saw even fewer takers, none in dire need of the service.
Nor were psychiatrists who staffed the tent required to intervene at any point, Sante said.
In the Medical Tent responders mostly handed out cough drops and Gatorade and treated minor ailments such as cuts and insect bites.
Law enforcement saw quite a bit more activity over the two-day period, however. A total of 17 people were arrested over the concert period, most of them for drug possession or distribution charges.
According to Telluride Chief Marshal Jim Kolar, hard drugs including Ecstasy, LSD, cocaine and methamphetamine were confiscated in addition to softer drugs like marijuana and hashish.
“There was some stuff that tested positive for heroin as well,” he said, noting that police arrested a man accused of trying to smuggle drugs onto the concert grounds by way of his 5-year-old son.
“He was charged with child abuse,” Kolar said.
A number of nitrous oxide tanks were also confiscated over the two-day period, however no arrests for possession of the substance, which is legal in the U.S. except for purposes of human consumption, were made.
“I think it went pretty well considering what we were expecting,” said San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters.
There were a few instances of trespass, but “vandalism and theft were not a huge problem,” he said.
And although a few people were arrested for driving under the influence, there were no bad accidents.
“Maybe the hype got the better of us, but we really planned for a lot worse event than it turned out to be.”
Still, even though doomsday didn’t arrive, the planning effort wasn’t for naught. The
San Miguel County Emergency Operations Center met its goals of supporting public safety and medical incident commanders throughout the event, information analysis (both internally and externally) and the use of new communications software, according to a press release issued by San Miguel County.
The event also served as a good exercise for opening and running the EOC for future events or disasters.
“When I look at the whole economic benefit to the community, I think it was probably a plus,” said Masters.