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20 years ago: Phish invasion on the Big Cypress Reservation

It was described as the largest concert on Earth to usher in the new millennium.

An estimated 80,000 people with traffic jams that stretched miles and lasted hours. “Psychedelic gridlock” is how Tribune reporter Peter Gallagher described the congestion in a story.

And it all happened on the Big Cypress Reservation.

This New Year’s marks the 20th anniversary of the massive outdoor Phish concert, a Woodstock-like gathering that had never been seen in the Everglades and on a Seminole reservation before nor since.

On Dec. 31, 1999, the Vermont-based band, with its legendary and loyal cultish followers filling a field on Jack Motlow’s pasture, began playing shortly before midnight and continued all the way until after the first sunrise of 2000, an experience the band still talks about today.

“We played all night. We actually played two days, but the last set was from 11:15, or something, on New Year’s Eve, until 7 or 8 in the morning. It was incredible, and, for me, it was the greatest, the pinnacle,” Phish lead singer and founding member Trey Anastasio said on the 2019 “After Midnight: Phish’s Big Cypress Festival” podcast hosted by Jesse Jarnow.

President Mitchell Cypress didn’t attend the concert, but he had a good view of the gathering.

“I flew over the area and it was like a city,” he said. “They had a post office, a Ferris wheel, they had everything out there. Nothing serious happened, it turned out all right. A lot of vendors made a lot of money. It must have been a good concert, but I didn’t pay any attention to it. The people were younger, like upgraded hippies.”

Thousands of Phish fans descend on the Big Cypress Reservation for the band’s New Year’s concert 20 years ago. (Tribune file photo)

Big Cypress Councilman David Cypress didn’t go to the concert either. He remembers that it didn’t disrupt life on the reservation.

“There were too many people. They didn’t let them into the community; they weren’t allowed to cross the bridge [by Sadie’s],” he said. “We just stayed home and it was like a regular day.”

Phish disbanded eight months after the Big Cypress concert, but the hiatus lasted only two years and the band has since gone through on again, off again periods.

This New Year’s Eve the band played at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

From a pasture to a garden, Phish rocks on.

Tribune staff reporter Beverly Bidney contributed to this story.

Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson is senior editor. He has worked for The Seminole Tribune since 2014. He was previously an editor, photographer and reporter for newspapers in Southwest Florida and Connecticut. Contact Kevin at