(Published July 19, 2007, 1:31 p.m.)
Q: What do Frank Sinatra, Chicago, Bob Seger, Harry Chapin, Jimmy Buffett, Kansas, Boz Scaggs, Neil Sedaka and Helen Reddy-and 198,000 music-lovers have in common?
A: They were all there that first year, 1977, when the Alpine Valley Music Theatre added a whole new layer to summertime in Walworth County.
Attending an Alpine Valley concert was as much of a rite of passage for young music fans in those early years as it is today.
It was the whole experience. The acoustics underneath the stars, tucked deep in a kettle of our Kettle Moraine, proceeded by the adventure of tailgating in "the lot."
Now in its 30th year, action has admittedly slowed down in the past few years, as the mega tours become less common.
But Alpine Valley says they're "not going anywhere, anytime soon."
That's very good news for a venue that has brought the best of the best for the past 30 years to our own backyard, enabling us to see acts of the highest caliber in a very special location.
Like many others who live and work in Walworth County, staff members of The Week have been to many shows at Alpine over the past 30 years.
We highlight some of our memorable performers and performances inside on page 12A.
Jimmy Buffett, 1995
The first concert I ever saw was at Alpine Valley in the summer of 1985 with my first boyfriend. We saw 'Til Tuesday open for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I had no idea where or what Alpine Valley was all about until we walked through those gates. It opened a whole new world of music for me.
In the summer of 1987 as a graduation gift to friend, we saw Madonna's "Who's That Girl" Tour. Lawn seats for that August concert were $21.75. Madonna put on what we thought was a heck of a show with "Holiday," "Like a Virgin" and "Where's the Party?" But what did we know back then? We thought big hair was cool.
I also saw the New Kids on the Block open for Debbie Gibson (I can't believe I admitted that). I believe I went with a friend who was taking her younger brother to the show. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
In the late 1980s, Huey Lewis and the News took the Alpine stage. There were about 10 of us in a conversion van driving through the rain hoping it would stop soon. The hill turned into one huge mud puddle and concert-goers were sliding down headfirst.
In the years of Alpine Valley, I have also seen Loverboy in 1986 ($17.25 for a seat), the Beach Boys, Moody Blues, Billy Joel and Boston.
On June 10, 1995, I became an official Parrothead, attending my first Jimmy Buffett concert at Alpine Valley. Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band have taken the stage there 13 times, nine of which I attended. Number 14 is planned for July 28 with the Bama Breeze Tour. Not only are Buffett shows a sight to see, so are the shenanigans in the parking lot-from tiki bars and boats to sand beaches and small pools filled with a variety of fun. Fins up!
The Grateful Dead, 1980
I still get to Alpine Valley a few times each summer, but the closest I've been to the stage in many years is the golf course next door.
My first concert at Alpine was the Grateful Dead on Aug. 23, 1980. I had never considered myself a hard-core Dead Head, but a live show was an experience like no other.
I was a latecomer to the Grateful Dead; that's not the kind of music we listened to when I was growing up in Kaukauna, the paper mill town along the Fox River between Appleton and Green Bay.
But when I arrived at UW-Madison in the fall of 1976, I was exposed to all the different types of music my friends were listening too.
Some were into David Bowie, others would listen to the likes of Bob Marley, or the bands that would frequent the small clubs in Madison.
There were also the Dead Heads, who in the winter of 1979 convinced me to see the band at the Dane County Coliseum.
It didn't take long to learn that the Grateful Dead was best when experienced live.
A year later, in the summer of 1980 I piled into a car with a bunch of friends where we made our way to East Troy and that first Alpine Valley show.
We sat on the hill above the seats. I remember the sky was clear and the weather mild.
The sounds wafted out into the late summer night as time seemed to slow to a full stop.
It's an experience that has played out for both music fans and performers alike for the past 30 years.
Debbie Gibson, 1989
Alpine Valley is a unique and special venue.
Although it has gone through management changes and a few physical changes, the feeling you get coming over the hill from the parking lot to get your ticket, then passing the turnstile and over that last little hill to see the full theater is awe-inspiring. Knowing that you are about to see an artist or band is only minutes away.
The first concert I saw at Alpine Valley was Debbie Gibson in 1989. I hid a camera in my pants, got past security and sat in my third row seat. When Debbie came on everyone stood on their seats and enjoyed "Shake Your Love," "Only In My Dreams" and the slower ballad "Foolish Beat." After the show me and a friend got into our car and drove to the hotel in back of the theater and found her bus as it was pulling away, so we followed.
The bus arrived at a hotel in Milwaukee where we got out to meet her and got autographs. For a teenage boy in the late '80s, it was great.
Since that time, I have covered almost every concert for the last 10 years at Alpine-now I bring my camera in legitimately.
Jimmy Buffett is always fun. I was off to the side on stage during the Dead reunion shows from 2002 and 2004.
Aerosmith with Run DMC singing and rapping "Walk This Way" was classic and was also one of the last performances for Jam Master Jay.
Dave Williams, of Drowning Pool, died just three days after playing at Alpine Valley. Still one of my favorite recent concerts at Alpine was Michael W. Smith. It was a great time of music and the setting all came together for a wonderful evening. Thank you, Alpine Valley.
It's like a home movie in my mind.
There we are at a Madonna concert. My 7-year-old daughter is on my shoulders as we're walking through the colorful, mostly teenage crowd, all there to see the reigning female icon of her era.
I can still feel Joanna bobbing on my shoulder. And recall how proud I was to experience such a moment with my first-born.
I told my daughter the story so many times. She'll always smile approvingly and then add: "But I don't remember."
Having witnessed her response so many times, I've started to wonder, too.
