Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:13 pm
One day in the summer of 1992, I got a phone call from one of my best friends. He asked if I wanted to go to the Rush concert that night. My friend had two tickets and was planning to go to the show with someone else, who dropped out at the last minute.
My parents, assuming we were going to Summerfest, told me to bring a sweatshirt. After all, it gets cool by the lake at night.
But the Rush concert was not at Summerfest on the lakefront, it was well inland at Alpine Valley Music Theatre near East Troy. It was my first, and still only, concert there. We had great seats, Neil Peart was incredible on the drums and my friend and I could barely hear each other afterward. As we waited in traffic to leave, my buddy and I laughed at other concert- goers who appeared to be dazed and confused as they wandered around trying to find their car.
Many other southeastern Wisconsin residents have memories of attending concerts at Alpine Valley, which opened in 1977. In that first year it hosted 36 shows and had total attendance of more than 198,000.
But in recent years, the number of concerts at Alpine Valley has dwindled and the artists that do play there tend to be the same each year.
Still, Alpine Valley is an iconic Wisconsin venue and it was shocking to hear its operator, Live Nation Worldwide Inc., say it will host no concerts there this year. Many of the artists that typically play at Alpine Valley are playing other venues this year or are not touring, according to Jon Reens, vice president of marketing for Midwest music for Live Nation.
For example, Jimmy Buffet, who has played at Alpine Valley nearly every year since 1995, instead will perform at Wrigley Field this year.
The once hapless Chicago Cubs have become a much better organization since the team was acquired by the Ricketts family in 2009. In addition to building a championship team, the Ricketts are making numerous improvements to Wrigley Field and in recent years also have established it as a major concert venue.
Another Alpine Valley regular, Dave Matthews, is playing at Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island in Chicago this year. That venue was expanded in 2013 to a capacity of 30,000.
Alpine Valley is strategically located between Milwaukee, Chicago and Madison. Attracting concert-goers from Illinois has always been important to Alpine Valley, so the emergence of more venue competition in Chicago is a challenge.
The Chicago venues offer a more urban experience than the rural, bucolic Alpine Valley setting. Perhaps that’s what today’s audiences prefer. My wife and I, and some friends, attended the Billy Joel concert at Wrigley last year. Joel, of course, was great. But the historic venue, set in the cool Wrigleyville neighborhood around the ballpark, enhanced the experience.
Wrigley Field provides a “different kind of magic,” for concerts, Reens said. But, he added, “Alpine Valley has its own magic. It’s a phenomenal property and a great amphitheater.”
Live Nation needs to convince different artists to come to Alpine Valley than its regulars. Someone besides Jimmy Buffett, Dave Matthews and Dead & Company would be refreshing.
Reens says the company is trying, and is working to book shows for 2018.
When asked if Alpine Valley could be revitalized, Reens said, “Absolutely.” Let’s hope he’s right.