Part of the fun of Phish tour was the familiarity you gained with the oddest things and strangest places.  You became a virtual atlas of the country, able to name interstates in every state of the union.  You might as well have worked at Waffle House- the golden squares of the open road- because you knew their whole menu better than any employee.  Plus, you knew what “scattered, smothered, diced, chopped, and covered” meant, when ordering home fries.  And still do.  You began to have favorite rest areas- those circular new-school futuristic ones in the middle of Ohio.  You became a connoisseur of inexpensive hotels, figuring out more ways to dupe them out of cash that one can list here; most popular being the old “2 for 1″- checking in early one morning to sleep all day, party all night, and crash again to 1pm- all for the price of a single room.  If you were like my friends and I, you began to choose hotels based on which had the best breakfast buffet for a late-night, 7 am, meal after the show.  Oh, the decisions.

But the thing you became most familiar with were the venues.  Especially the ones that you kept going back to year after year- Deer Creek, Hampton, Worcester, Albany, Lakewood, Star Lake, The Gorge, The Spectrum- you know, the Phishy ones.  We knew the venues like the back of our hands- how to navigate them, where the space was, where you could find people; the venues took on a bizarre feeling of a home away from home.  Pulling into each familiar territory was like pulling into your own memories; pulling into a friend’s house- you knew where you were, and you knew you were about to have a great time.

Each venue took on a life of its own, providing a unique experience for you.  One of the most unique was driving completely confused through northern summer bliss because the highways were named by letters instead of numbers; always passing the sign pointing to Bong Recreation Area as you tried to wind your way to Alpine Valley.  Then you saw the line of traffic- you were no longer lost.  Phew- now you just had to sit on a one lane road for an hour- or pull a u-turn and see if you could navigate around it all.  Good times, good times.

But if the memories of the northern woods, the world’s most massive “lot,” the steepest lawn in history, the handicap sections on the floor, and the huge looming wooden pavilion are written in our collective memories, then the Phish jams

Alpine Valley: unk.

that went down there are branded in our collective consciousness.  Having played 9 shows at Alpine Valley- Phish left a trail of cosmic debris each summer in MIdwestern Dairyland, USA.  With their inaugural show in 1996 in which they dropped heavy versions of Reba, Harry Hood, Bathtub Gin and a late show Fluffhead, they were off and running.  With Alpine being a memoir of Dead tour, Phish had now inherited the venue and was about to blaze a legacy.

The next year was the Summer of 1997, and the Phish were on the back end of a cross-country boomerang tour.  The funk was deep, and in the first set, they wasted no time sinking in with a third song Ghost and, later in the set, an beautifully laid-back summertime Reba.  But the second set would be the highlight on this night.  With a foot-long Mike’s sandwich that read like “Mike’s> Ain’t Love Funny> Simple> Swept > Steep> Scent > Slave >Weekapaug,”  you know you had a winner.  The Slave, Weekapaug combo brought the show to dizzying heights as the evening drew to a close. Rumbling and stumbling out into the northern summer evening- cooler than all the rest- was always special after an Alpine show.

1998’s Alpine installment offered so much greatness, it should be released in the Live Phish series.  A rambunctious opening of Ramble On, Mike’s > Esther > Weekapaug, got the show raging instantaneously;  Ramble On making its debut appearance in the summer of 1998, which featured so many first-time covers.  Yet, as hot as this set was, the second set was again the highlight with a Magilla laced 2001, and a round melodic Tweezer taking center stage in Alpine’s pavilion.  This would begin a string of three years that Phish would drop a prominent second set Tweezer that provided the highlight of the show at this venue.  This time, followed by a Fluffhead and ending with Chalkdust, Frankenstein- this show was as bombastic as they get- and was one of the best ’98s Summer of Love had to offer.

