If someone who had never seen Phish asked me which venues to hit in order to really absorb the essence of summer tour, the answer would be easy – Deer Creek and Alpine Valley. Though Phish has played some east coast sheds more often in their career, the rural feel of these Midwestern staples create more festive affairs than the asphalt jungles up and down I-95. Almost always sunny and always paired together, Deer Creek and Alpine formed a memorable chunk of all summer tours from the mid-’90s on. The two venues have different perks, but together form a symbiotic summer institution.
Phish has played Deer Creek every summer since ’95, and Alpine since ’96, pairing the two no less than seven times in their career. And while the two venues share the rustic, off-the beaten path, vibe, they each offer unique amenities. Deer Creek likens church, while Alpine is a party. The 24,000 person capacity of Deer Creek is weighted on the lawn, and with a pavilion of only 6,000, the venue retains an intimate feel. On the other hand, Alpine’s “invite-all” policy allows over 37,000 to enter through the famed wooden gates, and, predominantly, cling to a notoriously steep lawn. With 7,500 seats underneath the roof, Alpine has one of the largest pavilions of any tour, providing a massive feel of a mini-amphitheatre of its own.
Though both security forces put up a strong first-set facades, when the shit goes down, the yellow shirts generally disappear, allowing fun to ensue unencumbered. Each venue has their own nooks and crannies for the the kidz to discover and rage freely. While Deer Creek sounds better overall, if you’re sitting pavilion center at Alpine, the clarity is tough to beat. Though with such an expansive shed, the sound in Alpine’s pavilion suffers in some locales. In each venue, however, the energy turns palpable, and often for different reasons. At Deer Creek, Phish’s music takes on the spiritual quality of the cornfields at night, their very own field of dreams. Alpine shows harness the power of nearly 40,000 fans, churning out traditionally heavy hitting, high-quality jams. The venues work cooperatively, providing a Midwestern yin and yang to Phish tour.
While Deer Creek possesses an expansive lot, it can’t hold a candle to Alpine’s sprawling fields. Seemingly extending forever, Alpine Valley’s grassy expanses provide one of the most free-for-all scenes of the summertime, hosting a endless pre and post show parties for hours on both sides. With the Chicago fan base flooding the scene, many young fans arrive early and stay late, for an all-day Phish affair. Though both lots can be plagued by undercovers, if one is careful (and not selling drugs,) there shouldn’t be any problems. The walkable campgrounds of Deer Creek provide hassle free summer parties, while Alpine’s lodging can go many ways, from lake houses to campgrounds to the Alpine Valley Lodge, the venues own hotel of debauchery.
Though not by rule, the shows at these venues have often been among the best of their respective tours. Deer Creek ’96 rivaled the band’s best offerings from Red Rocks for the shows of the summer. Alpine and Deer Creek ’97 shone as the band prepared to head east towards Maine. Specifically, Deer Creek’s 8.10.97 stood out as a contender for the show of the summer with outstanding jams throughout both sets. Once again in ’98, both venues provided copious tour highlights such as Deer Creek’s “Halley’s,” “Ghost,” “Bowie” and “Gumbo.” But this time Alpine’s two-set masterpiece took the cake. With a “Ramble On > Mike’s” opener and a non-stop second set that boasted one of the brilliant “Tweezers” of the late ’90s, this is a must-have show for any fan.
The two venues combined for three shows to end ’99’s US tour, with the first night at Deer Creek, 7.25.99, standing head and shoulders above the others. Highlights included the first set sequence of “My Friend > My Left Toe > Whipping Post,” and the second set’s “Bird’s > Walk Away.” In 2000, Phish played only one show at Alpine, while favoring a trifecta in the cornfields. This three night stand boasted three strong shows, including the fan-favorite “Moby Dick” evening sandwiched in the middle. Ironically, someone made the decision to release the Alpine show as a Live Phish release, a night that has far less engaging playing as any of the three Deer Creek shows (let alone many others).
The band made it back to their Midwestern homes in both 2003 and 2004 for a total of nine shows, providing many memorable moments. Deer Creek ’03 brought “Gumbo,” “Split > Free,” “Scents and Subtle Sounds,” “Sneakin’ Sally,” and “Antelope.” Alpine’s two night’s featured “Disease > Catapult,” an alien-encounter “Twist,” and a flowing, cohesive second set on of the second night on July 19. In 2004, Alpine outshone Deer Creek in Phish’s farewell tour. And last year, Alpine and Deer Creek provided two of the three strongest shows of June. An illustrious history to say the least!
Last but not least, the most classic experience surrounding these summer stops is the all-night cannonball run between the two venues. Unless one enjoys miserable Chicago traffic, the no-brainer move is to jet after the show and crash all day. After so many drives back and forth on these roads, this overnight drive has become as much a part of the summer experience as anything. Crossing the Illinois-Wisconsin border in the wee hours of the morning, carrying the energy of the show that still lives inside you, is a rite of passage in the Phish universe.
And this summer – take eight – we do it all over again. With a pair of show at each venue, the Phishy ritual of Deer Creek and Alpine will push on into another decade, keeping the summer tradition alive.
Jam of the Day:
A fierce jaunt into the occult from Cumberland County ’95.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
1.28.1990 The Front, Burlington, VT SBD < Torrent
1.28.1990 The Front, Burlington, VT SBD < Megaupload
While Nectar’s is considered the birthplace of Phish, the band actually played more shows at The Front, another Burlington watering hole. Today we take it back to the old school, early 1990, when Phish remained, largely, a regional band. You’ll find nothing but classics in this setlist, as the band played through their old-school rotation between their friendly banter. Enjoy this relic from over 20 years ago!
I: Suzy Greenberg, Split Open and Melt, Tela, Fluffhead, La Grange, Carolina, Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird, Communication Breakdown
II: Wilson, Run Like an Antelope, Bouncing Around the Room, Caravan, The Squirming Coil, You Enjoy Myself, Bathtub Gin, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove
E: Lawn Boy, Big Black Furry Creature from Mars
Source: SBDTags: Culture, Summer '10