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. Exree Hipp Says:

    Oh man, you hated on 6/11/94? No idea what to say to that one but you must have been battling some demons that day. Best YEM ever to my ears.

    Can’t say enough good things about the 12/11/95 show that is partially linked today. Perfect first set with combinations of jams, comedy, and a Tube bust out, and a second set rife with killer interplay between the band members. One of my favorites from my one of my favorite months ever.

    12/1, 12/7, 12/11, 12/14, 12/29, and 12/31/95 are all must-hears imo.

    Even with that embarrassment of riches, I had to add quite a lot to Miner’s Picks for Dec. 95 in my own iTunes playlist for that period with a number of my own picks. What an epic run.

  2. Kaveh Says:

    Good morning everyone. Wisco boy here, so like many Midwesterners, these are our venues for summer Phish. Two great venues and many great shows, as Mr. Miner has pointed out. But Alpine is the place for me. The Wisconsin vibe is second to none; the Alpine just oozes with musical band history. Summer fun; can’t wait for Alpine this summer.

  3. tela'smuff 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”

    – wrong. but thanks for the advice.

  4. jdub Says:

    @zzyzx, what about the YEM>rift? Some fantastic guitar work in there.

  5. GOOCHY Says:

    This pair of dudes was all f’d up and falling all over my wife. She’s only an innocent bystander in the world of Phish. She doesn’t know anything aout it, she’s just accompanying me. Some stinky wook falling all over her isn’t going to fly. If she’s stressing, I am. We ended up moving down the way a little bit and it was all good.

  6. bhizzle Says:

    Any recommendations for a place to stay for Hershey, prefeably north of Hershey?

  7. Leo Weaver Says:

    @bhizzle…you got that right! Nasty Bowie indeed…

  8. cal Says:

    Morning, everybody! Happy birthday, Luther!

    Alpine’s my home turf, so I have a tough time listening to the “Alpine is packed full of donkeys” argument. At a Phish show, it’s mostly Phishheads. No doubt, plenty of locals spill in and act like idiots. It didn’t take too many trips there for me to realize that you get there early, stake out a GOOD spot on the lawn, you won’t have any issues.

    If you’re alone or with a very small group, it’s very easy to move to a different spot. If you’re with a big group, you just take over the area. But whatever. I’ve seen 30 shows there, usually in crowds exponentially worse than a Phish crowd. Can only remember one show I didn’t manage to have a good time at.

    Thanks for the write-up today, Miner! I know this year we’ll find the secret no-traffic, scenic route between venues. Just not a fan of the late-night trek.

  9. Little Buddy 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”

    I disagree. It is very difficult to ignore the constant chatter that was prevalent in most sheds last summer. Very very annoying, and Alpine was one of the worst. I was able to shut down the chatterboxes that surrounded my wife and I by passing around a six pack of j’s in the first set. Everyone was baned and quiet for set 2. I’ve learned to bring many many j’s into a show so that I can pas them around my section. I find it’s the most polite way to get people to shut the fuck up.

    @bhizzle – Let me know when you figure out the babysitter.

  10. zzyzx Says:

    I think it was largely set and setting as it was smack in the middle of a 26 show run and I was expecting 8/20/93 revisited, but also I think the show gets a lot of extra credit because of the FM tapes. I checked the R.M.P. archives a year or two ago and no one was raving about this show in 94. We were all talking about the bomb factory and 5/27 and 6/17 and 6/18 and 6/22 and then all of the wackiness of the east coast. 6/11 just felt like another Phish show, but it somehow got cast into the platonic ideal of 1994 Phish.

    It’s the 5/8/77 of Phish.

  11. GOOCHY Says:

    @LB – Nice! I never thought about that! I should’ve done that last year…

  12. jdub Says:

    @Little Buddy, what a generous way to turn people on (and turn off the chatter) to the reason they are there.

  13. halcyon Says:

    “It’s the 5/8/77 of Phish.”


