Thirty years ago this week, Stevie Ray Vaughan played the final show of his career when he opened up for Eric Clapton at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin. Shortly after the concert ended, Vaughan and three members of Clapton’s crew boarded a helicopter to travel to Chicago’s Midway Airport. It was a foggy evening and the pilot crashed into a ski hill near the venue shortly after takeoff, killing Vaughan and everyone else on board.
Vaughan and his band Double Trouble spent the summer of 1990 touring in support of their LP In Step. This was Vaughan’s first album since recovering from a severe drug and alcohol addiction a few years earlier. The title of the album refers to the 12-step recovery process that Vaughan learned in treatment, and he remained very focused on sobriety and healthy living throughout the entire In Step tour.
The tour began in theaters where Vaughan and Double Trouble headlined, but it eventually moved into large arenas and amphitheaters where they shared the bill with the likes of Jeff Beck and Joe Cocker. For the final show at Alpine Valley, they were opening up for Eric Clapton in front of roughly 40,000 fans. Vaughan’s set mixed original tunes like “Pride and Joy,” “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” and “Crossfire” with covers like Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” Buddy Guy’s “Leave my Girl Alone,” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).”
At the end of Eric Clapton’s set, Vaughan returned to the stage alongside Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, and his brother Jimmie Vaughan for an epic, 16-minute jam on Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago” that you can hear right here. It was the final performance of Vaughan’s life. “[It was] beyond anything that I could even describe,” Clapton said in 1993. “There was nothing missing. There was no room for improvement.”
In 2015, Vaughan was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside Double Trouble. “He had incredible courage because he fought to overcome the evils of drug and alcohol addiction, and when he did, he returned to the stage as an even better guitar player for it,” John Mayer said in his induction speech. “There’s a term that gets thrown around in conversation, especially about guitar payers, where someone is called a ‘wannabe.’ It means you’re a fake, a fraud, a phony. But if you straighten the words out, it means ‘want to be.’ Wanting to be something is very important, it’s meaningful, it’s a great way to live. I’m a Stevie Ray Vaughan wannabe.”