Our Phish Experience: 25 Years and Counting

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While visiting my hometown in the summer of ’94, a friend turned us on to the album Hoist, by a band with a curiously misspelled name. Lisa and I sat on the couch, listening and reading the lyrics to Scent of a Mule as it played, and we were immediately … well … hooked on Phish. When we got home, I bought Junta (their first album) and Hoist, and thus began our love of this quirky quartet. Our first Phish show was in Madison, WI in September of ’95, and we’ve enjoyed quite a few since then, including many outdoor shows at Alpine Valley Music Theater.

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Our Phishtory

As we were driving to Saturday’s concert, we counted up our previous Phish shows and found that this would be our eighteenth. Of our previous seventeen, two were 2-day Phish festivals (The Clifford Ball in ’96 and Oswego in ’99). On top of that, we’ve also seen the Trey Anastasio Band twice: once at Alpine Valley (2001) and again at the first Bonnaroo festival (2002). Our son, who was not quite a year old at the time, attended The Clifford Ball with us. In 2010, we brought him to Alpine Valley for his first “real” Phish experience, and he’s been to five more with us since then.

Flashback: Our family tailgating at Alpine Valley in 2015
Flashback: Our family tailgating at Alpine Valley in 2015

It’s been four years since Phish last played at Alpine Valley – far too long for one of the best jam bands at an outstanding venue – so we were really happy when they scheduled some 2019 dates in this outdoor amphitheater in East Troy, Wisconsin, a short road trip from Chicago, Milwaukee, and Madison.

Alpine Valley is one of our favorite concert venues. It’s only a 45-minute drive from home, is away from heavy traffic, has a laid-back atmosphere, and offers great viewing and sound. We’re usually in the lawn, but a couple of times we’ve managed to get nice seats in the pavilion. When I ordered tickets this time, the website asked if I wanted to upgrade to the Expo Party Deck, which promised a private cash bar, private bathrooms, and more space than you’d normally get by sitting in the lawn. It’s an extra $30 per person to access the deck, so it was a bit of a splurge, but the total was less than the cost of pavilion seating so, purely in the interest of research as the lead writer for MusicFestFans.com, I decided to take a shot. More on that later…

Aging Phishheads on the Expo Party Deck
Aging Phishheads on the Expo Party Deck

Phish at Alpine Valley: Tailgating

Alpine Valley has a cool tailgating scene. They don’t charge for parking and the staff is very friendly and laid-back. The fans are always fun – we usually strike up conversations with the people parked nearby. This time around, our “next-door neighbors” included a Chicago attorney and his buddies. Not far away, we saw a family with two young kids kicking a ball back and forth. It was really hot in the sunshine, so a lot of people were sitting in between cars where there was a little shade.

Tailgating at Alpine Valley
Tailgating at Alpine Valley

Whatever You Do, Take Care of Your …

On the walk from the parking lot to the gate, we were behind a group of guys wearing identical t-shirts:

Went to a Phish show and a bachelor party broke out
“Whatever You Do, Take Care of Your Stu”

I asked one of them if this was a bachelor party for Stu and he said, “You nailed it. That’s exactly what this is.” He pointed out which one was Stu, so Lisa and I went up and congratulated him. I asked, “Does your fiancee like Phish?” He said yes, she’d been to a couple of shows and he planned to take her to another on this tour. I gave him my card and told him I’d mention him in this write-up, so if you’re reading this, Stu, leave a comment below. Also, you have great friends – I mean, who else gets Phish to play at his bachelor party and invites 37,000 strangers to join the celebration? On top of that, your bride-to-be is a Phan. Congrats and Blaze On!

Remembering Past Phish Shows

As we were headed toward the Expo Party Deck, we started talking about our first time at Alpine Valley. It was Phish in ’98, and a bunch of my SUNY college friends came out to the Midwest for the weekend. As soon as I said, “Phish in ’98” a woman walking near us said, “I was here in ’98! They opened with Ramble On, right?” Yes! Yes, they did open with that Led Zeppelin classic. She mentioned having attended Lemonwheel (also in ’98) and missing their unannounced overnight set. I told her that we were at The Clifford Ball (Phish’s first festival) and missed their overnight set that they played while riding around the parking lot on a flatbed truck. Lesson learned: if you’re at a Phish festival, don’t go to sleep on the first night!

The Expo Party Deck Experience

The deck offers a pretty good view of the stage, as you can see below. You could get closer on the lawn, but it gets really crowded up there. I’d say the biggest advantage to being on the deck is that there’s more room. The “private bathrooms” were just two port-a-johns nearby, and the cash bar was okay if you don’t mind paying $17 for a 20 oz New Glarus Spotted Cow. I’m glad we tried the deck, but we probably wouldn’t do it again. (Actually, we will, since I already bought tickets for The Who at Alpine Valley and decided to go for the party deck on that one too.)

The View from the Deck
The View from the Deck

Phish

The band took the stage fashionably late, as usual (except when we’re late, in which case they start right on time). I won’t go through the whole set list, but some highlights included a lively AC/DC Bag to open the show, a ripping version of Funky Bitch, and a cool extended jam at the end of Blaze On. A guy we met on the deck was wearing a Sloth shirt, so he was extra happy when the band played The Sloth. The first set closed with a killer Character Zer0.

Blaze On!

Halley’s Comet made an appearance to open the second set, followed by A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing and Runaway Jim. “Jim” reminded me of the festival at Oswego, when we saw a guy chasing his dog at the same time they were playing Runaway Jim. I also remember Oswego being the first time I noticed the line, “By the time he came home he was seventeen. That’s a hundred-nineteen to you and me.” Yes, I actually did the math in my head, during a show, to verify that. (Don’t get me started on how I calculated the distance between us and the stage at The Clifford Ball.)

The Moon and Jupiter joined us for the show.
The Moon and Jupiter joined us for the show.

Back on the Train has a special place in my heart, maybe because of my own interpretation of the lyrics, and they did a nice jam at the end.

Back on the Train (video credit: Sojahsey1)

I had a feeling that YEM would follow, but I was early by about 24 hours. Instead, they finished the second set with an exceptionally good Harry Hood, before returning to the stage for a Say it to Me S.A.N.T.O.S. encore.

Guitar solo

For a detailed set list, check out JamBand’s review of the show.

So after eighteen Phish shows over a quarter of a century, I think we’ve had enough. Just kidding – we’re up for another 25 years! Seriously, when does the next tour start?

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