  14. Mr. Icculus Says:

    tela: its called pack up and move somewhere else, come on the lawn is fulll of heads sometimes i’ll move three or four times but i’d never let knkuckleheads f-up my phish experience

  15. Exree Hipp Says:

    I agree that its availability in high quality FM audio back in the analog days got it spread around a lot further than it would have otherwise, but my lord that YEM is the most melodic piece I’ve ever heard them do, save for perhaps 12/9/95 and maybe 8/3/03. The transitions between the solos are flawless. I’m still surprised that it didn’t end up on A Live One, and the generic version from later that year did.

    I don’t find nearly as much to grab on to in 6/18/94… Never understood why people go ape for that one.

    Today’s post has me re-listening to the 8/13/96 Live Phish release and that FUCKING INCREDIBLE Mike’s Song. I have listened to this about a thousand times, but not in about 8 months or so, I think. And crap does it rage. Even slightly outdoes the following version from the Clifford Ball, though the Ball’s melodic nature and the unprecedented (and never repeated) invisible segue into Simple makes it also impeccable imo.

  16. Little Buddy Says:

    Baning the section is well worth the sacrifice. It’s become part of the ritual. I just start passing the j’s around as soon as I the show starts. In the end my motivation is selfish, but it’s a nice way to get what I want (i.e. a quiet section). I know that AW and some others that post here use the same strategy.

  17. BTB Says:

    RE: Alpine Lawn

    A little DMB’ish – especially way up. Learned my lesson, got to get down in the front of the lawn, dead center. No more slamming high lifes till 7:30pm for this guy. Ok, I’m a little DMB’ish too.

    “Here’s a joint, shut the fuck up” – excellent

  18. Josephish Says:

    no head phones today (bummed). Cant say ive been to a enough phish shows to notice anyone around me. i was to excited. but i have been to enough shows (umphreys, moe., etc.) to hate the talkers and drunking bro mosh danceing. you start talking to this kid then the show begins and for some reason he thinks its ok to contiune to talking. dont mean to sound rude but seriously im not there to listen to someone talk to me.

  19. cal Says:

    zzyzx–6-11-94. That show is the perfect primer show for non-fans, the almost TOO perfect show. Expertly played, never too scary, pretty much a greatest hits show. Plus that sbd was so popular, at least with people I knew. That was one of the first tapes I ever had, and before everything was so easy to get, it blew away most of the other tapes I heard for a while. I think that’s why it always sticks with people.

    Still, that “Melt”, man…how can you not dig that “Melt”???

  20. tela'smuff Says:

    @cal – not trying to disparage your home peeps, but i’ve been to about 20 shows there (grew up in Chicago area) and a fact is a fact. The people there treat the show like a Buffet show. That’s great if you’re into Buffet and getting hammered and talking throughout the show. But I guess I came up in the Phish scene where the experience was much more cerebral.

    I have an absolute understanding of how to get the best out of the Alpine experience, and have seen a lot of shows to know how to cope with annoying phans. Alpine poses unique challenges in combating problem phans. I have been with small groups (not that easy to move and find a suitable spot quite honeslty) and have had large groups “take over areas” only to be swallowed by the crowd as they slowly lose the battle to the hill.

    But, the beauty of the area is second to none, and when you first come tot he top of teh hill and see the hill and the pavillion, that’s one of my favorite sights.

  21. jdub Says:

    @zzyzx, I think people get juiced on that show because it had one the top YEMs and a Trey solo to die for in the number two spot. I don’t recall what the rest of the show sounded like but I see 6/11/94 and I think epic YEM with one of my favorite Trey solos to in the number two spot. wide circulation of the fm broadcast helps build the hype too.

  22. Josephish Says:

    im sorry but fuck DMB

  23. Exree Hipp Says:

    It is a great primer, you’re right. I think 6/11/94-1, 12/31/95-2, and 8/16/96-2 are the perfect intros. Perfectly balanced setlists, flawless playing, adventurous but accessible jams, album quality audio, great stuff.

  24. Panda Says:

    Deer Creek and Alpine!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    What venues, what lot scenes, what shows, what what!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  25. EL Duderino Says:

    6/18/94 should be an archive release IMO. There is no AUD in circulation for that show and the sbd is so frickin’ tired.

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