I have a love/hate relationship with Dave Matthews Band – I love them, but I hate dealing with their large fan base.
I was a relatively early adopter of the Dave Matthews Band – somewhere in between them playing small college shows and the overwhelming popularity of their breakthrough album Under the Table and Dreaming, I became a fan. I’m not sure how I found out about them so early, but by the time everyone was excited about “Ants Marching” I had already been a fan for a while. DMB would go on to be a very large part of the soundtrack to my college years; I can’t hear “Too Much” without thinking of Today’s Lounge (R.I.P) in Oneonta, NY. They are one of the few bands that I always made a point of buying their new albums the day that they came out, including all their various live albums. “Crush” was my unofficial theme song for much of my early twenties; I even had a friend that set up his stereo to play the song when I walked into his apartment when he knew that I was coming over. As I got older, I continued to buy all their new stuff, though my overall enthusiasm for the band waned a bit. I still listened to them, but they were not in the rotation as much.
Back in 2000, I saw DMB for the first and what I thought would be the last time, since I had such a tremendously bad time at the concert. It had nothing to do with Dave or the band – they were great – but instead with the audience at the show. This was close to the height of DMB’s popularity, which meant that the show attracted a lot of teenagers who clearly were using the concert as an excuse to drink to excess and do a lot of drugs. Now, I was only 23 at the time, so I wasn’t exactly an old fogey, but dealing with so many intoxicated and high people ruined the experience for me; I have no problem with people drinking or doing drugs at a show as long as they know what they are doing and know how to behave. To each their own. But these kids were all under age and don’t have the freedom to casually have a drink, so they had to take full advantage and had no ideas yet what their limits were. So we spent most of the show either being annoyed by their drunken behavior or babysitting them, which really took away from our ability to relax and enjoy the show. I also got separated from my friends at one point because it was just so crowded – I went to the bathroom and just couldn’t get back to them – which back then gave me all sorts of anxiety (I’ve mellowed a bit on that front with age). I swore then and there that while I’d continue to support DMB, I’d never go see them again live unless I had seats inside the theater, where there was some semblance of order with assigned seating. DMB has come to Saratoga many, many times since that 2000 show, but I stood firm in my resolution. I was done.
But time heals all wounds and after 14 years of proclaiming that concert experience one of my worst ever, I began to wonder if perhaps I had overstated things. I was tired of turning down invitations to go to see DMB and then hearing what a tremendous show that it was. I was cautiously ready to give it another try; my theory was that DMB probably hadn’t picked up a lot of new younger fans in the last 14 years, so the median age of the audience should be slightly older than it was the last time I saw the band. DMB continues to be popular, but I speculated that today’s 15 year olds would rather go to another show and would consider DMB “old.” So when a bunch of my friends from college planned to go to see DMB – and sit on the lawn – I decided to roll the dice once again. I’m not going to say that I wasn’t a little anxious about the whole thing in the days running up to the show, but I was hoping that now that I was in my thirties my coping mechanisms and patience for such crowds had improved. If I could handle being in the pit twice for Metallica, I should be able to handle some drunk teenagers at DMB.
I was going to the second show of a two night stand for DMB in Saratoga, a venue that Dave reportedly really enjoys playing. In the past, the band has played songs at SPAC that they do not normally play live frequently, which has helped add to the mystique (and popularity) of these shows. The show that I was going to was sold out, which means that close to 25,000 people were going to be floating around – most of which in GA on the lawn with us. The weather at least looked promising; the audience for the first night had rain and having sat through a rainy show the week before, I was none too anxious to repeat the experience. I was better prepared for this outing – both sun block and bug spray were packed – so I took a deep breath, tried to lower my expectations and headed out to meet up with my friends.
We wisely decided to get to the venue early; the parking lot opened at 4 pm for a 7 pm show and we arrived around 4:30. The main parking lot was pretty close to capacity already, but we wisely inquired if premiere parking was still available to purchase. It was and though I would normally balk at paying $30 for parking when I can easily park for free elsewhere, one look at the hike would have to make to from the car and we were all ready to chip in for the closer spot. It was a sound investment as we wound up two rows from the entrance of the venue and we were surrounded by other adults during our pre-show time in the parking lot. We were among the first people in line to go in to the show and had our choice of real estate on the lawn to call our own. We found a spot in the middle and planted our chairs and blankets. We were there so early that I easily was able to use the facilities and get something to eat and drink before the show. While the lawn began to fill in, we all commented that we wondered where all the people were. It was crowded, but nowhere near what a sold out crowd would normally look like when the first of DMB’s two sets began around 7:30.
