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. [Not Tom] Marshall Says:

    This is a random thought, but as I was reading Ticketmaster’s email to me advertising upcoming ticket sales, I was reminded how glad I am that we don’t refer to any part of ’09 as Phish’s “Joy Tour,” or any other pathetic slogan like other artists use.

  2. EL Duderino Says:

    Good Morning folks…

    And a Happy Earth Day to all!! 😉

  3. pagesidehighschool Says:

    Awesome post today, Miner posted the 98 alpine show with 98 star lake a while back, both are fire. don’t sleep on alpine 99 either, the encore post from the other day reminded me of the BEST encore ever! Glide>Camel Walk>Alumni Blues>Tweeprise! Holy shit Batman!
    DC 00 was a recipe for excitement:
    1 part Phil
    3 parts Phish
    4 parts corn field camping
    10 parts sweet breath*
    *Can be substituted with a girl named Molly

  4. BTB Says:

    DAMN YOU MINER! We still got 4 months or something ridiculous before these shows!! Great write-up though. “Rights of passage” – amen.

    Stir it Ladle – I did the deer creek/alpine last year. Didn’t drive through the night, but helped a ‘new friend’ from the board get to Alpine as he didn’t have a ride.

    At DC, Mike and Fish side, I raged in between the lawn and the pavilion (on the concrete) absolutely crushed it – high fives everywhere – lots of new friend dance partners – it was great.

    Deer Creek is a holy place – I always leave with holes in my head;)

  5. Mr. Icculus Says:

    Love the creek and Alpine and STARLAKE
    sucks they are passes up that stop this summer

  6. EL Duderino Says:

    @ Marshall

    The take 8 means the 8th time that Alpine and DC have 2 nights per paired together with each venue. Miner mentions this in the piece he wrote.

  7. EL Duderino Says:

    Happy 38th B-Day Luther!!!

  8. Mr. Icculus Says:

    pageside i think you mean 97 starlake that shit was fire with the amorena opener sick 1st stash and gumbo and crosseyed>willison little drummer boy

  9. EL Duderino Says:

    The ’99 Alpine show has probably the best Fluffhead in the history of Phish/Fluffhead’s and yes the encore of encores

  10. pagesidehighschool Says:

    Happy Earth Day!
    Let me just say that i love mother earth, especially cultivating her sweet soil. However, I have a huge carbon footprint. I manage a landscape construction company, and we aren’t making money unless we’re burning diesel. It sucks, but i make efforts to be as green as i can with all of the other aspects of my work. I guess the other way of looking at it is that i create landscapes with beautiful plants and trees. So i make a little smog, but i plant a tree when im done. they almost cancel each other out.

  11. wilson8or Says:

    Nice write up Miner! It’s nice to reminisce about the road trips between Alpine Creek. And there used to be a particular farmer at Deer Creek who would let you camp on his property, and pass out his fresh, hot-buttered salted corn on the cob after the show. (yes, corn..no innuendos implied)

  12. BTB Says:

    Not Tom – you don’t call it Joy Tour? Man, I am out of the loop 😉 Amen to that though

  13. pagesidehighschool Says:

    Icculus, nope, im talking about Trenchtown Rock>Julius>Wolfmans>Time Loves A Hero! BOOYAA! Amazing, a must have

  14. Mr. Icculus Says:

    Yea yea i know but ive always favored the 97 show guesss thats cause i was in sec1 like 5 rows back!!!!! I live like 10mins from venue. And it was my 1st ever show so i hold it very high tho its a must have. i just listed the 1st set only and thats a tough 1st set to top. 2nd set ghost and hendrix cover

  15. Mr. Icculus Says:

    so pissed they are passing up my hometown shed this year especially when they seem to really throw down here

  16. pagesidehighschool Says:

    Star Lake is one of my favorite places on earth.
    I love when they play Bittersweet in 98, kinda cheesy, but “we’ve been waiting all summer to play that one, thanks”

  17. Mdawg Says:

    Happy Earth Day!

  18. SillyWilly Says:

    Standing in line at the grocery store the other day Neil Young’s Harvest Moon came on, and I found myself realizing that I haven’t listened to any Neil Young since last summer when I saw my first Phish show.

    I think in honor of the day it’s time for an Earth Day collection with Ol’ Neil.

    Natural Beauty
    War of Man
    Blue Eden
    Dreamin’ Man
    After the Garden
    Ocean Girl
    …..After the Gold Rush

    What am I missing?

  19. Mr. Palmer Says:

    Happy B-day Mr.T!

    Never been to Deer Creek or Alpine. I guess i’m missing something. Maybe next year.

  20. Leo Weaver Says:

    Good Morning and Happy Earth Day!

    @Luther…Happy Birthday (or BEarthday…bad joke, I know)

    I’m looking forward to my first trip to DC this year…gonna be a blast.

  21. bhizzle Says:

    @Little Buddy – “It only shows at midnight on the 30th and May 1”. What?!?!? Midnight showings? Both nights? Yea, more than likely I’m not making that. I was going thru the Phish website link to buy tix and everytime and still does show no tix available for that date. wtf?

  22. jdub Says:

    Just came across this professionally done video of 2/16/97 on meta-filter. Not sure if it’s been posted here but the footage and sound are awesome.


  23. EL Duderino Says:

    I have not been back to DC since either Trey ’02 or Warren Haynes Fest in ’02.

    Warren Haynes Fest = Solo/Acoustic Warren, Gov’t Mule, and Phil Lesh & Friends (PLQ)

  24. EL Duderino Says:

    @ jdub

    That video is a PAL (region) DVD

  25. zzyzx Says:

    Going to show that everyone’s tastes are different, 8/1/98 was one of my least favorite shows ever in part because it was my first time at l’Alpine and the experience had nothing good to recommend it. A whole bunch of meatheads on the lawn, including the girl who was standing on her boyfriend’s shoulders with her back to the band who oh-so-dramatically flashed us. I don’t think she was hoping for my reaction of hysterical laughter but it was just sad…

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