Phish performing at Alpine Valley 07.12.19
photo by DeWook
Saturday mornings for me were always about cartoons and cereal. Laying around all morning in my pajamas. Calling a few friends way too early. Maybe hitting the shower around 11am then making a second breakfast. It was slow motion mornings for me up till 1997. Just enjoying life. Why was I out of the house and off to the local Piggly Wiggly at 8:30am to score Phish tickets? What had I become? I had to get there asap to get in the lottery. You know, how they set up the line to purchase tickets. It was very organic getting tickets at that moment for me. Phish tickets by mail, or PTBM, wasn’t even in my deepest thoughts. For now, I was at the beck and call of Ticketmaster.
In 1995 I was heavy into Chicago House music. I would shop at the local record store in downtown Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Phish had a copy of “A Live One” on the shelf and I scooped it. The owner told me I wouldn’t like it. So, I put it back. How close we were at that moment.
My buddy Matt Woodly, RIP, said he had an extra to Alpine Valley Music Theatre to see Phish. Just lawns, but we would have fun. The invite was really last minute, the day before actually. I said yes and committed to the unknown. Who was Phish and why did I agree to this? What the hell is Alpine Valley?
I got picked up around 2ish on August 10th, 1996. We hit Brunos Liquors to grab some provisions. It was going to be close to 10 of us in the group. We all stocked up on booze, smokes, and snacks. Timing our eta to when the lots will open. We headed up HWY 120 in hopes to hit the lot dead on and let the fun begin.
The line was long. I’ve never seen HWY 120 so backed up. From HWY 11 all the way up to HWY D. It was every Phish head from all over America in line for Alpine Valley. The excitement of just getting to the lot was on everyone’s faces. I had no clue what I was in for.
We ended up in the Golf Lot. For those that know it’s a 15 min walk to the venue up and down a path once you’ve conquered the gauntlet on shakedown. I know that’s a lot of Phish talk, in the simplest terms you had to walk through a lot of concessions to emerge onto the path to make it up to the theater. A journey that we would take in a few hours.
After we parked the trunks popped open. We set up our space with coolers, lawn chairs, and a pop up. Music played from all around us. People openly smoking pot, well not openly, but I could smell it. Vendors would approach you from all angles. Selling stickers to glass bowls. For us it was like everything we wanted. I mean everything.
We were all partying. Brew and weed. Some have scored mushrooms, others blotter acid for the show. The trick was to consume it just in time for it to kick in when the band walks on stage. For the most part it was 50/50 that your gamble was on point. But there was a long walk to the venue. The variables were many, so timing was out the window.
By 6pm we were all lit. The heady stout beer was thick. The smoke was dank. The acid was good. The trek to the Amphitheater had begun. Everyone was selling everything. I mean everything. Lot shirts were abundant. Take your pick. Then the food, veggie burritos were in stock. Spotted Cow beer was flowing. In Wisconsin it’s a rule. Alpine equals Spotted Cows. I was never a fan. But like they say it’s about supply and demand.
Our caravan of people made it to the other side of the creek by the actual golf course. There we hit the bathroom and revamp our beverages. Solid ground was nice. My sandals were not happy with the dusty air and rocky unpredictable terrain of the lots of Alpine Valley. The drugs were kicking in, so the pain was minimal. For now.
The path onward went down at first. Once it bottomed out many of us needed to light up a smoke and prepare for the uphill battle. Beers were depleted by the time we made the summit. Thank God there was another shakedown ready to replenish our thirst. I couldn’t distinguish direction, just the route that we took. I hope someone remembers where we parked.
The line was thick getting into the venue. Tickets were in hand. The moment of truth was upon me. Everything I had ever wondered about Phish to this point, which was nothing, was about to be unleashed. The experience was life changing. So much that I ended up getting a Phish tattoo on my left arm two days later. Followed by a trip to Best Buy. I needed to get every album I could find about these guys from Vermont.
My writings have always been about the before and after. I can’t tell you about the experiences inside the venue. I never will. Those moments are between you and the band. For me to tell you what a good show is and isn’t, well that’s not my job.
The following year. I went to my next Phish show. Alpine Valley 1997. This show would be two days before the legendary Great Went. The Alpine show to me was the blue show. The lot was better. The sound was better. I felt at home. I felt free.
When I left the show in 1997 a few heads asked me if I was going to Deer Creek? I had no clue what they were talking about. It was the next stop on tour in Noblesville, Indiana. I was shocked, I asked you to go to other shows? Yes, they said! Oh my god, I thought, you can follow these guys.
I divorced Ticketmaster temporarily and I joined the Doniac Schvice that summer. A newsletter from Phish that would give you the information on upcoming tours. Way before the internet they used the mail. PTBM remember? I was on board to go on my first long trip to see Phish. Champagne, Illinois. November 19th, 1997. It would be my most favorite show of all time.
From August 19th, 1996, forward, the landscape of music was permanently changed. Was it the booze and drugs that helped? Perhaps at that time. But over the years the music has made more sense to me without drug use. I don’t wait much for tickets these days, and I’m not up early for lotteries on Saturday mornings. But I did get that experience. I always cherish those moments as much as I still miss Saturday morning cartoons.
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