The concert was to be broken into two sets: the first would be acoustic and the second would be the usual electric set. I was particularly excited for the acoustic set; that definitely played an important role in my decision to go to the concert. People continued to trickle on to the lawn, but when we popped out to once again use the bathrooms during the second song, we realized where everyone was – waiting in line to either use the bathroom or get a beer. We got into the bathroom pretty quickly despite the line, but many of the stalls were already out of toilet paper and it was only 7:40. This was a clear indication that there were a whole mess of people that were lurking about that would eventually descend on the lawn. It tried to put that thought out of my mind and went back to enjoy the rest of the acoustic set. Dave and company were unsurprisingly very good and we got the added benefit of an appearance by Dave’s frequent collaborator Tim Reynolds. It was all very relaxing – the weather was perfect and the band sounded great.
It was somewhere during the early portion of the acoustic set that a man and his son (around 12 years old) wound up standing next to me. I only really noticed them because up to that point because the son stepped in front of me at one point and the dad was quick to pull him out of my way. The next time I looked over, it was just the son – the dad was nowhere to be seen. This did not seem like a big deal until the acoustic set was almost over and he still wasn’t back; I actually turned to my friend Kristin and said that I think I might have just gained a son at the concert. The father eventually returned at the very end of the set, with an eight year old girl in tow and I thought that was the end of it.
Unfortunately, the dad was way more interested in going to drink than he was in keeping an eye on his kids, because he quickly took off again, leaving the two children alone in a crowd that was slowly swelling to capacity. Our luxurious space that we had claimed prior to the acoustic set had vanished and my precious personal space was slowly being compromised. As the sun set, everyone who had been hanging out in the back invaded the lawn in anticipation of the second set. It started to get annoying and while the crowd was generally very well behaved, my anxiety slowly began to creep up as people continued to block my view, knock into my lawn chair and generally overcrowd everything. We were also keeping a mindful eye on the two kids – someone had to provide them with supervision – as the daughter began to look more and more concerned about her father’s disappearance and the growing crowd. Kristin went up to ask them if they were alright and while they said that they were fine even the older boy began to look a little uneasy. I, meanwhile, was fantasizing about tasering people or setting them on fire, which is a clear indication that I don’t do so well with crowds. I really wasn’t even that annoyed, but it was a way to deal with so many people in such a small area. It is also the perk of being a grownup – my solid reasoning was that if it came down to the word of a slightly intoxicated 20-something year old vs. a sober me, no one would believe that I had started any shenanigans. I am, apparently, at my heart a criminal mastermind.
I don’t know if the crowd simply settled down about 20 minutes into the second set or if I just got a contact high off all the pot that was being smoked, but eventually my anxiety subsided and I just didn’t care as much about all the people. Even the father returned to check in on his kids, though he was clearly very intoxicated. Throughout all the chaos, the band was awesome – unlike last time, the crowd experience never overwhelmed what was happening on stage. I really enjoyed the set list that they chose for the show as they played a lot of my favorites, including “Crush.” I have no idea if the songs they played were representative of what he normally does on tour or if we got any special treats, but listening to DMB under the stars with 25,000 other people was quite the way to spend a Saturday night. We danced and sang along and generally had a grand old time; there were certainly a lot of people, but it was for from the chaotic experience that I had previously had.
I still am not a huge fan of battling it out with the crowds, but I would consider going to see DMB again; if we were able to score inside seats there were be absolutely no hesitation. The band sounded great and put on an energetic show much to the delight of the capacity crowd. After not listening to DMB very much in the last few years, since the show I’ve found myself seeking out their music more and more so the concert had the desired effect of reigniting my fandom of the band. I doubt that I’ll ever follow DMB around or go to multiple shows in one year, but Saturday night’s show did alleviate my fear of ever going to see the band live ever again. The fact that they are still drawing those kinds of crowds at this point in their career speaks to the band’s longevity, though I wouldn’t be too disappointed if the fandom shrunk a little bit before my next show.
Dave Matthews Band is currently on tour this summer; check out their website for upcoming dates