When I think back on the first time I heard Dave Matthews (no, I mean, really heard Dave Matthews), I think of a collection of balmy summer nights in my hometown of Boston -- bare feet in wet grass, a Natural Ice buzz, the beautiful, frightening uncertainty of youth. Me and my friends loaded up our parents' cars with cheap beer and headed towards the small suburban Massachusetts town of Mansfield -- that's where the Tweeter Center was located.
Now begrudgingly named Comcast Center, Tweeter was the amphitheater we would trek to and tailgate with the steady underlying sounds of Dave Matthews Band streaming proudly from open windows and trunks. I didn't know it then, but these nights would come to epitomize the story of my coming of age.
In high school, these songs became our anthems. They helped us fall in love -- or at least it was the music we imagined we would fall in love to -- played at sprawling keg parties, blasted alongside Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen on rides to the beach and used to commemorate the days before we moved on to our respective adventures in higher education.
Virginities were lost to the achingly sweet, heart-wrenching "Lover Lay Down," while "Ants Marching" was the ultimate feel-good ballad, and "Satellite" showcased a mellow, dreamy side of the band. "The Best of What's Around," meanwhile, was the official song of our graduation. If this sounds like an overdose of New England Americana coming-of-age to you, it was.
In 2005, I moved to Tucson, Arizona, to attend the University of Arizona. I got a little lost out there. Amidst the fun of freedom in a drastically different atmosphere, as I tried to figure out who I was, and Dave was with me. It was the same year Stand Up was released -- a decidedly more polished, pop album that focused more on sentimentally-steeped lyrics than the rambling instrumentals of earlier albums like Under the Table and Dreaming and Everyday.
I listened to Stand Up endlessly with a devotion that was second nature, but it was a different kind of music. It was being played to a larger audience. With the band's earlier music, I felt I could manifest the feelings I had for each song and tailor it into something that was meant for me and me alone. I'm sure a lot of his fans felt that way. Now, it seemed like the songwriting was subtly geared towards the masses versus the beloved crowd at Tweeter Center every year.
At the same time, I still loved Dave, and I thought, in a way, he could be trying to find himself, too. I knew I wanted to leave Tucson -- but it took a single moment while listening to Live At The Gorge for two things to hit me: I knew I had to leave, and that Colorado was where I wanted to be. It was also the first time, as self-indulgent as this may be, that I felt that music reached me in a different way than others -- and that maybe it would be the thing that I ended up working in, in some capacity.
I drove to Vegas for my 22nd birthday to see Dave at the MGM Grand, and I returned home to Boston to see him play live at Fenway Park -- a good friend reminded me that I cried almost the entire time. LeRoi Moore, Dave Matthews's beloved saxophonist and founding member, died suddenly in 2008 after complications from an accident he had on his farm in Virginia.
I felt that loss for days -- for many longtime Dave Matthews fans, he was a crucial member of the band, and a crucial part of their original sound. Big Whiskey and The GrooGrux King followed in 2009 -- it paid tribute to Moore, but it was the first album I didn't love with my whole heart. I listened to it a handful of times, and was done.
I moved on. I moved to Colorado, where, coincidentally, Dave Matthews had recorded three of his most celebrated live albums; Live at Red Rocks, Live at Folsom Field, Live at Mile High Music Festival. While finishing my degree at CU, I worked at the Fox Theatre. My tastes were tested and expanded by the flood of new music I was exposed to.
Working at a venue, I would go to as many as five shows a week. The sense of what I liked was simultaneously subjected to the education of the people I worked with and fostered by the environment. I grew shameful of the part of me that loved Dave Matthews -- it didn't feel cool anymore. What's more, it didn't necessarily reach me in the same way. And for a while, I forgot about him.
Over the years, I've grown increasingly sentimental about my days with Dave. I can relate it to the way I feel about not having returned to Boston, and not being there to spend time with my parents as they get older. It's a sense of abandonment. I've asked my friends from growing up if they feel this, too, and without fail, they have each said that it's a compartmentalized part of their past that they look back on with deep nostalgia and fondness.
So I've separated my rejection of their past three albums and focused on the music that latched onto me in the beginning. And I've listened to it lately; to Under The Table and Dreaming, Before The Crowded Streets, Crash, Everyday and Live At The Gorge. Even some of Dave's solo stuff, which was equally loved by my eighteen-year-old self.
It still causes me to drift away from the task at hand, mostly because of the potency of the memories that listening brings with it, but also because I truly feel that alongside the Motown that my dad raised me on, it was Dave Matthews that was paramount to realizing my greatest love and the potential that lay dormant: to feel, to understand, to see things clearly, in the same way people use things like yoga or meditation, in the same way people use writing.
More than anything, I still think that they are an exceptionally incredible group of musicians that still have the ability to give me goosebumps. And maybe that inherent bodily reaction is all we really need to listen to.
In "You Never Know," a song off of Busted Stuff, Dave says, "don't lose the dreams inside your head." And If he taught me anything, especially something that has ingrained itself in both my life philosophy and daily life, it's this. It's what I took from him then, and what I unconsciously take from him now.
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