Phish Journey To Alpine Valley (Part 1)
(Bowling Green, Ohio) It was the summer of 2011, and my father was on a flight from New York City to Bangor, Maine. Seated in a small plane, he was on a trip to Paquetville, New Brunswick, to visit his birth mother he had only met two other times in his life.
Seated next to an older woman named Dina, the two casually engaged in small talk on the hour-long flight. He learned that she was an author of children’s books, some of which he was familiar with due to his career in elementary education. The two discussed each other’s travels and where they were headed; she was on connecting flight back home to watch her son’s concert.
I received a text from my dad at this point in their conversation that read, “Have you ever heard of the band, Phish?”
Yes father… I have heard of the band, Phish. The bigger question is why are you asking me if I’ve heard of Phish. Did you discover a new liking for music outside of Top 40’s country?
Apparently Dina was very humble about her son’s musical success. She explained to my dad that her son Trey was the lead singer of a rock band. You connect the rest of the dots.
Fast forward to the summer of 2012. I am on the road from my college-town of Bowling Green, Ohio, to Chicago to meet up with my brother. From there, our travels included a two-hour trip to Mukwanago, Wisconsin.
I was seeing Dina’s son in concert that weekend. Phish was playing a two-night stand at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre. The venue holds 37,000 people and is the 6th largest contemporary amphitheatre in the world. It’s said to be one of the band’s favorite venues to play. As far as it being their fans’ favorite venue, that’s to be determined.
There’s no camping around the venue unfortunately, so the caravan of Phans are left to fend for themselves to find camping sites around the area. Our campsite was within fifteen minutes of the venue. Our group set up camp at the peak of the campgrounds and had a brilliant few of the valley behind the grounds.
We arrived at the lot 90 minutes before the gates were scheduled to open. As we walked through the lot, it was apparent that the scene at Alpline Valley was very different from the one I experienced a week earlier in Cincinnati. Alpine Valley has a strict, no vending law that extremely limits the pre-show and post-show Shakedown Street that has been a long time tradition for Phish and Grateful Dead shows. Alpine Valley security has even went to the extent of installing watchtowers and patrolling the ground with undercover officers. It’s safe to say that Shakedown Street in Cincinnati was much more lax; I watched as an officer in Cincinnati politely shine his flashlight on five dudes pissing in the trees, next to a grilled cheese vendor and told them to zip it up and move on.
Once inside the venue, I found myself exploring, simply taking in what was about to happen. Alpine Valley has been on my bucket list of go-to venues since I began going to shows when I was 17, and tonight it was about to be checked off.
Night One was extremely groovy with more of a chill atmosphere as compared to the second night. Phish opened up with “My Soul,” followed up by “David Saw the Stone,” which has only been played five times since 1993.
“When The Circus Comes” received the biggest pop of the first set about mid-way through. The band ended the first set a short while after night fall, closing out with “The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony” leading straight into the crowd sing-along “Suzy Greenberg.”
The second set featured 90 minutes of completely fluid playing; every song leading straight into the next. Three songs in, the deafening opening riffs to “Wilson” came straight out of the towering speakers that line the stage of the venue.
“WIIIIIIILLLLLSSSOOOOOOONNNN,” echoed through the venue like the entire crowd just lost their volleyball ball in the middle of the Pacific.
The short, four-minute jam was a set highlight of mine.
Phish jammed out into the night and played until after eleven. The band ended the second set with “Harry Hood” into “Character Zero.” After disappearing off stage for a few minutes, the group came back on stage to end the night with an incredible rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times, Bad Times.”
The first night of Phish at Alpine came to a close as the venue lights turned on and the crowd dispersed. My brother and I ventured up the steep slope of the lawn; from top to bottom of the lawn you’re looking at solid, 5-minute walk. Remote groups of Phans were scattered throughout the sprawling lawn, reminiscing about the set list of which they had just been apart.
I had just seen Phish in one of the largest venues in the country with 35,000 of my closest friends. I could have made the 8-hour drive back to Bowling Green, Ohio that night, completely satisfied with myself. But, why do that, when I’m going to be walking up this same lawn 24 hours later for another killer show?
To Be Continued.