Labor Day Phish Concerts Plagued by Prairie Dogs

Phish is back this Labor Day weekend.
Phish is back this Labor Day weekend. Jacqueline Collins
Phish heads expecting to camp outside Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City over Labor Day weekend for the band's three concerts, which start on August 30, just received some bad news: The Tri-County Health Department announced today, August 20, that it has restricted parking at the venue to asphalt lots, that overnight camping will be prohibited, and that vendors — who had planned to set up in the grass  — are no longer allowed on site.

The reason for all these changes? The plague.

"On August 1, Tri-County Health Department recommended closure of numerous sites in Commerce City due to plague-carrying fleas affecting the prairie dog colonies," according to a statement from the agency, which covers Adams, Douglas and Arapahoe counties. "Numerous sites with plague-infected fleas affecting local prairie dog colonies will remain closed through Labor Day weekend so that authorities can continue to treat the prairie dogs’ holes with insecticide to kill any remaining fleas that could transmit the disease to prairie dogs, people, and pets."

But planned soccer tournaments and the Phish shows are still happening. "Based upon the activities and Tri-County Health and their communications with us, there’s no basis that we will have to move the event," says AEG Presents Rocky Mountains Senior Talent Buyer Don Strasburg. "Tri-County Health has spent the last three weeks actively addressing this issue, which I'm sure has further mitigated any risks."

AEG will announce alternate transportation to the venue in the coming days. And should there be further problems, Strasburg says the promoter has backup plans.

click to enlarge The vendor area at Dick's Sporting Goods Park will be closed during this year's Labor Day Phish concerts. - BRANDON MARSHALL
The vendor area at Dick's Sporting Goods Park will be closed during this year's Labor Day Phish concerts.
Brandon Marshall
"All parties involved with events of this magnitude take every precaution and attempt to have every available resource engaged in the event of unusual situations," explains Strasburg, who says he plans on being at Dick's throughout the weekend.

Phish told fans on its website that the band will be refunding camping and RV parking tickets:

An Announcement Regarding Camping & Parking At Dick’s Sporting Goods Park: As you may have heard, there have been ongoing cases of plague in prairie dog colonies in the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge this summer. Fortunately, the Tri-County Health Department has advised that Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (DSGP) is safe to host Phish’s concerts over Labor Day weekend. While there have been no confirmed cases of plague on site at DSGP, as an extra measure of caution, the Health Department has restricted parking at the venue to asphalt lots - concertgoers will not be allowed to park on unpaved lots or grass.

As a result, we are sorry to say that there will be no overnight camping allowed for this year’s shows. All camping tickets and RV tickets (and associated service charges) will be automatically refunded within the next few days. We recognize the tremendous inconvenience this may cause for those who had planned on camping.

While DSGP has significant asphalt parking on site, off-site parking will need to be utilized to accommodate all concertgoers. We will be providing free off-site parking and free shuttles at nearby locations, and we will be notifying ticket holders of parking and shuttle details once they are finalized over the next week.

Also, please note that due to these restrictions, vending will not be permitted on site as the area traditionally set aside for vending is no longer useable.

Thanks very much for your cooperation — our goal is to make sure these concerts go off as smoothly as possible while preserving the safety of all attendees.

Infected prairie dogs were first identified at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge at the start of August; after a quick closure, much of the refuge, including the Visitor Center, Wildlife Drive and recreational fishing access, reopened on August 17, although some trails and parking lots will remain closed through Labor Day weekend owing to to ongoing monitoring and plague management efforts. The nearby 198-acre First Creek at DEN Open Space will remain closed through Labor Day weekend, according to Denver Parks and Recreation.

The Centers for Disease Control offer more information on prairie dogs and plague here.

But it takes more than fleas to keep Phish fans down. Fans were largely congenial once they realized that the concerts would still happen, some even joking about the situation. A fan on Facebook said: "I’m getting word their will be an impromptu 'flea market' set up on Prairie Pkwy for all your lot ware needs."

The Phish concerts are scheduled for August 30 to September 1 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City. For more information, visit Phish's website.
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris