With chatter about tour returning to the web – finally – and Darien just around the corner, it got me thinking about past summer shows, the music, friends and the memories that will last a lifetime. Specifically, after talking to OPT’s editor about it recently, I looked back on Deer Creek 1999 and my own, well, storied journey from Chicagoland to Noblesville. Everyone knows 7.25.99 for being one of the great Midwest shows in the band’s history, but only a few probably know a story as unbelievable as mine to get there – and back. Thanks for letting me take a look back. Apologies in advance for the length and happy Memorial Day weekend!
It all started in spring when the Doniac Schvice arrived in the mailboxes in cities and suburbs across the country. My regular group of six or eight tour friends, then juniors in high school and raring for summer, got together over lunch and knew that the Alpine / Deer Creek run would make the most sense. Ticket requests were made – through the mail – and the waiting game began. My friend John called and made “reservations” for the on-site campground in the meantime. Rides and tickets were sorted out well in advance. As the last bell of junior year rang out, there was obviously only one thing on our minds.
After a hot afternoon and evening in East Troy, complete with the 34 minute Fluffhead, an ‘interesting’ version of the Mango Song and one of the best encores in memory, we made our way back to Chicago to regroup before the trek to Indiana. Happily, I offered to drive to Deer Creek, saving me the trouble of being a DD for Alpine (evidently I was much more clever than I thought I was back then). In the morning, we filled up on $1.25 gas at the local Shell – a meeting place for high school kids in my town for years – and hit the road. Warm still, with my 1980 Volvo not being known for its air conditioning, tall waters and wide-open windows were the order of the day.
The drive started off easy enough. Only minor traffic through Chicago, relatively short lines for the toll booth at the Skyway and clear roads and skies into Indiana. Cornfields, rest areas, other fans and semi-trucks sums up that drive pretty well. But the real excitement started after we exited for Noblesville, stopped at Steak and Shake and bought beer (side note: probably the first and last time I bought Bass Ale) at the local Walmart.
In traffic behind my friend’s SUV just two or three miles from the entrance to the on-site campground, in a fit of “not paying attention” and “gaping at another fender bender” I happened to miss the brake lights in front of me, causing a fender bender of our own – literally. Since the bumper on the SUV was that much higher than that of my Volvo, the minor collision caused no damage on my friend’s car, and ghastly damage to mine. A shattered grill, pinched radiator hose that shot coolant all over the place, broken headlight and a tented hood.
The combination of injuries to the ’80 Volvo rendered her unable to make it to the campground. Luckily, we had two other cars in our caravan and space for my gear and my friends in other cars. I beached my car on the side of the road, made contact with a police officer (who was handling the other collision) who assured me that there was no cause for a report and got the number of a tow company and mechanic nearby.
Grabbing my last personal items from the car, complete with anger and embarrassment, I proceeded to slam my finger in the locked car door, sending vulgarities into the Indiana afternoon. Wrenching it out, I could make out what I think was the bone of my right middle finger, now pouring blood down my hand. This was the kind of pain that you can’t walk off. This was the kind of pain that even if you were trying to look like it didn’t hurt, caused bizarre and frightening looks on my face.
This had not been a good 25 minutes for me. Again luckily, a friend of mine had band-aids, gauze and duct tape to keep the wound from growing and stop the flow of blood. The pain, well that’s nothing a couple of Bass Ales couldn’t take cure I tried to convince myself. This was the kind of pain that comes from having to reach in your pocket to get the keys to unlock the door to free your finger. Free, the car ride was fun – sort of – with people trying to make light of the situation but the back of my mind couldn’t escape the “I’m going to miss the show tonight” mantra.
Upon finally getting to the campground, setting up our now one-less-car-sized campsite and grabbing some ice for my hand and my drink, I made my way to the medical tent. Kudos to those guys for being patient with “hippy injuries” and looking the other way on my cocktail when I was clearly 17; but, their advice was not so cool.
“Yeah buddy that’s going to need stitches, no question,” the paramedic told me.
“So, I’ll probably miss the show then huh?” I replied.
“Well yeah, it’s not that serious. I’ll give you some butterfly strips, gauze, band aids and medical tape. Wrap that thing up, hold on to ice cubes and wash your hands three times a day and you’re good. Now get outta here,” he advised.
I sauntered back to the campsite, now in the waning hours before show time and sunset. My friends were worried – sort of – about my finger until I returned and ordered a beer, a grilled cheese and some ice for my hand. Obviously, since I was 17 I had to hide the pain, but that’s OK. At about 6:45 we started walking toward the venue, saw Gordon on his golf cart right by the last row of tents toward the venue and made our way to our seats just to the right of the soundboard.
Now, as I mentioned before, everyone knows what happened at Deer Creek ’99 1, so I’ll spare you my review (or save it for another article). I will say that the light performance put on by Kuroda for his “birthday light solo” featured some techniques I’d like to see return. In any case, over the course of the next day and a half, we celebrated in great Deer Creek fashion while I used a gigantic cell phone to stay in touch with the mechanic and break the news softly to my parents.
Night 2 came and went without the same hammer as night 1, but still an average great show – again, maybe a story for another day. As we awoke on the morning on July 27, 1999 we made some eggs, gassed as much water as we could find and broke down camp. My friend Pat was nice enough to drop me off at the mechanic before hitting the road back to Chicago. We loaded the gear in the car, had a laugh about what had gone down just two days prior and shipped off. The fun hadn’t stopped yet…
My two passengers – Dale and Geoff – were asleep before we made it to the highway. Something about bourbon, but I don’t remember 😉 In any case, I again filled up on $1.25 gas and headed toward I-65. As we reached 65 or 70 MPH the fun really started. In what felt like slow motion, the hood on my car flew up 100% Tommy Boy style, completely blocking my vision. I don’t remember learning this in driver’s ed, but I looked through the space at the bottom of the windshield, checked the rearview and slammed on the brakes, pulling over just miles from the entrance ramp but miles from the next exit. Now, I had been salty with the guys for falling asleep – poor tour code – but the fact that Geoff had parachute cord on him for “emergencies” saved the entire weekend. Geoff and Dale tied the hood down as VW busses and others ended summer tour 1999 in the sunshine in Indiana.
Upon returning to Chicago my parents shook their head and my dad and I later bonded over repairs to the damaged hood and more. It was his birthday after all. The next day I made it to work to protect the lives of kids as a lifeguard, where my supervisor took a look at my damaged hand and informed me “Not only is that infected – its gonna be a permanent scar. Bite down on this pencil, I cut out the infection.”
The scar is definitely permanent, but enabled me to tell this story at every show I’ve been to since.
Personal comment – These memories are dedicated to my oldest friend and tour buddy John, who would have turned 30 on May 23. Thanks for all the tapes, convincing me to go to 12.6.97, for not making fun of me for talking in my sleep at 7.10.00 and 25 years of friendship.