My wife and I are constantly chasing our next concert. We even made it a fun challenge to try to see one per month this year. While we’re always on the lookout for new bands, there is one I am sometimes reluctant to admit I have seen 27 times.
To many people, seeing the same artist that many times sounds crazy. I can’t begin to count how often I have responded to a puzzled friend or colleague asking, “But don’t they play the same songs each night?” (Answer: They don’t.)
Maybe I would feel differently if it was someone near universally acclaimed, like Paul McCartney, or someone as American as apple pie, like Bruce Springsteen, but my favorite band is the Dave Matthews Band. Despite being one of the most successful acts of the last three decades — and recently being named a 2020 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominee — they are also one of the most polarizing bands of this era. So I understand if you want to stop reading, but I hope you’ll stick with me for a few minutes as I share how this band has brought so much joy to me.
When I was a kid, my dad and uncle introduced me to Notre Dame football. From the time I was young, Saturdays in the fall were about the Fighting Irish, and activities like yard work, dinner, and even which Mass we would go to were often planned around game time.
In many ways, following a band closely is like having another favorite team. Instead of box scores, there are set lists. Instead of wins and losses, there are classic, unforgettable shows — and others when the band simply had an off night.
Like many DMB fans, I began listening to the band in high school, and I may or may not have quoted “The Best of What’s Around” in my graduation speech (“Turns out not where, but who you’re with that really matters”). I had listened to Live at Red Rocks, and I had heard so much about their concerts, that when DMB came to town that summer before college, it was time to see what I had been missing.
At that time, my favorite DMB song was “Lie In Our Graves,” one of the band’s seize-the-day anthems. At my first show, they played a particularly inspired version of the song featuring Trey Anastasio, the frontman of Phish, another group with a devoted following. If you’re interested, the video exists on YouTube, but it looks like it was filmed from a spaceship. Remember, this was long before the iPhone 11.
I didn’t anticipate it at the time, but that one performance and one concert was the start of what has now been more than a decade of fandom. From listening to live streams and planning tailgates, to group texts with friends, my brothers, and cousins, the band has been a part of my summers for the past 13 years, not unlike Fighting Irish football each fall.
Dave and his band are far from perfect. They make mistakes on and off the stage, and some would say they’re a nostalgia act whose biggest hit came more than 20 years ago.
Rock concerts aren’t usually known for bringing out the best behavior in some people, but there’s a ton of good that has come from the band (like this and this and this) and the community that has been fostered through their music.
My DMB resume pales in comparison to some fans — like my cousin Nick, who’s been to 83 shows, or my friend Drew, who has seen them so many times that he has lost track.
But whether it’s 25 shows or 250, I think many enthusiastic DMB fans (or fans of Phish or any group with a dedicated following) would say the music is a fraction of what makes the band a meaningful part of life.
Yes, I love their musicianship, energy, and dedication to tour across the country year-in and year-out, but more than set lists or song performances, the things I appreciate most are the moments I have shared with people I care about and the friendships that have been strengthened through our common fandom.
Like the time we forgot a spatula at the pre-concert tailgate, and my brother tried to rig one up out of a soda can and tree branch so we could still grill burgers.
Or the time I decided late on a Friday to drive two hours after work to catch a show with a buddy that night.
Or most memorably, the time we made an epic journey to the breathtaking Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington to witness three shows over Labor Day weekend — a bucket-list trip for many DMB fans, and something we had wanted to do since high school.
The shows were a ton of fun, sure. But the things I remember most are 12 of us stocking up on food and camping supplies at Walmart, cresting the hill and experiencing the incredible sunset inside the venue for the first time, and setting up a big slip ’n slide as we tore down our campsite on the final day.
The shared experiences of the concerts themselves are memorable, too. There are the little moments I enjoy, like how the crowd sings the “Can’t Help Falling In Love” chorus at the end of “The Stone,” or the way a sold-out amphitheater nearly erupts when the band begins the first notes of “Two Step.”
Those thrills are hard to describe, and impossible for many of my friends to understand, but we still talk about those shows, similar to how my Notre Dame friends and I still recall the Irish’s epic goal line stand against Stanford from a few years back.
Earlier this summer, I had a chance to see the band for one of their two shows near my hometown. We sang, we danced, and we reminisced about old shows and concert memories. It was an awesome night, and when the weekend ended, the Sunday Scaries hit a little harder than usual.
Maybe it was the sadness of our vacation time coming to a close, or maybe it was the realization that those types of weekends are numbered as the band gets older and our lives get busier.
We all long for community, and I’m grateful for the unique one I am a part of as a DMB fan. Music has a special way of bringing people together, and that won’t ever change, but with how it has shifted in the digital age, I think bands like DMB are a dying breed. I love Spotify. The ease with which we can discover tens of thousands of songs from literally any genre is really cool (Stomp and Holler, anyone?). I enjoy a lot of different artists and a lot of types of music, and from breweries to stadiums, there’s a good chance my wife and I will be seeking out concerts for as long as we’re able.
But when DMB hangs it up, I’ll miss that one-of-a-kind sense of camaraderie, friendship, and community that the fan experience has given me. I have loved the opportunity to collect live albums, to anxiously await the release of summer tour dates, and to learn minute band trivia that most would never care to know.
It will be a strange day for me whenever the band decides to call it quits and stop touring. It might be like having your favorite sports franchise suddenly pack up and move to a new city (Sorry, Rams fans).
Whenever it happens, I know I’ll be sad, but “all good things come to an end sometimes,” and I’ll carry the stories, the memories, and the friendships forever.