6.26.04 photo: bret

1999’s version again stood out among the rest.  Coming right before a tour ending Deer Creek weekend, this show featured the most exploratory Fluffhead ever, as the band took the song to previously unseen places, blowing out the jam into a near thirty minute groove-fest.  Almost teasing Shakedown Street at times, this jam was not only a highlight of the night, but of the entire summer tour.  In addition to open the second set was the annual dose of Tweezer- this time in the form of Tweezer> Catapult> Tweezer> Mango> Happy Whip and Dung Song.  Providing some classic Alpine moments, this sequence featured slow plodding Phish funk which built into a psychedelically looped pattern that the band honored with a Catapult.  The Mango brought some light to the occasion before it trailed into the only appearance of the Siket Disc’s dark groove-ambience of The Happy Whip and Dung Song.  This show also featured some end of the night crowd pleasing “bust outs” of Glide, Camel Walk, and the rare Alumni Blues.  Another classic.

Alpine 2000 was released in the Live Phish series, though I’ve always thought it paled in comparison to the years surrounding it.  With a run of the mill first set, highlighted by a pretty cool Wolfman’s, the second set didn’t get much heavier.  The pop of Heavy Things opened up followed by the meat of the show in Piper, Rock and Roll, Tweezer> Walk Away.  With Piper being the only real standout version, in an era of many Pipers, I’ve always wondered why this show, out of thousands, got chosen, remastered, and released.  Not “bad” by any means, it’s just not “great,” perhaps maybe indicative of where the band was in 2000.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a blast as always- every Phish show is- there were just many better shows in the summer of 2000 in my opinion.  Heavy on setlist, light on improv, this Alpine gig bridged to a three-night Deer Creek run that cranked things back up.

Welcome back in 2003 with a two-night run amidst a spectacular summer tour that saw the band playing great.  The first night back in the great north woods brought us the adventure of Disease> Catapult>

6.26.04 photo: morst

Disease that saw the band embark on some heavy improv featuring strong “Psycho Killer” overtones.  The late set Twist brought us deep into ambient space as the Phish brought the extra-terrestrial realm into play.  The second night followed with an even stronger show featuring a first set combo of Wilson, Reba, Scents and Subtle Sounds, and a ridiculous second set of Piper> Rock and Roll> Seven Below>Caspian, YEM.  Those transitions all being legitimate musical segues, with the YEM capping the night of constant improvisation with heavy Phish groove and melody.

Finally, who could forget Alpine 2004?  The end of the June run that turned out some of the best post-hiatus shows.  Serving as the end of tour two-night stand, Alpine took on an even grander meaning at this juncture.  The first night, perhaps the more adventurous and psychedelic night, had a second set that comes from a kid’s notepad who wrote down what he’d ideally want to hear that night.  The overwhelming highlight, Seven Below, segued into Buffalo Bill, before a Mike’s Groove was followed by a YEM, whose jam was supplanted by a drop into 2001.  A top notch Phish

6.25.04 photo: cory

experience.  And as usual, the second night was as good, if not better.  With a more complete show from start to finish, I would need to post the entire setlist to list all the highlights.  I’ll leave you with this- Boogie On> Ghost> Free.  Straight fire from an epic band band digging deeply with the light at the end of the tunnel.  They were able to forget all the pressures of being rock stars in the Phish organization; they were done.  A few more shows, and that was it.  Thus, all June long, the band dug in with nothing to lose, and produced some truly sublime shows- from Coney Island and SPAC to Deer Creek and Alpine.   It was filled with emotion- it was the last “end of tour” with more Phish still in sight.  The next time- that would be it.

But that brings us to now- Trey is about to announce dates, and Phish is on the rise again!  10.18 in Albany and 10.24 in Philly if you haven’t heard.  Therefore, in looking forward to our next visit to great north of Alpine Valley, without further ado, I present to you MINER’S PICKS: ALPINE VALLEY (without repeating selections from previous picks)

1. Reba 8.10.96

2. Down With Disease 8.10.96

3,4. Ghost > Taste 8.9.97

5. Mike’s 8.9.97

6. Slave to the Traffic Light 8.9.97

7. Weekapaug 8.9.97

8,9,10,11,12. WIlson > 2001 > Magilla > 2001 > Tweezer 8.1.98

13. Fluffhead 7.24.99

Part of the fun of Phish tour was the familiarity you gained with the oddest things and strangest places.  You became a virtual atlas of the country, able to name interstates in every state of the union.  You might as well have worked at Waffle House- the golden squares of the open road- because you …

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