By Max Stewart • Cover Photo by Mountain Trout Photography
Last weekend, thousands of Dave Matthews Band fans descended upon Charlottesville, VA to celebrate the band’s 25th Anniversary show at John Paul Jones Arena. It was all good vibes for those that made the trip for the Saturday, May 7th concert, especially since the band donated 100% of net proceeds from the show to Charlottesville-area charities via the Bama Works Fund (the concert reportedly raised north of $1.5 MILLION). Charlottesville is the “Graceland” pilgrimage for the DMB faithful, the city where it all began. Many fans parlayed their trip to the show into an opportunity to visit some of the landmarks that were paramount in shaping the band’s career.
As a matter of fact, I trekked down with a group of fans from Washington, D.C. fully intent in taking advantage of all that the city has to offer. Friday evening we made our way to “DMB 25,” a 25th Anniversary Pop Up Photographic Retrospective that included rare photos, instruments, posters, handwritten lyrics (“So Much to Say” was surreal),and other treasured band memorabilia. The exhibit included the band’s original red Ford touring van, complete with hanging photos in the interior of the vehicle that displayed the band cutting their teeth during their early days on the road in snowy exterior conditions, and presumably smelly interior conditions. I was fanboying pretty hard when I got to snap a picture with this piece of music history.
During the event, I had the privilege of chatting with legendary music photographer Danny Clinch (who has worked with Johnny Cash, Phish, Bruce Springsteen, 2Pac… so yeah, not exactly a lightweight), and it was clear he was just as amped for the blowout concert as the rest of us. He was alongside a camera crew interviewing some fans for the State Farm Neighborhood Sessions, an ongoing program that profiles artists’ charitable ventures within communities (set to air on Turner late 2016).
After getting settled into our Airbnb, we made our way to South Street Brewery for some tasty local brews but more importantly to take a peek at the directly adjacent building known as the “Warehouse.” This pink building – a private apartment complex, so don’t snoop! – served as the inspiration for the fan favorite song (you guessed it: “Warehouse”), and was also where Dave would spend hours in the upstairs apartment working out some of his early songs with the band’s original manager Ross Hoffman. The roof of this building housed the band’s first paid performance in May of 1991, almost 25 years to the day prior to the May 7th hometown show.
Next up on the itinerary, we stumbled a few blocks to Miller’s Bar, the holy mecca for wide-eyed DMB fans like myself. Dave Matthews was at one time a bartender at Miller’s before approaching well-established local musicians / Miller’s regulars LeRoi Moore (Saxophone) and Carter Beauford (Drummer) to collaborate on some of his demoed songs. The rest, as they say, was history. We braved the line – which included many other DMB tourists complete with poster tubes in hand and DMB shirts on their backs – before helping ourselves to some “big whiskeys” in the main bar where the Charles Owens Trio was laying down some exceptional jazz covers and originals. The Jazz undertones in DMB really set them apart from other Jam / Alt-Rock bands to come out of the 90s, and Miller’s no doubt was a direct influence on that aspect of the band. If those walls could talk…
Saturday was spent enjoying the Virginia terrain at a few wineries and immersing ourselves in all that the humble community has to offer. I could really see why DMB always hoists the Charlottesville, VA flag; the city has such a warm and welcoming atmosphere that makes you wanna, makes you wanna stay for a while (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Later in the afternoon we hit the lot to take in all of the pre-show merriments. I happened to be enjoying some of Starr Hill Brewery’s Warehouse Pils (brewed for DMB in coordination with the event) and was completely taken aback by the countless DMB Dancer Stickers on the cars in the JPJ Arena Lot. The anticipative energy was widespread as car stereos blasted a range of tunes from the band’s storied, 25-year career. It was clear this show was going to be something special.
The band took the stage at about 8:30 p.m., welcomed with a minute-long roar of applause before Matthews approached the mic with purpose: “My sister’s here. This is ‘The Song That Jane Likes’.” It was off to the races at this point as the crowd sang along to the easygoing lyrics from 1993’s Remember Two Things. The song maintained its freshness but displayed some variety from the studio version when Boyd Tinsley stepped in after the vocal intro for a sawing display of violin prowess. This was the first of many moments that solidified Tinsley as one of the best violinists around. As Matthews wrapped up the song he addressed his appreciation to the droves of fans who sacrificed time and money to make it to the show in his signature South African / Southern drawl: “I know of some of y’all travelled quite a distance to be here…thank y’all anyway”. The band then went into Everyday’s glass half full, apocalyptic love song “When the World Ends”, which naturally led into the eternally grateful “One Sweet World”. The extended introduction was propped up by the horns of the all-star brass section: Rashawn Ross (Trumpeter) and Jeff Coffin (Saxophonist and Winds). The duo have done a remarkable job in filling the void after the tragic passing of original Saxophonist and Wind Wizard LeRoi Moore in 2008.
*Full video by ChesterCopperpot5
When the band played “Why I Am,” it was the high water mark of emotional moments during the evening since the tune will forever immortalize Moore as the cool, calm and collected GrooGrux King. Every mention of the GrooGrux King in the lyrics would ignite an eruption in the crowd that never ceased to make the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Matthews and the band have done a mighty fine job honoring Moore’s legacy: “Forever dancing with the GrooGrux King, we’ll be drinking big whiskey as we dance and sing. When my story ends, it’s gonna end with him. Heaven or Hell I’m goin there with the GrooGrux King.”
As the band played the mid tempo ballad “#41,” John Paul Jones Arena might as well have been the church and the entire crowd the congregation singing in unison to the hymnal led by Preacher Matthews. Also during this number Tim Reynolds, another Charlottesville native and frequentMatthews collaborator, displayed his guitar virtuosity as the electric guitar soared alongside a steady brass arrangement.
