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Alpine Valley Music Theater

Updated on April 25, 2015
Alpine Valley Music Theatre
Alpine Valley Music Theatre

A Music Icon

Alpine Valley Music Theater is located within the rolling hills near the small country town of East Troy, Wisconsin. Conveniently located an equal distance between four Midwest cities. Chicago Illinois, Milwaukee Wisconsin, Rockford Illinois, and Madison Wisconsin all being within a two hour drive to this scenic facility.

This outdoor amphitheater is truly one of my top 10 favorite places in this world. I will be sharing just a few items that I have seen, experienced, heard, and enjoyed there. Stories of my own personal experiences that are legendary in scope. Influences from those experiences that have served me well in life.

Since its opening in 1977 and through 1993, it was the worlds largest outdoor amphitheater with its capacity stated as being 37,000 people. It is also known to have squeezed in over 50,000 people on some notorious nights in the 1980s when the Grateful Dead conducted numerous performances there. With 350,000 people in the parking lots just listening.

Stay tuned for more on that as it will be shared in a future review dedicated solely to those Grateful Dead experiences at Alpine Valley Music Theater. Events in which many have considered to be historic in themselves.

Yet I will share this teaser right now. 1989 was the last year in which the Grateful Dead were allowed to perform at Alpine Valley Music Theater. Official crowd estimates were not based on tickets sold, or people through a turnstile. No, for this year the official estimate was done by the U.S. Army via Helicopter flyovers.

The need for this was caused by the scheduling of 4 concerts performed over a 5 day period. Resulting in a total of 7 days where Alpine Valley Music Theater contained over 400,000 people (1 day for fans to set up camp, 1 day for fans to break down camps.) Yes, that was not a typo. 400,000 people in Alpine Valley Music Theater parking lots camped for the most part of a week.

With night and daytime temperatures averaging 90 degrees, the authorities rightfully believed that there was a potential recipe for disaster. The authorities quickly issued a State of Emergency on the first day. Not due to rumored antics of a playful crowd, but due to the temperatures so hot with the need for potable water to support so many people. There was no disaster. Just lots of people having lots of free fun who needed lots of water.

Because once you were in the parking lot at Alpine Valley Music Theater that week? There was no escaping it. Cars parked along its access highways for miles in each direction. Farmers selling parking space amongst their corn fields that they destroyed themselves knowing that the money made off of selling parking would pay a lot more than corn profits at harvest time. There was no escaping. The area now called the 1st State of Emergency caused by people having too much fun. There was no emergency though. Just the need to treat it as one.

So large was this event that the National Guard was called on to provide semi-truck tankers full of potable water and portable showers, for drinking, eating, and cleaning. It was like the best campground EVER! There was so much 'celebrating' going on. Heaven better be like this. Sometimes I would just get lost by myself in those parking lots. Purposely.

As mentioned previously, this was the last time that the Grateful Dead were allowed to play Alpine Valley Music Theater Ending a ten year stretch in which they performed a series of concerts at this magnificent venue in eight of those years. This being the largest of the crowds over all those years. Previous years attendances of 200,000 people, 250,000 people, 300,000 people camping for a week during cooler weather were common here, and surely not enough to cause any alarm.

My first concert attended here was in 1980, and the band playing that night was Foreigner Which we got to experience from the 13th row for free due to being the resourceful little buggers that we were. Always thinking and crafting ways to make the most of those dog days of summer. Gas was cheap then. $1.00 per gallon.

Sometimes I would just get lost by myself in those parking lots. Purposely. Being able to meet new people instead of getting stupid with the same old people. Purposely. I would get lost. But always found. My best friend being the only one who could keep up. He too, still cherishes the memory of that musical ride we took as kids. *grins*

We had taken the opportunity to experience several free performances at Alpine Valley Music Theater. This due to its early construction phases that enabled us to either hop over, or sneak under chain link fences. As mentioned Foreigner and also The Doobie Brothers, Supertramp, The Allman Brothers. All for free on a convenient, spur of the moment decision on pertaining nights of the week during our summers. Resourcefulness with local friends, contacts, and convenient circumstances which had all our moons lining up with some really good music and festivities for 15 years.

We had the good fortune as teenagers to have lived less than 30 miles from this facility. We were no strangers because of it. So proficient we were in getting over, or under, these fences that we started conducting business by stopping people before they got to the Alpine Valley Music Theater Box Office Windows to purchase their tickets. We offered them the ability to save $15 per person if they followed us for $5. Yes, we would take them to our spots where we got them over, or under a fence for a $15 savings per person. Before each show we would conduct 5 trips of 10 people.

