Will Phish return to Watkins Glen this summer?

NYS Music spoke to Michael Printup, President of Watkins Glen, about the possibility of Phish making a return to the Southern Tier this summer.

Johnny Goff – Hey Michael, It’s been two years since we chatted pre-Super Ball to discuss Phish rumors at Watkins Glen. Here we are, two years later and I’m curious what you think the legacy is of having the Phish SuperBall 9 festival at Watkins Glen International?

Michael Printup, Watkins Glen International Track President – It was such a great show. I mean, it was obvious so much more than I initially would have given it credit to be, even though I had attended some Phish shows in the past. What a great festie it was. It really gained some attention from the music business, which, in all honesty, was one of the goals. It wasn’t something we were surprised at. But we are still looking, you know. I went out to California to talk to Coran Capshaw and his main group Red Light Management about coming back and unfortunately, we just couldn’t find common ground to put it back together and come back and even the band, according to Coran, wanted to come back but it just wasn’t going to work for 2013. We just both agreed to put it on the hook and see if we could put something together and do it again in 2014.

phish return to Watkins glenJG– So at this point, you can definitively say Phish would not be returning to Watkins Glen this summer?

MP– Nope, Sorry folks, Phish is not coming back this summer. We are not even in discussions. We told them we’d stay in touch and every now and again, Richard (Glasgow) and I email each other and stay in touch but we don’t have any Phish shows coming back this summer.

JG – May I ask what are the details behind the band not returning? Is it coming from WGI’s parent corporation in Daytona – (International Speedway Corp.) wanting to focus more on its core with Auto Racing or was it based on scheduling conflicts?

MP– It was all scheduling and that’s what we told Coran and Richard. We’re booked almost a full year and half ahead for the following year so when we’re entering spring of 2013, we are already booked for 2014. So schedules materialize very fast and so by the time we went back out there in April to Coachella to speak with them, it was just a matter of conflict. They only had certain dates that worked for them and we only had certain dates that worked for us, it just wasn’t conducive to hold a concert in October or November, which was really the only timeframe we had open.

JG– Does Watkins Glen still have a commitment down the road to holding more musical events there and have you engaged in any talks with Live Nation?

MP– Yes. Absolutely. In fact, I’ve been meeting with Live Nation and another group out of Los Angeles. There’s interest from numerous promoters to put something on here, so at this point, it really just comes down to scheduling, like it did with Phish. So it is imperative we maintain a very historical spot for music, dating back to 1973’s Summer Jam to some of the famous festivals that have happened in New York State. It’s almost like something we have a reputation to do and the ability to do and I think there’s some type of cache’ with Watkins Glen so we want to keep it going. Our primary business is racing, that’s what we’re here to do and we’re going to keep that up too, but music is a big goal of mine, it has been since I got here. We were very fortunate to have booked Phish and we’re hopeful we can do it again in the future.

JG– How does your plan for music play into ISC’s plans for auto racing at Watkins Glen and possibly segmenting your core audience?

MP– It’s funny you asked this because I just had a conversation with John Saunders who is president of our entire company (ISC) and he shared with me that he’d like me to speak with some of the other (race)tracks about our model and how we did it because he said, ‘Let’s face it, you had a very successful concert so let’s take a look at that model and see if we can do that at other racetracks.’ The good thing is we do have a very successful model and the boss recognizes it and has been more than supportive in letting us our business. So I think that’s a good thing. John (Saunders) lets us run it and we’ve got a great group supporting us.

photo by Andy Hill
Phish @ SuperBall IX – photo by Andy Hill

JG– Hypothetically, if all of your plans jive perfectly and the schedules fall in line with would-be promoters, what is EARLIEST fans could expect to see music back at Watkins Glen?

MP– I honestly think Johnny that if we get really lucky, I want to say this year. Not Phish though.(laughing). I’d like to make that clear again. But there are some other opportunities that may just slip into our schedule. We’re still waiting to hear back from a couple of promoters on whether some things will work. We could do evening concerts all day long because our track is pretty much booked until October already so if we could put something together, you know, where we book 2-3 night shows and it works for someone else, we’re trying to find, right now for 2013, we need to find that perfect recipe to bake the perfect cake. I think we’ve found 1 of possibly 2 promoters who would be flexible in that and if we do, but then it’s just up to the artists at that point to tie it all together.

JG– What genres do you forsee being good fit for a local and regional draw?

MP– You know…I’m not going to rule out anything. I think whatever you can think of. Truly. I mean, we could be successful with everything from country to EDM so I really think we can do everything. That’s not an arrogant statement. I just think we have the population of all the cities that surround us, not even counting New York City, but Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany Erie, Binghamton, northern tier of Pennsylvania: you add all those up and that’s a pretty solid population base. Literally, we could do EDM, rock, country. I think we’ve get pretty lucky because one thing promoters have really liked and wanted to plan out after the success of that Phish show is our capacity for camping. That’s what really highlights and made it easier for the fans and in turn, makes it easier for the promoter.

JG– Thanks again for your time Michael.

MP– Pleasure’s mine. Take Care.

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