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. Willowed Says:

    I just listened to the DWD after the fireworks…….So Happy!!

  2. Henry Says:

    Revisited 6/21/09 II in honor of today’s post, definitely one of the better early summer tour shows.

  3. Mitch Says:

    12.30.97 bag here we come!

  4. Mitch Says:

    i nominate anyone else who wants to, to do the additions to the meetup spreadsheet. not feeling it right now. maybe later if nobody else picks it up.


  5. ohhphee Says:

    Just finished that one, Willowed. Simply amazing. Llama not too shabby. Trey tears that one up like a bunk ticket. Drinking some tasty Gin right now. Straight outta Reba’s Tub.

  6. halcyon Says:


    Don’t know if you saw my post last night, but you should check out Upslope IPA. They are relatively new to Colorado’s growing brewery industry. Their IPA is strong, is smooth, and tasty. Check it, and you will not be disappointed. Unless IPA’s are not your thing.

  7. SillyWilly Says:


    My new avatar is a painting by my favorite painter, Bram Van Velde.

    he’s a post-modern Dutch painter.

  8. KWL Says:

    thanks halcyon, I did catch that. just read back a bit, last night for 80s dead, & skimmed some of today–the BB was killing it this am, funny shit.

    i’ll definitely look for it next time i’m out on the front range, which should be soon. IPAs are my thing… i drink with the seasons with one exception: IPAs are year round.

    didn’t like new belgium’s ranger IPA at first, but upon 2nd and 3rd tasting, it’s not bad

  9. KWL Says:

    thanks Silly, i’ll check him out. i am also sporting my favorite painter, though poorly cropped

  10. Mitch Says:

    not on my computer youre not. still steph.. no cleared cache for this guy.

    ohhphee, i like the bunk ticket comparison

  11. SillyWilly Says:

    I apologize for the whole steph thing. But she ruined JamOn on Sirius.

    I was just trying to purge my anger with her.

  12. Gavinsdad Says:

    Mitch – if I didn’t kill spreadsheets I’d happily add the other dates 🙂

    ipa people of Colorado: don’t forget my other top 5’er Oskar Blues Gordon. A red double ipa. Insanely tasty (and from a can too)

  13. ChefBradford Says:

    Zapp’s Spicy Cajun Crawtators = delight

    pretty much any Zapp’s chips are excellent. Kettle-cooked is the way to go

    any Tim Dorsey fans here? Not exactly a literary titan, but his books are almost always really fun reads

    not exactly a non-sequitor; one of his books that I’m reading now mentions both the Florabama Lounge and the annual mullet toss

  14. KWL Says:

    @GD, DLing ‘journey inwards’ now… thanks for the rec

  15. ohhphee Says:




    I can totally understand the need to purge, Man. It’s just that I think many of us here were starting to question our own manhood, llfa!

    Hope everyone is having a good Earth Day.

    @Lycan, I hope yours gets better. Or at least tomorrow.

    @Chef, I haven’t read any Tim Dorsey. What’s his genre?

    I’m attempting to chew my way through Gravity’s Rainbow by Pynchon right now.

  16. SillyWilly Says:

    Yeah, I put up the Steph thing when someone said her arms looks like popeye’s…i think it really was funny at the time. if that makes it any better?

  17. Gavinsdad Says:

    Word KWL…it occured to me that I never blazed to that album. I’m sure it’d be really nice in an elevated state

  18. Lycanthropist Says:

    this 7.12.99 from yesterday has definitely helped 😉

  19. KWL Says:

    @Lycan, check 12.3.97 bowie

    it will accomplish two things at once: brighten your day, & help rekindle your love for bowie

    i think miner is trying to help your bowie affliction too, w/another one for the DOTD.

    12.3.97’s exploration provides nice contrast to the 12.11.95 scorcher

  20. ChefBradford Says:

    Tim Dorsey is a Florida screwball writer. Think the TV show Dexter, only with more sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll, and the main character (Serge) doesn’t hide his mental problems from anybody. Funny, outlandish, crazy.

    He’s been compared to Carl Hiassen, Dave Barry, Edna Buchanan, and the Three Stooges

    Nothing deep here. Just a lot of fun mayhem

  21. SillyWilly Says:


    Hang in there, man.

    Im pretty pumped for the new CF coming up.

    That 7-12-99 was pretty good, huh!? Listened to it this afternoon.

    The Bowie was great. I thought the Split was pretty nice too.

  22. jerm Says:

    @KWL and Halcyon

    If IPA’s are your thing… do yourself a favor and seek out the Osiris IPA from the Sun King Brew Co. of Indianapolis, IN while visiting Deer Creek this summer. Tits.

  23. KWL Says:

    have a good evening BB, I am checking out

    oh, and from earlier, i am not ashamed to say i thoroughly enjoyed watching a hula hooper while baned out of my gourd during 10/31 set III at indio

    normally, however, i do not condone excess hoopage

  24. SillyWilly Says:

    Later, KWL!

    thanks for checking in…hope youre still thinking about making that run from AV to Jones Beach

    right now Im going by myself.

  25. KWL Says:

    thanks @jerm, don’t think DC is in the cards for me this year but i’ll keep an eye out for that one

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