I get asked all the time by family and friends why I like DMB so much, and what it is that makes them so special. They do not understand how a band that rarely gets their music played on the radio could have this sort of effect on me, where I am willing to tattoo one of their logos permanently into my skin. It boggles their mind why I need to wait until the summer tour dates are announced before I can make vacation plans. They may have heard “Crash Into Me” a few times, or the odd song here and there, but for the most part, they don’t really know who DMB is. I used to try to explain it to people, but I don’t anymore because quite frankly, I can’t. I once bought my brother a DMB cd (Live in Central Park), hoping that it would help him understand. I later found out he took it back to the store and exchanged it for Johnny Cash’s Greatest Hits. I guess DMB isn’t for everybody, and I’m okay with that. I’m okay that you don’t get it. I’m not here to recruit you, this isn’t a cult, but if you change your mind, just know that everyone is welcome, and the door is always open for those wanting to join us.
I’ve been fortunate enough to travel and experience DMB in many different venues throughout the United States and Canada. Many people think this is far too extreme or borderline obsessive to spend the kind of money I do following a group of musicians around the Country. Some people think I’m crazy. What they don’t know is that amongst DMB fans, this type of behaviour is not the least bit uncommon. Going to see DMB eight times in eight different venues over the course of a summer is, believe it or not, normal. There’s nothing strange about it to a DMB fan, and trust me when I say there are many fans that have seen far more shows than I could ever dream to. Although the cities and venues may change along the way, there are several constants regardless of where you are that you can count on at every DMB show.
Tailgating is a DMB tradition. The hard core fans of DMB are extremely loyal, not just to the band, but also to the DMB family of friends they have interacted with along the way. As I mentioned earlier, since travelling to shows is very common, pre-show tailgate parties are often seen as a reunion of sorts that many fans look forward to each summer, an opportunity to not only meet old friends, but also make new ones. Going to a DMB show is not simply something to do, it’s an experience. The opening act takes the stage at 7:00pm, with DMB beginning their set at 8:25pm, but the experience begins much earlier than that. Vehicles are often customized with DMB stickers, hand written lyrics and firedancers before the keys are even in the ignition. As soon as the venue parking lot gates are opened, the fans pour in with canopies, barbeques, frisbees, footballs, an assortment of drinking games, and of course alcohol and other herbal mind enhancers. The sounds and smells are intoxicating, and for those few hours, nothing in the outside world matters. It’s all about the here and now. Canadian venues don’t have tailgating worthy of mentioning, but our neighbours to the south have perfected the art of it. If you only go to a DMB show just for the actual show itself, you’ll still have an awesome time, but that’s not the true experience. I highly recommend arriving early, and taking the time to soak it all in.
Once inside the venue, many will take to their seats right away, or at least find a place to stand as 7:00pm approaches. Dave Matthews always comes out at 7:00pm to say a few words and introduce the opening act. DMB fans cannot get enough of “Davespeak”, which is the awkwardly hilarious way in which Dave often expresses himself. After sharing a few laughs and with big smiles on our faces, Dave welcomes the opening band and the live music portion of the experience begins. By this point barely half of the attendees are in their seats, with the remainder still walking around, listening to the opening band, chatting with friends, etc… The opening act generally plays for roughly 45 minutes, and during this time, people in the pit (ie. general admission area just in front of the stage) jockey for position, while those in the reserved seats and lawn section are able to take a slightly more laid back approach to the evening’s festivities. Without fail, you can count on watching a dancing girl or two bouncing around vigorously to the opening act right up front and centre in the reserved seats, taking advantage of the extra space that is afforded during this time, gaining the attention and acknowledgement from the band.