Now that only added up to $250 for our efforts, but we could not put a price on the amount of gratitude we received from our new found friends. It paid for our gas, food, and beer with a few dollars left over to get up to Alpine Valley Music Theater for the next show to do it all over again. We all had big cars back then.

We did this routine for the first 5 years Alpine Valley Music Theater was open for business. Then they put the 12 foot wooden walls sunk a foot into the ground that prevented us from the benefits that good old cheap chain link fencing had provided us. Yes, most good things do come to an end.

One of the pictures of Alpine Valley Music Theater, that I have displayed at the bottom of this Hub, shows a ski hill in the background. It was on that Ski Hill that a Helicopter carrying Stevie Ray Vaughan, crashed into causing his unfortunate premature death. A man made extension to the ski hill that was not there the year before.

Yes, I was at that show too. Eric Clapton being the headliner that night. Stevie Ray Vaughan before him. His brother Jimmy Vaughan before Stevie Ray Vaughan. Robert Cray before Jimmy Vaughan and Buddy Guy before Robert Cray where all we needed in order to make this be the greatest Blues Musical All-stars bill of all time would have been BB King.

The last song played that night was a joint rendition of Sweet Home Chicago played by all these great performers on the stage at the same time. That song went on for over 30 minutes. Extended due to the fog overwhelming the valley, and the performers knowing that it would delay the helicopters from taking off. So each guitar player sharing 3 guitar solos during this wonderful rendition of a traditional song.

The extreme irony of the night being that only Stevie Ray Vaughan was given the 4th and extra opportunity to shine with Eric Clapton smiling on with encouragement. It would be Stevie Ray Vaughans last guitar solo. May he rest in peace. I had the honor to see it.

The very bottom picture below shows the corn fields in the distance that had been forced to become impromptu parking lots for 200,00 people. The other 200 people were parked within the assigned parking lots and within 27 holes of golf course which was opened up for people like us with our Winnebago, and Lodge Reservations each year.

It is said to be the 2nd best outdoor concert amphitheater for acoustics. The pitch of its hill being at an angle that allows for the sound to carry up the hill perfectly. Delivering you an in your face sound experience. Only Red Rocks in Colorado has a slightly better outdoor acoustic ability than Alpine Valley Music Theater does. It truly is a thing that needs to be heard, in order to truly understand and appreciate this natural feature. No description could do this sound experience justice.

Alpine Valley Music Theater used to host 25 performances every summer. However in the '90s due to liability concerns, and performers rates, it has been limited to hosting an average of 5 events per summer. The times do change and not always for the better. Phish, Dave Matthews Ben Harper OZ Fest and Jimmy Buffet seem to be the regulars each and every year now.

Which has made it to be a bit too redundant now to attend these repeats. No matter how beautiful this facility remains today. I wicked combination of Insurance liabilities and unprofitable mega tours has depleted the fountain of joy.

Yes, Alpine Valley Music Theater still stands and operates for what I can only hope to be forever. Simply out of respect for providing so many fleeting friendships, harmless drunken antics while contemplating and solving all the worlds problems while in the midst of uncontrollable laughter caused by... caused by... caused by... LSD.. There, I said it. *giggles*

We had a 6ft. tall blow up Gumby as our camp reference point for when we lost our bearings in those parking lots. We would get lost and just ask if anybody had seen Gumby recently. With its feet stuffed into a plastic garbage can that was secured by rope onto the top of our Winnebago. It seemed as if everybody had just seen Gumby, and would point to where only for us to discover that Gumby was not over there. Which was okay because there were some really hot chicks over there and we were enticed to stick around for awhile.

We eventually found Gumby. We always did.

The next year with our Gumby & Winnebago set up on the 5th Hole of the Golf Course for a 3rd year in a row? We learn of a 2nd giant blow up Gumby that has been established in the far western parking lots of Alpine Valley Music Theater Now this was great for all the folks in the parking lots that week by providing them a 2nd reference point in the lots.

But getting instructions from one tripped out dude to be understood by another tripped out dude that was always the festive challenge. Conclusion being that having a Gumby East and a Gumby West was even more confusing seeing that nobody knew where and what they were east or west of at any particular time. Another reason for us to go out and meet new people. Smiles !

How it is today will never be able to replace the memories of its glorious past. A past that I will be forever grateful for, and humbled by. An experience, and opportunity, that only a few industrious kids from Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin were truly able to take advantage of.

From the bottom of my heart, to Alpine Valley Music Theater I can only offer you my most sincerest Thank You !


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    • CriticalMessage profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

      Great memories indeed !

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I was at those G-Dead concerts and I remember going to the show in 1989. I had to call my mom from the beat up pay phone and tell her I was stuck at the show for the week and she'd have to call in to high school and tell them I wouldn't be in....LOL Great times and better memories.


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