The Beatdown

Dispatch plays by the numbers.

This summer, Brad Corrigan reunited with his bandmates to play a final farewell show in Boston.

Yeah, I know, bands break up every day. But get this: The gig reportedly outdrew Phish's swan song in Coventry, Vermont, by 50,000 people or so. And ever hear of a little festival called Bonnaroo, the jam mecca? Well, Corrigan and company smoked that event's draw by at least 20,000.

So you'd think I'd be all over Dispatch, Corrigan's band, right? Wrong. Feeling alarmingly out of the loop, I consulted Those in the Know, a loose collective of audiophiles, fellow pundits and various music geeks, and not one of them had so much as heard of Dispatch.

Corrigan, a Colorado native who hails from Littleton, isn't the least bit offended when I offer up the results of my informal poll. In fact, he's not even surprised.

"How old are you?" he asks, then laughs. "Our average fan is eighteen, something like that. It's almost entirely -- I bet 90 percent of it -- from college campuses, word of mouth. If you were to survey college campuses -- honestly, any state in the country -- and put ten band names on there, I bet ours would have one of the strongest name responses.

"I guess the only way for you to hear about Dispatch is for it to be handed off to you personally," Corrigan adds. "It has to be a story; it has to be a CD handed to you. It has to be a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend. You just don't hear of it otherwise. And I think that it's still on a level where the story has enough energy to it that kids are really stoked to be a part of it."

And holy crap, what a story!

After a two-year hiatus, Corrigan, Chad Urmston and Pete Heimbold decided to get back together and play one last Dispatch show for the fans. After relentless touring, they knew they had a strong underground following -- but the turnout for the July 31 date, billed as the Last Dispatch, was simply astounding.

"I mean, it was free," Corrigan humbly says of the show at Boston's Hatch Shell. "We're not trying to make it sound like we had 110,000 people who paid. But it was staggering. It was amazing. It's so big you can't get your head around it. We probably only saw half the crowd. It was huge. People were so awesome. We had kids who came in from over 25 countries."

Al Rehm, formerly of Irie Still and Flex Luther and currently a denizen of Beantown, agrees that the show caused quite a ruckus. "No one knows exactly how many kids were there, somewhere between 60,000 and 110,000," he notes. "Having no idea who Dispatch was, I wasn't one of 'em. The Hatch Shell usually sucks -- free classical concerts attended by awful yuppies and their too-silent children. So no one was really ready for Dispatch to draw twice the crowd they expected to. It probably marked the first time in history that Storrow Drive -- one of the few main streets in Boston that's not already closed for the Big Fuckin' Dig -- has been shut down."

And that's just what Corrigan and crew were hoping for. "We really dreamed that we'd have a crowd big enough to shut down Storrow Drive," Corrigan confesses. "And they had to close it at two in the afternoon. It's one of the main highways that rolls through Boston. We knew it was going to be a free-for-all. At that point, none of us could go anywhere. So we just sat there from two to five o'clock watching the place fill up. We'd done it. There was nothing left to prove."

But then, Dispatch really had nothing to prove in the first place. "We were friends who loved music," Corrigan explains. "It wasn't about the business. It was about just doing what we loved to do." He, Urmston and Heimbold formed the band back in 1996, when they were attending Middlebury College. After graduating, they moved to Boston and started touring. Dispatch's acoustic-driven funk and unpredictable performances -- bandmembers switched instruments at will -- quickly amassed a legion of fans.

Rather than record its debut with some East Coast outfit, Dispatch opted for Northglenn's Avalanche Studios, where Corrigan had interned; apparently he was the only bandmember with studio connections. Four releases later, Dispatch has sold nearly half a million albums, and Universal Records just picked up the rights to re-release the entire catalogue along with companion DVD footage from the Hatch Shell gig.

All of the attention eventually got to the guys, though, and spurred their decision to take a break -- and, ultimately, to break up. "When we got really burned out," Corrigan says, "and our friendship started slipping, we just decided to kill it."

It was a great way to go out -- but frankly, I'm shocked that Dispatch got as far as it did. Listening to the band's songs, I can't find anything that stands out. In fact, by Mootown standards, the music is fairly marginal; I've encountered at least a hundred other groups tilling the same ground. That could explain why I completely overlooked Dispatch's gig at Herman's in 1999 and subsequent shows at the Fillmore, the Fox and the Pavilion.

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