It wasn't enough to push their fans beyond their musical comfort zone — for the 2018 Curveball Fest, Phish wanted to find a way to deeply annoy them. Repeatedly. And for no other reason than the band's own amusement.
So they came up with the Mime Field.
The plan was to force fans attending the multi-day festival at Watkins Glen International speedway in Upstate New York to make a terrible choice: Each night, while exiting the event, festivalgoers could take a long and very much out-of-the-way route to get to the camping grounds, or they could take a shorter walk through a pitch black field where dozens of mimes lie in wait.
And not just any mimes — the men and women actors in the Mime Field were specially trained, hyper-aggressive mimes that would get in people's faces and annoy them with imaginary objects and relentless silent movements. The band expected their fans to be amused for about 10 seconds before becoming really annoyed by mimes who were told to never break character, no matter how angry or upset someone became.
"The original idea was there would be holes in the ground and they would rise out of the holes on these little elevator lifts," said Phish drummer Jon Fishman for the recent episode of Long May They Run, a new podcast dedicated to groundbreaking bands with the first season focused on Phish. "As you're walking through, these people would be doing the hand motions for walls and windows — the things that mimes do — and they would be in your face and you'd have to walk around these mimes that would be obstacles in the field. It would a be a real pain in the ass and people would be like, 'Ugh. I don't want to walk through the mime field again, but otherwise I have to walk all the way around.'"
The idea had been floated for years and had finally been drawn up for the 2018 festival, only to have Curveball canceled during soundcheck after a heavy rainfall rendered nearby drinking water wells unusable. (In 2019, Watkins Glen was supposed to be the site of the Woodstock 50 anniversary festival, which also was famously canceled.) Fishman said he ended up sticking around town after other members of the band left and eventually headed into one of few local restaurants, only to find the dozens of mimes he had hired eating dinner.
At first he was excited to see them and took pictures with a bunch of the actors to send to his bandmates. But then, the obnoxious mimes' training kicked in and they became unrelentingly annoying.
"None of them talked to me either — I tried to get them to break character and none of them would," Fishman said. "They must have been really well trained. And they really did their job and we're super in my face, making me sit down on their knees and doing all kinds of stuff…. I was like, 'I just want to get a beer, I don't want to hold your imaginary object.'"
Long May They Run is hosted and written by veteran music journalist Dean Budnick, Relix magazine editor-in-chief and a contributor to Billboard. The series and is produced by C13 Originals, a division of New York podcast company Cadence 13, creators of the popular Root of Evil and Gangster Capitalism series.
Long May They Run, Season One: Phish tracks the band's evolution into becoming one of the most influential touring bands of all time, tracking how Phish "redefined the bond between artist and audience, created a way of life, and innovated an entire industry along the way," Budnick explains. The 10-episode series shows how Phish laid the foundation for the modern day festival business, he notes, creating "a blueprint for events like Bonnaroo" while developing "ticketing initiatives that disrupted the status quo."
All four Phish band members were interviewed for the series, as well as longtime original manager John Paluska and early co-manager Ben Hunter. The series also includes current members of the band, Jason Colton and Patrick Jordan, and in total Budnick interviewed more than 90 people for the series including
The most recent episode features a conversation with Chris McGregor, The Residents' longtime lighting director, explaining how he came to work with the band and help develop it's 1993 aquarium stage set and the hot dog that flew over Boston Garden on New Year’s Eve 1994. Listen to it here.