So yesterday, I wrote about my adventures at Deer Creek -- my first time showing up ticketless, the drenching during an amazing "2001", et cetera. Today, let's trek on up to Alpine Valley.
Craig and I spent the night in suburban Chicago with some friends after pulling in about 5 am after the Deer Creek madness. By about 11:30, we were on the road to Alpine. Alpine is one of my favorite concert venues if only because of its beauty. For a lot of my phamily, it was also the site of their first Phish concert. In 1996, a group of us headed up to Alpine to catch Phish. Of the group of about 10 or so of us there that weekend, only three of us had seen Phish before, so Alpine holds a great spot in the hearts of my phamily because it was where it all began for them (much as the UIC Pavillion holds a special spot for me because it was the site of my first show). Alpine was going to be a big reunion of most of that original group who'd trekked up to Alpine 13 years ago, and we would be joined by some new additions -- spouses and even children who'd come into this world since that August in 1996.
Craig and I made excellent time to our campground -- the lovely McIntyre's in Delavan, Wisconsin. Ironically, we pulled in maybe seconds after more of our group -- Bonnie, Dug, and their two children. We quickly unloaded all of our gear, a process that made me chuckle a little as I thought back to our first time at Alpine when all I'd brought was a sleeping bag and a backpack and all of us had slept in a giant tent together. Now, here we were unloading tents and Rubbermaid tubs and stoves and canopies and all sorts of stuff. Craig's Explorer was packed full -- for two people. The times have certainly changed!
I hadn't been camping in five years. The last time I'd set up my tent was in Coventry, and I'd torn it down with the thought that I would probably never set it up again. Wrong! I was a little rusty and needed some help setting the tent up since I'd forgotten a lot of its "quirks." (I can remember setting that tent up all by myself at Coventry and it taking a matter of minutes. Alas!) Once we were all set up, we hit the road for the parking lot, having received a text from Debbi (who was staying at Alpine's lodge) to avoid the green lot. The green lot became synonymous for us all weekend for hell -- an opinion that seemed to be shared by everyone we ran into. We headed into the venue pretty soon after pulling into our parking spot so that we could try to find a good spot on the lawn. The lawn at Alpine is a beauty but it is also very steep and we wanted to try to find a spot that wouldn't destroy our pushing-forty-year-old joints too terribly! The spot we secured was pretty high up on the hill but gave us a gorgeous view of the stage and the surrounding countryside.
Before we knew it, the band was taking the stage and launching into a glorious "Punch You in the Eye." MUCH better opening (for me anyway) compared to Deer Creek. The hill was boogying down as the band roared through a monster first set that included "Runaway Jim", "Stash", "Ya Mar", and "Bathtub Gin" which had been high on the "wish list" for Bonnie and Dug's two kids. The set also included "Sparkle" which for a lot of us was our first Phish song -- not the first Phish song we ever heard but the first Phish song that really hooked us. Everytime I hear "Sparkle," I am taken back to sitting on the floor of my apartment my senior year in college, surrounded by the people who are still my closest and dearest friends to this day, all of us just laughing uproariously as we listened to this crazy song with its absurd lyrics. We were hooked. So needless to say, we all flipped to hear "Sparkle", a "flipping" that only increased for me as the band closed out the first set with what is my absolute favorite Phish song -- "Run Like an Antelope." I was near tears by the time they were done, overjoyed to be home with my phamily and my band.
After an equally solid second set (one that included "Ghost", "NICU", "You Enjoy Myself", "Maze", and a "Character Zero" encore), we headed back to the car. By this time, the lack of sleep and lack of food (at this point, all I'd eaten was a couple pieces of string cheese and some pretzels about 1:00) was catching up with me as I crawled into the front seat of Craig's car and almost immediately fell asleep. I dozed off and on for the next two-plus hours that we spent trying to get out of the parking lot. We did finally make it back to our campsite where Tim fired up the grill and made us the most amazing cheeseburgers before I crawled into my tent and crashed.
