Rockford Rocked: Legendary Alpine Valley

By Todd Houston 

Built in 1977, Alpine Valley Music Theatre is a 37,000-capacity amphitheater nestled deep into a woodsy hillside outside East Troy, Wisc.

With a covered pavilion seating 7,500, the venue has played host to a who’s-who of music over the past four decades. Alpine Valley famously features plenty of lawn seating, if you prefer a more casual concert experience or just simply cannot afford the extra coin.

The genius of this theater is that it’s located roughly between Madison, Milwaukee, Rockford, and Chicago, and therefore draws a wide regional audience. Some would say that Alpine Valley hosted the best overall concert tailgating experience in the Midwest, and many love to tell stories about seeing their favorite bands and the parking lot shenanigans that went with it.

A few weeks ago, Jon Reens, Live Nation’s vice-president of marketing, announced that the concert venue won’t be opening or hosting any acts for the 2017 outdoor concert season. He said the bands that have historically played at Alpine Valley have decided to play at Chicago’s Wrigley Field this year and other nearby venues. The good news is that Alpine Valley does plan on opening for 2018, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

For this week’s column, we thought it would be fun to hear some Alpine Valley concert stories from local Rockford music fans.

Sean Kerns – “Mostly, I remember not remembering a Santana show in 1986 and then getting pulled over in Lisle driving home. Nine people in a ‘78 Toyota Celica.”

Andy Cross – “We went up there to see The Firm, who had canceled. However, we didn’t know the show was canceled. Neither did about 30 other cars worth of people. We cooked out and played Frisbee in Alpine Valley’s parking lot for the afternoon!”

Michelle Church – “Worst sunburn of my life at the all day monsters of rock show in May of 1988! I slept for two days after! I saw so many shows there, including Bill Cosby, Fleetwood Mac, The Who. I Love, love, love Alpine Valley!”

Gregg Raih – “The first concert I saw at Alpine Valley was Rush, July 5, 1981. I was only 14 and went with my older sister and some of her friends. When the show was over, I was the only sober one in the group so my sister said ‘Gregg, you have to drive us home!’ What a long drive that was back to Freeport.”

Scott Campbell – “I remember sneaking in to see Chicago, which I think was the first show they had. Security was not real strong at the beginning.”

Bink Buchanan – “I Saw Stevie Ray Vaughan’s last concert at Alpine Valley. I still remember commenting about the helicopters flying around the venue.” Ed’s note: Stevie Ray Vaughan, along with four others, died August 27, 1990 on the Alpine Valley grounds after his helicopter crashed into the mountain in dense fog. Listen to his final show with Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, and plenty of other friends:

Pamela Booth Nelson – “My husband and I with two of our best friends had 5th row at The Grateful Dead show in 1989. Nobody remembers how we got the tickets. We went to Lake Geneva afterwards on the way home. So much fun!”

Gary Hill – “I’ve had some pretty good times at Alpine Valley – backstage covering Ozzfest 2004, sliding down the hill multiple times at the Grateful Dead mud-fest.”

Les Hayes – “I have VIDEO of a few Ozzfest pre-show parking lot adventures. Everything from dudes in purple shaded Oakley’s (with massive hand injuries yet still drinking) all the way up to a group of people taking up a collection so a girl would pee on some guys chest. Yeah, Alpine Valley has a special place in my heart.”

Corey Zillhart – “I remember Bon Jovi opening for the Scorpions there in 1988. Bon Jovi got the flying dirt treatment and left the stage early. My father was there the night Stevie Ray Vaughan died.”

Sully Siben – “I was at the Rod Stewart show and it was raining. This girl dressed in an all white mini skirt, matching vest and knee high white boots was trying to make it from the grass to the paved path. Just a couple feet away and she slid right down the hill and into a mud puddle. The whole beer garden erupted!”

Randy Wescott – “My first show there was Van Halen’s Monsters of Rock in May of 1988. It was a hot sunny day and I got the worst sunburn of my life. Van Halen’s contract said they didn’t go on until after dark so there was a very long wait between the Scorpions’ set and theirs. People started getting bored and restless. Pretty soon beer cups and hot dog wrappers were being thrown around. It looked like a popcorn popper from up on the hill.”

Bex Mahle – “I was there the day Stevie Ray Vaughan died. A concert I’ll never forget.”

Dave Cassaro – “My first Dead show there was July 11,1981, three days after I turned 16. I Won the tickets off my Y95 real card. Big Dan G. drove us in his Vega!”

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