Prairie dogs, parking and the plague: What you need to know before seeing Phish in Denver this weekend

Phish’s annual Labor Day shows in Denver have run into a few hiccups this year, thanks to the plague

Photos by Michael McGrath
“Phish performs at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Sept. 5, 2015.

Phish’s big, three-show run over Labor Day weekend in Commerce City is almost here — along with some added complications for attendees.

Due to concerns about the pneumonic plague, which can cause severe lung infections, camping has been canceled and on-site parking has been severely curtailed at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park from Aug. 30 to Sept. 1.

That’s because infected fleas and dead prairie dogs have been found in several dirt locations and open spaces in Commerce City, as The Denver Post reported last week, including at nearby Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge and on Dick’s sprawling property itself.

“We were in there (Tuesday) assessing it, and we’ll be going back out there Thursday (Aug. 29) to do more testing,” said Monte Deatrich, Tri-County Health Department’s environmental health manager. “We have to monitor how the prairie dogs are doing, because the plague doesn’t kill them all — only about 95 percent of them — so we capture more fleas and have them tested to see how our insecticide is working.”

Fortunately, on-site tests at Dick’s have been coming back negative, which tells Tri-County Health that their treatment is working. Tri-County has also not seen any evidence of human illness from the plague, Deatrich said.

Dylan Langille, special to The Denver Post
Phish performs at its final show of a previous three-night Colorado run at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City on Sept. 1.

Even as Dick’s Sporting Goods Park and its surface lots have been cleared for use, the 2,000 to 3,000 people who planned to camp overnight during the three days of concerts will need to find other accommodations. That follows edicts from Tri-County and the Colorado Department of Public Health, which were later communicated by the band and promoter AEG Presents Rocky Mountains.

Camping tickets, RV tickets and related service charges are being automatically refunded, the band said, while parking has been restricted to asphalt lots at Dick’s. That’s a change from recent years, when concert-goers could line up on the grass and dirt areas to stow vehicles.

AEG officials acknowledged the inconvenience but said the number of campers affected is a small proportion of the 23,000 attendees the venue can hold each day. If you haven’t booked a nearby hotel room in Commerce City, Stapleton, downtown Denver, Aurora or around Denver International Airport, do so immediately, as your options are more limited than on other weekends, according to an informal phone survey of hotels in the area.

There are also several Labor Day weekend mainstays contributing to increased occupancy such as the Taste of Colorado festival, the Rocky Mountain Showdown (CU vs. CSU Football game at Broncos Stadium at Mile High) and a 4,000-person Energy Summit convention downtown, according to Visit Denver.

“There is definitely more pressure (on hotel occupancy),” said PR and communications director Jesse Davis. “But it’s also worth noting that we have added 2,450 new rooms year over year (as of late July) in the metro market.”

Potentially more expensive options, such as Airbnb rentals and further-flung rooms, remain available.

As in recent years, mom-and-pop parking lots will likely sprout up in the Northeast Denver neighborhoods just west of the venue, although ride-hailing and shuttles may be your cheapest option. Note that popular ride-hailing services such as Lyft and Uber can charge peak-time rates (or “surge pricing”) to coincide with rush periods getting in and out of the venue. As with any concert, also prepare for long lines and general confusion at drop-off and pick-up areas at the venue itself.

“We will have overflow options available to make sure that it’s an easy and fluid experience for all attendees,” AEG Presents’ Don Strasburg told The Denver Post last week.

As of Wednesday, however, AEG had not responded to a request for details on those options, and Phish had not updated its Aug. 20 website post about the camping and parking limitations. Both the promoter and the band have promised that people who purchased tickets to one or more of the shows will be notified of nearby overflow parking and shuttles before the Aug. 30 kick-off show.

Police and Commerce City staff are currently working on an enforcement plan to make sure attendees don’t camp in city parks and open spaces, which is not allowed, according to Commerce City Mayor Sean Ford.

Phish’s famous Shakedown Street — an area in the parking lots at Phish shows where fans sell souvenirs and food — will also not be allowed this year. The area normally used by vendors at Dick’s is on a dirt road and therefore banned for use.

“They should be safe walking in and out of the venue,” Deatrich said of the tens of thousands of attendees. “They should stay out of the areas that are posted. As long as they stay on asphalt and go to the concert, they should have a good time and be safe.”

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