Of course, I woke up in the morning and was once again reminded of my age. My air mattress had lost air in the night (like the tent, it hadn't been up in 5 years), and so I had pretty much been sleeping on the ground and my back was killing me. KILLING me! I managed to get up and stumble down the alley to the porta-potties (getting there just as they were being cleaned -- meaning that I got to use a fresh porta-potty!) and then downed some water and Advil in the hopes of getting my body back to "dance shape" by evening. I am naturally an early riser (thanks to the fact that I have to wake up so early for work nine months out of the year), and am even more so when camping since the heat of the tent usually makes sleep impossible once the sun is up. Bonnie and her kids were up shortly after me, and they invited me into their canopy to enjoy some mighty muffins and fresh fruit.
We all spent a rather chill afternoon hanging around the campsite, including celebrating the birthday of Bonnie's daughter. We had decided that we wanted to try to get into the venue as soon as we could to try to get closer to the front of the lawn. While we could see well the night before, the sound wasn't stellar. In addition, being that far back had made it difficult for the little ones to see. We got into the lots shortly after they opened (once again avoiding the dreaded green lot), hung out a little, and then headed to the gates. We were right at the front of the lines and spent about 20 minutes waiting for the gates to open, visiting with the very nice venue staff. We were among the first people through the gates (I think Tim actually WAS the first person inside). Craig and Tim took off on a run to get as close to the front of the lawn as they could. I took a more mellow time, enjoying the sight of standing at the top of the massive hill and seeing the gorgeous expanse of green being slowly filled in by happy hippies. Tim got us incredibly close to the front of the lawn, just a little to the center -- perfect view for a practically perfect show that opened with my first-ever "Brother" as the children of the band members walked onto stage and got into a large metal bathtub at the front of the stage.
This was followed shortly after by Phish breaking my heart. A little backstory: I've seen over 40 Phish shows in my life. In all of those shows, there is one song I've always been dying to hear live and have never heard -- often missing it by one show or even having it played at a show I was SUPPOSED to go to but had to back out of at the last minute. That song is "Sneakin' Sally Down the Alley." I love that song. As we were waiting for the show to begin, we saw someone walking down to one of the front rows of the pavillion holding a sign that read "Sneakin' Sally" on one side and "Phunky Bitch" on the other. Danielle and I grew excited (she is in on my "Sneakin' Sally" jones and would probably be more excited if I were to get one than I would be -- that's the kind of best friend she is).
Anyway, after an amazing "Wolfman's Brother," Trey asked the person holding the sign what it said. I grew excited. Danielle grew excited. Trey laughed and said, "You're not the first person to try that. Well, we're going to play a song for you." We all started going crazy . . . my moment was here. FINALLY! And then the band launched into . . . . "Funky Bitch." So "Sneakin' Sally" remains my Moby Dick, the great white whale I continue to pursue through shows. Sigh!
The rest of the show continued on mightily with more and more mindblowing jams, finishing with a "Frankenstein" encore that featured Page on the keytar, Mike on this crazy flame-y bass, and Trey on a five-neck guitar that had Craig repeatedly screaming, "What the f&#& is that? What the f&*# is that???"
We returned to the lot where we had decided to be smart. We had brought our chairs and a grill and so while others were waiting in line to try to get out of the venue, we were enjoying tasty burgers and relaxing before hitting the road. We easily got out of the lot and were home to our campsite in no time.
It was quite a weekend, and I will probably write even more about it later, particularly about what it all meant to me as I reflect back on my fifteen-year relationship with this band. Right now, though, my main objective is to find a ticket to see them at Toyota Park in Chicago in August because I still didn't get my phatty grilled cheese sandwich (Alpine really cracked down on vending!) or my "Sneakin' Sally" or my fill of the beauty that Phish has to offer in this new chapter of their relationship.