Was it another concert? Madonna at that stage of her career would have been pretty raw for a 7-year-old. Did it happen at all? Or was it a wishful dream by a father yearning for such moments.
I know I was there because I wrote a column about it for the Janesville Gazette. I came across it a few weeks ago. I winced as I re-read its forced ending.
No doubt straining for a jaw-dropping conclusion, I turned the column into a mystery-something about seeing a limo parked on the square in East Troy later that night and implying that maybe it was the same limo that had carried the star of the show.
But the column held no mention of my daughter on my shoulders. Being into self-referential journalism back then, I can't imagine I wouldn't have "used" that moment-if it really happened.
Perhaps, like the limo on the square, this mystery is better left unsolved.
My daughter is 27 now. She probably doesn't care whether or not this father-daughter moment is true.
But I do.
Eric Clapton/Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1990
For many reasons this was the most memorable show I've attended at Alpine Valley.
Primarily it was simply the best musical talent in one place I had witnessed to that date, Aug. 25, 1990. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble opened for over two hours and were so incredibly excellent I would have gone home happy then.
Then Clapton took the stage along with Robert Cray and the Memphis Horns and blew us away. In the middle of the show special guest Jeff Healy appeared and we went nuts.
After a few songs Stevie Ray joined Clapton, Healy and Cray and they played together until the end of the show. Absolutely fantastic-we were blown away.
Unfortunately, the other reason for its memorable status was that the following night Stevie Ray was killed when the helicopter he was riding in crashed after the show. Believe me, the fog was thick. On our way home the night before we literally could not see the front of our own car. The next night was the same, so when I heard the fog was to blame I didn't question it at all. If only ...
~ Donna Lenz Wright
Aerosmith, Mötley Crüe, 2006
I've got a confession to make.
As an 18-year resident of Walworth County, I've only been to Alpine Valley Music Theater for a concert once.
Yup. I'll admit it. One time.
Marcus Amphitheater? I've lost count.
Summerfest? Heck, I grew up in Milwaukee and remember going there as a kid.
Country Thunder? Been there just about every year since its inception.
Don't ask me why I've only been to Alpine Valley one time in my life. I have no idea.
When I finally went though, it was a blast. There was a bus, beer and some head banging.
I had my first experience there at the end of last summer; Oct. 7, 2006, to be exact.
It was Mötley Crüe and Aerosmith, two classic hair bands that have been around basically as long as I've been alive.
I'm not a huge fan of either band, but I know enough to recognize both if they're played on a classic rock station.
My first venture to Alpine was actually part of a promotion for the volleyball league I played in that summer. Had it not been for the bus full good friends, I probably wouldn't have gone.
We set up camp in the parking lot for hours before the concert, tipping back cold ones and telling tall tales. Meetin' and greetin' the passersby was pretty enjoyable. There is quite the cross-section of people at a power rock concert.
As for the concert itself, I know both bands relied heavily on their old hits-"Dr. Feel Good" and "Girls, Girls, Girls," from Crüe and "Livin' on the Edge" and, "Eat the Rich," one of my favorites, by Aerosmith.
Other than the "greatest hits" compilations, I don't remember much of the show itself. That was probably the beer's fault. But with a busload of friends, I remember it was a boatload of fun. I can't wait to go back.
Radiohead, 2003 and The Rolling Stones, 1989
It's hard to believe that Alpine Valley Music Theater is turning 30 this year. It seems like only yesterday that I was sitting under the massive pavilion of this local concert mainstay witnessing Canadian power trio Rush running through material from their newly released Hemispheres album. Even though that was back in '79, considering that Rush is still going strong in the midst of a major world tour, it doesn't seem that this much time could have possibly elapsed.
While I've seen countless live shows over the last few decades - many of these in Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison, in the nearly 20 years I've called Walworth County home I'm always most excited when a great national act makes their way through the cornfields of Highway D for a stint in our own back yard. In fact, two of the most amazing shows I've had the pleasure to enjoy, here or anywhere else, took place on this grassy hill: Radiohead in 2003 and The Rolling Stones back in 1989 (who performed three sold-out shows witnessed by more than 106,000 people).
Other memorable Alpine moments that spring to mind over the last three decades are (in no particular order): Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder scaling the rafters of the wooden pavilion ceiling during the second Lollapalooza in '92, Bob Dylan's 2000 earthy blues revamping of "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" (who surprisingly opened for The Grateful Dead's Phil Lesh), as well as Beck's amazing soulful performance of "Debra" and Neil Young & Crazy Horse's entire time-altering performance at H.O.R.D.E. Fest in '97.
There was also the well-past-their-prime Aerosmith in '97 successfully bumping-and-grinding their way through "Last Child" as if it were 1976 all over again, and the Tibetan Freedom Concert back in '99 featuring Rage Against The Machine inciting mosh-pit pandemonium during "Bulls On Parade" and Sean Lennon delivering a slack-jawed, reverbing bass line for the adorable Japanese duo Cibo Matto's song "Know Your Chicken." And who can forget the pre-show parking lot tailgating experiences (probably a heck of lot, I presume) that have made the overall concert experience here unique to say the least.
This summer Alpine Valley's stalwarts Jimmy Buffet, Ozzfest and The Dave Matthews Band will all be making their obligatory annual performances, but I'm actually looking forward to two other more interesting shows - the newly reunited Rage Against The Machine's return on Aug. 24 with openers Queens of the Stone Age, as well as the Download Festival featuring cutting-edge indie acts such as Wolf Parade, The Shins, Minus The Bear and others on Sept. 2nd.
Back in '89 on this very spot Mick Jagger loudly professed during his amphetamine-fed chicken strut that "It's only rock 'n' roll, but we like it." Eighteen years later and it still rings just as true for this venerable outdoor amphitheater.
~ Tony Bonyata
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