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”

  1. BingosBrother Says:

    Z-Cavaricci’s were the gold standard of Jr High

  2. ChefBradford Says:

    Light Gears. Remember ’em, never had ’em

  3. beepaphone Says:

    BK Lights? Anyone?

  4. BingosBrother Says:

    1880’s Corey. :won’t get off Corey’s lawn:

  5. willowed Says:

    I remember those. I only had one pair. When I outgrew them I burried them in the back yard.

  6. BingosBrother Says:

    Yes I do beep. Fondly.

  7. willowed Says:

    It was a sad day in the Bailey house

  8. BingosBrother Says:

    Don’t try to compare us to another band…

  9. beepaphone Says:

    I remember walking down the hallways in 3rd grade or whatever the first time I had those. Looking behind me to see if anyone was looking at how cool I was for having little red lights emitting from my heels with every step.

  10. BTB Says:

    Members Only jacket: Burgundy – Super bad ass

  11. willowed Says:

    I got two black eyes that was Beep. ran into a locker then I ran into a door.

  12. beepaphone Says:

    It is time to edit my avatar to give him little red lights on the heels.

  13. willowed Says:

    Since we are going old school:


  14. Guyute711 Says:

    That’s it I’m breaking out my parachute pants for summer tour. Better bring some Gold Bond too.

  15. purplehumpbackwhale Says:


    Rolling Stone interview with one of the filmmakers – reports that theres a ton of extra footage the band wanted out of the movie that either may make the DVD cut OR there may be enough footage for a seperate feature-length on the dvd!

  16. ThePigSong Says:

    Beepaphone- were you the guy getting married and searching out a good 2001? If so please email me at thepigsong at gmail

  17. beepaphone Says:

    @ pigsong – yousagottamail

  18. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    nice. calling out the bad fashion. I have two pretty good “near misses” that I can thank me mom for helping to prevent from coming to fruition.

    one was when I wanted a pair of “turf shoes” (you know, the ones with the nubs on the bottom and the huge tongue that flipped over the laces) not because I played football or anything but because I thought they would be cool to wear around. Thankfully, they were out of my size and my mom prevented me from buying the pair a half size too small.

    the other was in 8th grade when I wanted to get “negative sideburns” (see here) shaved into my head because some of the other guys on the baseball team had them. looking back, I cannot fathom what made me think that looked good.

  19. Luther Justice Says:

    Turf shoes are out of style?

  20. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    not on your 38th birthday, Mr T.
    Everything’s in style for you today!

  21. sumodie Says:

    Rolling Stone interview with one of the filmmakers – reports that theres a ton of extra footage the band wanted out of the movie

    To clarify, it was only the ‘B-roll shots’ that the band wanted cut from the film:

    “Miller says the band was closely involved in editing the movie: “We had a lead-in with B-roll shots and they said they didn’t want them in there. They wanted it to be just about the concert. That’s what they were going for.”

  22. Guyute711 Says:

    You don’t shave your burns that high without an attitude to back it up. Very Nice

  23. willowed Says:

    I wanted to pose with my best friend in grade school. My mom begged me not to, but in the end, I won that battle.
    You tell me, was it a good idea?
    I think so.
    Who’s laughing now Mom!


  24. willowed Says:

    The photographer asked us to smile…I said no, it’s cooler if we don’t

  25. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    so you’re the, um, “person” in front then, willowed?

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