Guitarist Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon, keyboardist Page McConnell and drummer Jon Fishman will play three sold-out shows at the Hampton Coliseum starting Friday.
When the reunion concerts were announced last fall, the band's intensely devoted fans snapped up tickets immediately, and seats for the opening show were being resold for as high as $1,000 on Thursday. The summer tour dates have also sold out.
Jason Bishop has gone to about 80 Phish shows since he started following them in 1993. Since then, the 34-year-old Richmond man met his wife, got married and now has an 8-month-old son. He was one of the lucky fans who managed to get tickets for Friday's opener with relative ease.
"The lottery gods smiled down upon me; I paid $60 a ticket," he said. "I did purchase one StubHub ticket that ended up going to a friend - that ended up going for $300."
Area hotels were booked immediately after the October announcement of the Hampton shows. Local inn owners have reported fielding calls from Phish fans from most states and as far away as Belgium and Germany, and a campsite is being set up for the weekend at a local stadium.
Ryan Lafata, a spokesman with the Hampton Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that it's possible to have upwards of 75,000 people come to the area for the three shows at the Coliseum, which holds about 13,000 for general-admission events.
"Phish fans are a traveling community, and people who aren't going to the shows are going to be in the parking lot meeting up with old friends," he said.
The band's fans are known for setting up freewheeling open-air markets in parking lots around show venues, where people gather to sell all manner of goods, including T-shirts, posters and recordings. Phish had sought to bar the sale of unlicensed merchandise at the concerts and a federal judge said Thursday he will issue the injunction but refused to allow band representatives to seize bootleg items.
About $5 million was spent locally the last time Phish played Hampton, and though the economy's in the tank, Lafata speculated the figure might be higher this time as the youthful fans of past decades now hold real jobs, and "everybody grows up and they have more money to spend."
Hampton tourism officials say the large number off fans expected include those who didn't have concert tickets still planned to travel to Hampton, congregate outside the coliseum to take in the scene and reunite with old friends.
Phish formed at the University of Vermont in 1983. They are known for their amorphous blend of rock, jazz, bluegrass and other styles, along with intense improvisations. Often likened to the Grateful Dead, they had a lucrative touring act with an incredibly devoted fan base.
"For me it's the willingness of the band to essentially play without a script; it's an improvisational show," Bishop said. "No two shows are the same. You could have a song, but no two versions of a song are the same."