Once the opening act has ended their set, the roadies and stage crew appear from every direction in a frantic yet organized manner to switch out the instruments, and make any final adjustments to the lights and video screens. Many from the crew have been with the band for years, so we recognize their faces, and even know some of them by name. The crowd files in to take their seats, having loaded up on their refreshments of choice, and the traditional pre-show vacuuming of the stage notifies all that DMB will soon be entering the building. Fans begin trading guesses about what the opening song will be based on the guitar that has been placed upon the stage. 6-string or 12-string, we go through the possibilities song by song. Excitement continues to build, and the buzz within the venue gets increasingly louder. The lights turn off, the house music ends, and everyone takes to their feet, with absolutely no intention of sitting back down for the next 2½ to 3 hours. Nobody sits at a DMB concert. Applause thunders down, getting even louder the moment the first band member is spotted walking onto the darkened stage. One after another the band members appear, taking their usual positions. Boyd and Tim to the left, Dave and Carter in the centre, Stefan, Rashawn and Jeff to the right. They wave to the crowd. The crowd roars with anticipation.
With the lights still low, the cheers of the crowd reverberating throughout the venue, the band members all turn to face Carter, for he is the pilot sitting in his cockpit of percussion. On his mark, the band begins, and a wall of sound and light explodes over the crowd. All it takes is one note, the crowd immediately recognizes the song, and begins dancing rhythmically to the music. The show is not choreographed, there are no dancers, no set changes, no costumes, there are minimal bells and whistles. Lip-syncing or backing tracks? Pfft, I think not. This is truly about the music, pure music, and nothing more. There are only two rules when attending a DMB show: 1. Have fun; and 2. Don’t do anything that will take away from the fun of those around you. We’d prefer that you leave your beach balls and glow sticks at home, but if you just can’t help yourself, please do not throw them in the direction of the stage. Everyone expresses themselves differently, but all are there for the same purpose… the love of the music.
One song after another, the band makes their way through the ever-changing setlist, while the crowd dances the night away, and that distinctive herbal scent fills the air. No two setlists are ever the same, every show is different, each containing an element of surprise, and the rarer the songs the better. DMB fans know all the songs, every note, and every word, even when Dave periodically forgets. Nobody expects perfection. Perfection isn’t real. We want what’s real. Boyd tearing up the stage with his violin during a killer version of “Tripping Billies” is real. Stefan bouncing around with his bass at the beginning of “Anyone Seen the Bridge” is real. Dave dancing in the way that only Dave can dance is real. Jeff playing two saxophones at the same time is real. Songs just 4 minutes long on an album are enhanced into 20 minute masterpieces, showcasing the skills of each band member along the way. Dave Matthews may be the lead singer and namesake of the band, but this is about more than just him, and he’ll be the first to admit it. The musicianship within this band is second to none, with each member equally important to the overall sound. More than anything, DMB is real.
At around 10:40pm give or take, the band ends their set and takes their encore break, lasting 5 minutes or so. The crowd cheers loudly the entire time, still on their feet, but wanting to show their appreciation to the band that has given them so much. Sore feet will heal tomorrow, the memories will last a lifetime. Dave often returns to the stage alone, picks up his guitar, and plays a heartfelt solo version of one of the band’s quieter songs. The rest of the band then joins him, and depending on the particular venue, plays one or two more songs, frequently continuing past the 11:00pm curfew. Some songs are better closers than others, and DMB rarely disappoints. “Two Step” is a particular favourite of mine, especially when Carter takes control of the stage with a masterful drum solo which gets you thinking that maybe, just maybe, the boys will throw caution to the wind and transition into “Halloween”. It rarely happens, but when it does, it’s a treat. Alas as all good things must, the show comes to an end. The house lights come on, the band waves goodbye, and one by one they leave the stage, all except for Carter, who remains for several more minutes to toss a seemingly endless supply of drumsticks to appreciative members of the crowd. The applause slowly subsides as everyone makes their way to the exits, and the countdown begins until the next time we get to do it all over again.
DMB is best experienced live and in person, where you can expose all five of your senses to that which is going on around you. That is when they are at their best. That is where the magic happens. Why do I like DMB so much? I don’t know, I just do. I don’t expect you to understand. And that’s okay.