Summer belongs to Dave Matthews. The season of lazy days and languid nights just wouldn’t be the same without Dave Matthews Band. Last year, when Dave and company decided not to tour fully (Caravan, schmaravan), summer downright sucked. For the better part of the last 20 years (holy shit), I and legions of other fans and followers have taken for granted that DMB would be there for us. Like clockwork. In these parts, serving as the official kickoff to summer. With two nights of extended jams, familiar standbys (heard dozens of times before but still sounding fresh), and a smattering of new tunes every few years. Echoing through the woods of the Saratoga Spa State Park, from our storied SPAC. But last year, silence. No DMB. And for me, no summer.
This weekend, the DMB drought ends. And summer officially begins. The past few nights have brought me vivid dreams, with Dave on the brain. The new DMB album hasn’t dropped yet, but that’s okay. I’ll dance with Dave Feet to new versions of the old favorites, and sing my made-up words to the lyrics I can’t understand, and wax nostalgic about the arc of my DMB fanhood…
I credit my brother Vik with introducing me to this eclectic “college band” in the early 1990s. As the more responsible (read, geekier) older sister, I was only marginally aware of the crazy and quasi-illegal hoops Vik jumped through to see DMB concerts as a teen (a “sleepover” at a friend’s house that masked a secret New Year’s Eve overnight road trip to a Virginia Beach concert, for instance). Vik was (and is) bad ass, so my dorky self felt privileged to share a first live DMB concert experience with this Original Fan in 1995. It was an auspicious introduction. It was in a college gym. A cheap general admission ticket got us into the campus rec center at the State University of New York at Albany on a weeknight in September. Vik and I had been working together in Albany at the time, so camped out after work until the venue doors opened, and then rushed the stage area with hundreds of others to claim a spot on the gym floor. My first DMB show, and we were front and center! Pushed up against the gym mats padding the platform that was pretending to be a stage.
Meshell Ndegeocello (remember her?) was the opener. No one wanted to listen to her. The crowd was rude and unruly. She was booed off stage. It was appalling. After what seemed an eternity, Dave and friends finally appeared. And so did chaos. The moshing began. The pushing, the shoving, the bodies, the crushing, the feet to the face. Who the hell was this band? Who were these fecking rabid fans? I had never been so terrified. At 6’3″, my “little” brother embraced the crazy crowd vibe, literally head and shoulders above the rest. At 5’5″ (okay, maybe closer to 5’4″), I was dodging death by student stampede. Ultimately, I retreated from the front-and-center stronghold, and tried to enjoy the rest of the show from the gym’s nosebleed-equivalent seats.
Thanks to the interweb, I relive that concert, and my time as a petrified DMB virgin, and invite you to join me for a sampling of that show. Note the silhouettes of people walking across the stage? Crowd-surfers–or potential crush victims–who made it to the front, invading “Dave’s House”, before being escorted offstage by security in a steady stream. Sigh. At least I can claim to have had a front row “seat” at a DMB show. Even if for just a few precious minutes.
A few years later, I would see DMB again, and again in a gym (well, indoor tennis stadium). This time, north of the border, in Montreal. It couldn’t have been a more different experience. It was May 1998. DMB was enjoying widespread mainstream popularity stateside. But in Canada? If there were more than a thousand people at this performance, I’d be surprised. It was intimate, informal (standing only), beer served on the sidelines, Canadian cordial crowd. And the band was having a jolly rollick. It felt more like a practice session. For a teenage garage band. I couldn’t find any videos online, but did find this entertaining collection of fan reviews. Memorable in its own right. Every year since, Hubby and I have searched for a repeat of this mellow Montreal gig. No luck.
A few months after Montreal, I was in for another “crushing” concert experience. It was July 1998. (My now) Hubby and I were front-and-center at our nearby “neighborhood” concert venue, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC). Kid brother Vik insists that SPAC is among DMB’s favorite places to play. That the performances and set lists are never better than when the band is at SPAC. For Hubby and me, this was our first “non-lawn” DMB SPAC show, and we were lucky enough to have scored fourth row orchestra pit seats (my boss at the time was a big-time SPAC supporter and member, and got dibs on The Fancy Seats for all the shows). We smugly took our places in The Highly Civilized Section at the very front of the amphitheatre, alongside the Muffy/Buffy/Skip/Chip monied set and privileged teenagers (none of whom were True Fans like us). Behind us, in the regular seats and on the lawn, sat The Lowly Rabble. But not for long. In a flashback repeat of my inaugural DMB concert experience, the stage was rushed. Our temporary folding chairs crumbled. Our bodies were crushed. We retreated. Once again watching a DMB concert from a safe distance. Bruised and disappointed. But no less awed by the music. After that show, all sorts of security measures were put into place (wrist bands, limited pit audience, beefy bouncer types instead of old lady volunteer ushers). Epic.
