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. halcyon Says:

    Good Morning!

    Deer Creek is such a cool venue. Such a beautiful summer time vibe. I am still thinking about hitting this summer’s Deer Creek shows, although funds will be in question around that time. It is fun to dream.

    Have a Great Day Everyone!

  2. Spasm Waiter Says:

    @Silly Willy

    Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere

  3. tela'smuff Says:

    the two venues in my backyard so to speak. sadly, urban sprawl has changed some of the specialness of DeerCreek in my opinion. DeerCreek in ’95 and ’96 was special as far as camping goes. 2000 was the pinnacle of the DC camping/party scene. Madness! 7-25-99 my all-time favorite show.

    I may have seen my last shows at Alpine after last summer. Unless you have a great PAV, it’s not worth the hassle. The single worst crowd I have ever seen at Alpine last year. It was embarressing. The lawn is a freakin nightmare. The camping situation ends up being too much of a headache. And while they play great shows there, they don’t stack up to DeerCreek.

    But it’s been the focus of most summer for ’95,’95,’99,’00,’03,’04, and ’09. Will be weird not to do it this year. Can’t even fathom pulling off the T-Ride>DC>Alpine run. Have to draw the line.

  4. EL Duderino Says:

    @ zzyzx

    That’s too bad man. ‘Cuz it was a great show

  5. halcyon Says:

    Happy Birthday Luther Justice.

  6. Little Buddy Says:


    yeah. Just the two showings, but it’ll be a great party. You can only buy tickets at the theater, I think. Anyway. I have tix for May 1st (Saturday) at midnight. Let me know if you are interested in one of them. Right now I think I have two that are unspoken for.

  7. SillyWilly Says:

    I just wanna remark how fuckin’ cool it is that summer tour is less than 2 months away.

    The head world is ablaze.

    Passed a kid with a Phish shirt yesterday. Flashed him the deuce. He winked. Totally knew why I was so happy.

  8. SillyWilly Says:



    and Cortez the Killer.

  9. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    Happy birthday, Luther!

  10. zzyzx Says:

    El – maybe it was the sound where we were, but I don’t really remember much about it being interesting, but summer 98 was a tour that doesn’t have much going for it for me outside of the novelty covers. 1998 was the year where I was about to give up on the band before the Halloween run.

    The one show reaction that amuses me the most based on how people think about it later, is the show that I came closest to walking out of. It was boring me to tears, so I eventually walked to the back of the venue. While the bustout of Frankenstein at the end made me glad that I stayed, outside of the 92 MPP show, it was one of my least favorite shows ever. I have since been forced to listen to it on tape due to the over the top reactions people have towards it and, no, I don’t know why I hated it so much either. The show was…

    …to be given in a minute to increase the suspense, but I did drop a big hint.

  11. Mr. Icculus Says:

    The Alpine lawn was fucken nutz last summer, hard to hear hard to see gotta go in early just to get a goood spot on the lawn. you dont want to be up on the hill you cant even see the stage its so steep. Tho i wont ever let other peeps around me make me have a bad time. If your focused on the music and your friends who cares shit i don’t even notice anything thats going on round me

  12. SillyWilly Says:

    Hey, TypeIII, have you been reading much about how ND’s spring football is going?

    Kelly doesn’t seem to have a lot of nice things to say about the team…which I kinda like.

  13. zzyzx Says:

    “I may have seen my last shows at Alpine after last summer. Unless you have a great PAV, it’s not worth the hassle. ”

    I had a great PAV in 2000 and the aisle was 4 people deep from all of the stub ins. I swore off l’alpine after ’98, then I did so after ’00, and then I did so again after ’04. This time it might stick.

  14. tela'smuff Says:

    you know, that argument that you shouldn’t let people around you bother your enjoyment of the music is bullshit. especially at Apline. it’s just a f’in challenege to get in the groove of the music when you have nothing but knuckleheads everywhere you turn. Alpine is packed full of donkeys. You can move to the back of the lawn or the extremee side, but then you can see shit, and the sound sucks.

  15. jdub Says:

    I think on the lawns your suroundings can affect you a lot more in the pavilions. Many more distractions and your not engulfed by by the sound and lights. Plus, chatter and stumbling people are much more prevalent.

  16. Lycanthropist Says:

    So yeah, I am still glowin from the amazing show I was in attendance for last night.

    Billy Martin only solidified his position as my favorite living drummer.

    It was truly an incredible two sets.

    We here in Hattiesburg were very fortunate last night for sure.

  17. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    I try as best I can to avoid swimming in the spring ball cesspool (along with trying to avoid recruiting if I can), though I have seen that Kelly has been tough on them. Good! They sure as hell need it!

  18. zzyzx Says:

    The only places in l’alpine where you can actually enjoy the show IMO are in the mid-back of the pav. Far enough back, no one who snuck in is going to bother to stop in your row.

    Anyway the show that I hated to the point of almost walking out on but now widely claimed by some to be one of the best shows in Phish’s history?


  19. GOOCHY Says:

    Last year we had some serious knuckleheads next to us that I was about to fucking kill. This year we’re in the pav for both nights so hopefully it’s better.

  20. SillyWilly Says:

    I hear ya, TypeIII, about not reading too much about it. Everyonce in a while I take a peak at ndnation…

    My buddy on the team loves Kelly. Says he is night and day from Weis.

  21. jdub Says:

    @Lycan, Billy Martin is amazing. Watching him work up close is just incredible as he flows between percusive instruments and rhythms with such ease. Glad you had a blast.

  22. bhizzle Says:

    @Little Buddy…thanks for keeping me in mind. With those days falling on the weekend maybe it won’t be so bad. It’s a matter of babysitting…

    that JotD Bowie is evil…If more Bowie’s were like that maybe I wouldn’t mind hearing them at everyshow.

  23. Mr. Icculus Says:

    crazy if you let nkuckleheads f-up your show. your not focused on the music then. you gotta get your head in the game

  24. OKPblog Says:

    the unknown deer creek pic from the lawn was taken by me

  25. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    see, that’s good to hear. I just never bought that Weis could “get” the players. Glad to have more of a player’s coach there who isn’t afraid to kick some ass.

    are you hitting any games this fall? tough to fit in ND when phish tour is going on! We’re going to be in South Bend for the WMU game (coincides with my brother’s 40th b-day so the whole family will be there) and probably hit BC and maybe the Army game at Yankee stadium. I hate going to BC for obvious reasons, but it’s the last game in the series for a [hopefully] long time. If you are in the Bend for any games let me know.

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