Howard Stern Thinks Phish’s Madison Square Garden Run Was a Superspreader Event

Stern's producer and several listeners who attended the shows later tested positive

phish howard stern madison square garden covid superspreader

Last week, Phish played their postponed Madison Square Garden residency after pushing it back due to the omicron variant. Over the past several days, some concertgoers have attributed positive COVID tests to their attendance at the event. One of those fans is Howard Stern Show executive producer Jason Kaplan, which led to the host inviting attendees of the shows to call in with their experiences (via Variety) at the potential superspreader event.

Kaplan was asked to take a home COVID test after Stern noticed his scratchy throat, and recounted his experience at the Phish shows. “I got no one to blame but myself,” Kaplan said on-air while also admitting he attended a hotel afterparty where there was heavy nitrous use. “It’s out there, it’s still happening… Nothing is worth getting COVID for, but it was an awesome show.”

It’s worth noting Phish required proof of full COVID-19 vaccination for guests over the age of five, but New York City no longer requires masks in concert venues. While phoning in to Howard Stern, music industry veteran Harvey Leeds described an atmosphere in MSG ripe for the spread of novel coronavirus.

“Everybody’s standing in line like a cattle lineup, without masks,” Leeds said. “People were passing around vape pens and joints and sharing beers and soda… I was very conscious of wearing a mask and then Sunday… I’m coughing and sneezing. I get tested and, boom, positive.” Leeds concluded, “This shit-storm ain’t over.”

Several Phish fans who were at the MSG shows were also contacted by Variety. Confirming Leeds’ account, longtime devotee and photographer Jeff Kravitz confirmed Leeds’ assessment of the scene and said he knew of “at least five people” who tested positive after attending.

“[The virus] was live in that room. Even people who were wearing masks ended up getting it anyway,” said Kravitz, who went to all four shows. “I saw people sharing joints, balloons, and drinks — it was like normal. It wasn’t anybody holding back.”

Meanwhile, Phish taper Todd Hinden called the shows a “superspreader for sure,” adding he knew “like a dozen” people who tested positive after attending.

Per reporting from Variety, the band itself took strict precautions. In the backstage area, everyone was masked and it was restricted to the road crew and immediate friends and family, with strict enforcement of a wristband system.

In December, Phish announced they were postponing the annual Madison Square Garden run less than a week after LCD Soundsystem canceled a residency of their own at Brooklyn Steel due to the late COVID surge. Back then, at least, proof of vaccination and mask mandates were in place across the country, but bands now find themselves in a situation in which they have less control over the environment in which fans attend their shows.

Phish’s upcoming spring and summer tour takes place at outdoor venues, which should mitigate the possibility of COVID spread. It kicks off next month and features stops in Atlantic City, Philadelphia, Toronto, and more. Pick up your tickets here.


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