Fast forward to 2000. A truly memorable millennial. Summer saw me between graduate school and jobs, and working for the season as a front desk clerk at The Gideon Putnam. Situated in the Saratoga Spa State Park, and adjacent to SPAC, this hotel saw its share of celebrities, especially during the summer months. In my brief front desk stint over several summers, I had met the likes of Bobby Flay, Ralph Wilson, Frank McCourt, Tara Lipinski, Dr. Ruth, and Celeste Holm.
And in August 2000, Dave Matthews. And the gang. We front desk clerks didn’t know for sure if the band would be staying with us until the very last minute, when pseudonyms on the original reservations were changed, to Dave, and Boyd, and Leroi, and Carter, and Stefan. But I had brought my disposable Kodak to work, just in case.
I remember it clearly. There was a conference of school administrators and teachers meeting in the hotel that day. During a late afternoon meeting break, a group of harpy women swarmed the front desk, chirping orders for photocopies, replacement room keys, faxes, more water in the conference rooms.
Behind them, standing alone, patiently, quietly, no airs, duffel bag slung over his shoulder, lips puckered in a sort of whistle…Dave.
Above the melee, we made eye contact. I motioned for Dave to meet me at the side door to the front desk area. Ignoring the pecking shrews, I stepped away from the desk, and ushered Dave into the private area behind the front desk mailboxes (old school hotel). He was much taller than I had expected. And he smelled fresh and clean, like fabric softener. The small talk was a blur–I think I congratulated him on his recent marriage, and he told me he had a head cold; I mentioned my kid brother who had met him before a recent Albany show, and he said something like, “Oh yeah, tall Indian kid, I remember”–as I fumbled with his keys and told him how to get to his room. And in a move that surely should have gotten me fired, I whipped out the camera. “Would you mind terribly? I would love to get a picture.”
A silken, baritone “well, sure.” One photo left in the Kodak disposable. One Charmin squeeze for the ages.
I’d had my seminal Dave moment. One that can never be matched nor topped. It was followed close behind by helping to check in a very ripple-y Boyd, a surprisingly petite Stefan, an impish Carter (who later had a problem with bees in his hotel room), and a sunglasses-less Leroi (whose credit card signature I photocopied after he checked out…man, I should have been fired. You just don’t do those sorts of things as a front desk clerk, especially at the buttoned-up Gideon Putnam).
Now it’s nearly Summer 2012, and I am looking forward to this weekend’s performances as eagerly as ever, 15+ years on. My brother–still a diehard DMB fan, but now living in southwest Florida, and bereft of his regular Dave fix–counts down, and sends me regular emails with concert stats, links to DMB articles, schedules, set lists, album release information. Nagging, really. To make sure that we don’t miss the performance (“Guys, PLEASE go to Saturday night’s show…It was the fastest sell out of the entire tour.”), and everything that it represents.
While I still look forward to DMB concerts as the true harbinger of summer, I have come to appreciate Dave and friends more from afar. Just outside the SPAC gates. Away from the noisy throngs. With the other “grownups”, who are content to spread out on the park lawn, sipping our shrouded beers–or perhaps now some Dreaming Tree wine–and reliving happy memories of concerts past. This is how we roll now…but don’t tell anyone our secret.
The other day, I ran into my old boss from the Gideon Putnam Hotel. He had been a DMB fan, too. He’d even given me a live cassette recording of that 1998 SPAC show. We hadn’t seen each other in over a decade. Still, he remembered that Dave day.
“You know, I still have a copy of that picture you had taken with Dave Matthews. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone so happy about anything, then or since.”
Rock on. Welcome back, boys. And hello-o-o-o-o, Summer.Have a favorite DMB concert moment or memory? Share it!
- Video: Dave Matthews Band’s love-letter to SPAC (timesunion.com)