The band premiered a total of three new songs to the die-hard crowd, all of which are certainly studio album-worthy. “Samurai Cop” revolves on a reverb guitar riff that would not be out of place if played by The Edge on a U2 record. The song clearly has strong potential as a live staple as it ebbs and flows around the unifying force of Matthews’ catchy melody. The choral competence of the congregation at John Paul Jones Arena continued to shine during the performance of the epic “Don’t Drink the Water,” off of 1998’s Before These Crowded Streets. Drumming phenomenon Carter Beauford was all smiles while pounding the kit with ferocious yet flawless dexterity during the passionate song.
Another new tune tentatively titled “Bob Law” (or maybe “Bob Loblaw”? Arrested Development, anyone?) began with Matthews on the keys urging the crowd to “indulge [the] love song.” The hooky melody revolves around the tight rhythm section and the funky grooves of Bassist Stefan Lessard, who is the glue holding together the band’s unique sound.
I do not have many memories from age eight, but I vividly recall driving around all day with my dad trying to find DMB’s 1994 Under the Table and Dreaming after hearing my older, WAY cooler cousins listening to it. Eventually, we were able to find the CD because I recognized the carousel cover and remembered the song about “Jack and Jill going up the hill” (this incidentally was my first purchased and played-on-repeat CD). For this reason, “What Would You Say” holds a special place in my heart. When Matthews introduced the song by thanking the band and expressing his love for the fans and the City of Charlottesville, it felt like a moment that was full circle for the band and full circle for me as a fan (aww shucks). Matthewsplayed the timeless, twangy guitar riff while dancing his signature jig like it was 1994. The band was in full swing during this number, with Tinsley providing bluegrass-inspired fiddle swings and Coffin perfectly executing a flute solo during the song’s breakdown.
The pace slowed down a bit during the playfully dark “Big Eyed Fish,” which segued nicely into the new song “Bismarck.” Matthews sat behind the keys for this new piece, which sounds like a straightforward DMB song off of Crash or Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King, and it will be very interesting to hear how it turns out in a studio format if they choose to record.
Fans were in for a treat when the unreleased “Sugar Will” was performed with the full band for the first time since March 2010, which in my opinion should be a recurring theme on this tour as Reynolds and Ross add their own sweet seasoning. The horn-heavy “Belly Belly Nice” profiled the power of the Ross-Coffin duo that complements the harmonious aptitude of the rest of the band. “Virginia in the Rain” has a far out, Kid A Radiohead vibe, and it is a clear tip of the cap to the formative years in the lovely state of Virginia. During the always out of the park “Warehouse,” photos of the pink Warehouse that was just down the road from the arena flashed throughout the screen behind the stage as the congregation sang “At the warehouse… How I love to stay here”.
The band joined forces with local, wildly talented Charlottesville trumpeter John D’Earth during the acoustic anchored “Jimi Thing”. D’Earth still plays at Miller’s every Thursday night and is the Director of Jazz Performance at the University of Virginia. How much more hometown can ya get now, folks? D’Earth also helped the band pay tribute to the late, great Prince as the band covered partial verses from his 1992 “Sexy MF.” As fans were inspired to “shake that ass” by the funky tone and straightforward lyrics, I couldn’t help but think that this was all the Purple King would have ever wanted from an arena full of concertgoers.
The serenity of “The Space Between” transitioned seamlessly into the signature DMB-sounding “Grey Street.” All hands were on deck (with Beauford captaining the ship) as the unit barreled through the instrumentals to end the set on a Grreeyyyyyyy’t note (Last one, I promise).
As applause continued well after the last note of “Grey Street,” Beauford spent a solid five minutes tossing drum sticks to fans in the pit and even signing some merchandise for fans on the guardrail. This band has the utmost respect and appreciation for its fans, and fans like myself are cognizant of their appreciation and it inspires us to come back and see many of the same songs every summer.As the boys from Charlottesville made their way back out for the encore, the instantly recognizable snare beat of “Ants Marching” got everyone on their feet, including the casual listeners in attendance. Matthews and Beauford were laughing and jamming away as the infectious hook in the vocals intertwined with Tinsley’s violin part. The band then gave hardcore fans a treat when they dusted off the worldly-inspired, setlist gem “The Last Stop”, which had not been played since 2010.
After “The Last Stop,” we caught our breath and made our way to the exit tunnels since it seemed that the encore was coming to a close. Much to our delight, the band went into an unplanned “Tripping Billies,” and we danced with other fans in the tunnel in what was definitely the highlight of my night. Dancing dips and high fives were flyin’ as the band wrapped up their all-encompassing set.
For faithful DMB fans, this was all you could want from a show: a handful of their signature songs, three new songs, local collaboration, and some deep cuts. The hometown gig had all of the home-cooked biscuits and gravy you could want from a show of this magnitude, and we all left Charlottesville on Sunday full-bellied.
Be sure to catch the Dave Matthews Band this Summer!
Dave Matthews Band – 5.7.16 – Charlottesville, VA:
The Song That Jane Likes (first time played as an opener since 11/03/94)
When the World Ends
One Sweet World (“Swim Naked” outro)
Why I Am
Samurai Cop (live debut)
Don’t Drink the Water
Bob Law (live debut)
What Would You Say
Big Eyed Fish
Bismarck (live debut)
Sugar Will (first time played full band since 03/07/10)
Belly Belly Nice
Virginia in the Rain
Jimi Thing (with John D’earth) (>>)
Sexy M.F. (Prince cover) (with John D’earth) (partial; instrumental verses + bridge)
The Space Between
Ants Marching (Carter solo intro)
The Last Stop (first time played since 11/20/10; reprise outro)