Opening in 1977, Elkhorn, Wisconsin's Alpine Valley Music Theater remains one of the premier outdoor amphitheaters in the country. Located between Chicago, Milwaukee, and Madison, the venue draws patrons from all three metro-areas for regular events held throughout each summer. 30,000 fans can pack into Alpine Valley's lawn seating, and another 7,500 can reserve tickets in the pavilion. The capacity at the venue was the largest of any comparable complex until California's San Manuel Amphitheater was expanded to over 60,000 in 1993.
Still unique to the Alpine Valley Music Theater is the iconic wood-roofed pavilion. Touted as the best seats in the house, the pavilion is situated directly in-front of the stage, and provides what some experts have called the best acoustics of any music venue in the world. Void of the metallic-tang that often accompanies more modern tin-roofed arenas, the combination of the warm pavilion resonance and sprawling valley behind it have led acts as influential as Rush and the Dave Matthews Band to claim it as one of their favorite places to play live.
Alpine Valley Concert History
Construction of the Alpine Valley Music Theater was completed in spring of 1977. Guitarist Boz Scaggs headlined the venue's inaugural event just months later, and performances by the likes of Chicago, Frank Sinatra, and Bob Seger throughout that summer made Alpine Valley's first season a resounding success. Nearly 200,000 fans went through the gates in that year, followed by almost half-a-million in 1978, as the site gained notoriety for its beautiful landscape and sound. For the next 20 years, every major act in classic rock, and many other genres, would play at the amphitheater.
In 1989, The Grateful Dead became the only band to ever be banned from Alpine Valley, as crowd conduct was notably bad at their past concerts at the venue, and a torrential July rain following a show that year caused a band-fueled mayhem that trapped some people in cars overnight. After a 13-year hiatus from Alpine Valley and a number of deaths within the band, remaining members of the original Dead proposed a lifting of the ban in 2002. In August of that year, officials at the venue agreed to let the return show take place, though security and ticket-checks were increased. The Grateful Dead would return once more to Alpine Valley in 2004, one of their highlight stops on their final official tour.
Concerts At Alpine Over The Years
Bands from around the world and from every genre have said that the Alpine Valley Music Theater is one of their most sacred grounds to play on. Dave Matthews has dedicated two shows a year to the venue since 1999, as has Jimmy Buffett, who has performed at least once a year since for 18 seasons. Annual festivals such as Ozzfest and the Family Values Tour make their home at Alpine Valley, and music videos and live concert recordings from The Grateful Dead, Motley Crue, Phish, Korn, and the Black Crowes have all been captured there. Contemporary British rockers Coldplay sold out the site in 2004 to mark their largest American performance ever.
Despite the ample music history at Alpine Valley, the most infamous event occurred in late summer 1990. Following what some critics have called the best show ever performed at the venue - a collaboration between Stevie Ray Vaughn, Robert Cray, Buddy Guy, and Eric Clapton - Vaughn and four others in his entourage boarded a helicopter bound for Chicago. A dense night fog made visibility difficult for the pilot, who crashed the helicopter into a nearby ski hill. Everyone on board died in the accident.
Alpine Valley Location, Parking, and Amenities
- The Alpine Valley Music Theater is conveniently located equidistant from Chicago, Madison, and Milwaukee.
- Wisconsin interstate 43 runs just north of the venue, giving easy access to travelers coming from all directions.
- Parking in the four official lots costs patrons an average of $20 per vehicle, though that price ranges depending on the size and type of car.
- Congestion in the parking areas has been akin to urban traffic jams, and most online reviews recommend being dropped-off or parking elsewhere and walking to the venue.
Camping is sometimes allowed on the Alpine Valley Music Theater grounds, though an independently run resort is located within walking distance. Beer and food are sold inside the venue at a number of concession stands. Tailgating with your own supplies is allowed in the parking lot, though no vendors are allowed in that area.