Midwestern Meccas

Deer Creek '09 Poster

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.

Alpine Valley (T.Tipe)

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.

Deer Creek (unknown)

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.

8.13.96 Deer Creek - Live Phish 12

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).

7.8.00 Alpine - Live Phish

7.8.00 Alpine - Live Phish 05

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:

The Curtain > David Bowie” 12.11.95 II

A fierce jaunt into the occult from Cumberland County ’95.




1.28.1990 The Front, Burlington, VT SBD < Torrent

1.28.1990 The Front, Burlington, VT SBD < Megaupload

Circa 1987 (unknown)

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: SBD

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614 Responses to “Midwestern Meccas”

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  1. yesyes Says:

    happy day to all of you!

  2. Icculus420 Says:

    chicago phan here and i’m glad you wrote about my two favorite home town venues the creek and alpine. great piece miner

  3. garretc Says:

    Oh man, the excitement for summer just keeps building!

  4. garretc Says:

    I’m so excited!

    And I just can’t hide it!

  5. Exree Hipp Says:

    Great Jam of the Day – IMO the most underrated Bowie of all time. The interplay between the band is the culmination of their melodic style and the adventurousness of Summer 95. I have listened a thousand times and never get tired of this one.

    The Hood from this show is also one of the lesser-sung heroes. Trey pulls a delay effect at the peak that allows him to solo over his own peak, and it gives me chills every time. Amazing show.

  6. Luther Justice Says:

    At Deer Creek, all things are possible.

    Luther turns 38 today. Yikes!

  7. MisterChristian Says:

    Hello Everyone,

    Still can’t post from work, so frustrating.

    Sorry to miss out on the conversation with you all.

  8. page_sandwich Says:

    Great download today!!! If you plan to post anymore shows from The Front can I please request 3-11-90. This show was one of my very first tapes and contains incredible versions of Split, Harpua & Roll Like a Cantaloupe. BTW just wanted to take a second to thank you for the positivity you instill in my day.

  9. Gavinsdad Says:

    Miner – great writeup. 2 Venues i’ve been to, but never been there for the phish

    @Luther J: enjoy man.

    @exree: (still one of my fave handles) thanks for shedding more light on that Cumberland. I gotta check that out.

    Taking Gavin to work today. Were both pretty stoked.

    Have a good day all.

  10. Willowed Says:

    I love the way you write Miner. Your post today has gotten me super excited for summer tour!!

  11. BabyPigPerm Says:

    nooks are for wooks. that is all.

  12. [Not Tom] Marshall Says:

    Luther – have no fear. I’ve been 38 for about 9 months and it’s no so bad. Happy Earth Birthday to you LJ.

    Re: Deer Creek – I hit the ’96 and ’97 shows. They were my first Phish Excurisions (before that I’d only hit local shows and never camped). Glad to know that what I’ve always known for years (that these shows raged) was, in fact, Fact. Thank you Mr. Miner.

    Looking forward to showing Leo Weaver what he’s been missing all these years, come this August.

  13. [Not Tom] Marshall Says:

    “And this summer – take eight – we do it all over again.”

    I’m still drinking my first cup, but what does “take eight” mean?

  14. SillyWilly Says:

    I’ll be hitting all 4 of the DC>AV run this year!

    This summer is going to rock.

    Hope you all are doing well!

  15. SillyWilly Says:

    Happy Birthday, Luther!

  16. jdub Says:

    Happy Earth day all and have a great B-Day Luther.

    NTM, these are the eighth installments of Phish at DC/Alpine.

  17. bhizzle Says:

    Even tho I won’t be hitting either Alpine or DC up, the post has just given me an adrenaline shot for summer tour. I’m stoked. I cannot wait. Everyday I’m getting more excited. This past weekend I got my Hershey ticket in the mail. Then last night I was drinking a Great Lakes beverage and started getting all amp’d for BTB fest. It’s going to be a great summer folks. I hope to see you on the ride.

    Happy B-day Luther…..does 38 mean you start farting dust?

    Gavinsdad…just make sure your son doesn’t think posting on some Phish site all day is your job, eh?

  18. Litteringand Says:

    Thank you for the venue shout outs miner. I have been waiting for them since I read your first venue critique. I’ve seen this band at Deer Creek since I was 16 and now I continue to go back to the cornfields at 30. Deer Creek is my Nectars. Any that Ramble on show if my favorite show that I’ve seen live. Don’t forget they debuted Been Caught Stealin for the encore

  19. Little Buddy Says:

    Happy B-Day, Luther.

    I did the whole summer tours in 97 and 98 and that was when I became acquainted with DC and Alpine. When the boys announced their summer tour last year my wife and I got really pumped to hit these venues for the first time in 10 years for us. It was so nice to get back to DC and Alpine last year. This year we not gonna make it, and it’s too bad because I got a feeling that this years DC is really gonna blow up. Very nice write up, MR. Miner.

    @bhizzle – Did you get your Phish 3D tickets yet? It only shows at midnight on the 30th and May 1. I may have an extra for you if it sold out.

  20. Litteringand Says:

    And that Ramble On show is*

  21. SillyWilly Says:

    I second the Ramble On show has being straight up fire

  22. Stir it with a Ladle Says:

    last years Deer Creek wasl wild, who was there?

  23. [Not Tom] Marshall Says:

    I was there. In retrospect, it should have been a two night stand. If you are going to immediately get on the road to head to AV, then you need at least two nights, so you can enjoy the party one of them. I believe that was the first single night stand since the first one in ’95.

  24. Little Buddy Says:

    @ Stir It

    The wife and I were there. Lucky enough to have shell seats so we didn’t have to evacuate during the storm. Up until that point the second set was the best set of Phish I had heard in ’09.

  25. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    mornin’ all

    two of my favorite venues, both from phish and the dead. can’t say I’ve ever had a non-amazing time at either place!

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