My roommate, Kris, dragged me to my first Dave Matthews Band show when I was eighteen years old. This was in 1996--Crash had just been released a few months before and DMB was everywhere. Unlike the rest of the world, I wasn't down with the DMB. But I lost a bet and the price was accompanying Kris to a show, so there I was on the loge at Boston's Fleet Center on an early October night. Kris assured me I would thank her after the fact. I'm sure I rolled my eyes in response.
About a quarter of the way through the opening song "Seek Up," I realized how wrong I had been. Never before had I heard sounds like the ones being fired off of that stage. I had never felt music get inside of me like that.
Flash forward twenty-two years, and I have lost count of how many shows I've been to--somewhere in the triple digits. I can't really think of anything else outside of this band that has remained stable and continuous throughout the course of my adult life. In that time, my concept of "home" has been largely ever-changing. I lived across the country from where I grew up, I moved all of the time, and my life has existed in a constant, ongoing state of transition. DMB is the one thing that has remained stable and familiar. It has been a through-line in my life.
Because I found this band so young and so much time has passed, my experience of them has morphed and evolved several times over. In the first years, when I vacillated between being angsty and carefree, when I was discovering what life and love were, and trying to figure out who I was and where I fit into the world, their earlier songs spoke to that. As I grew older, their lyrics shifted as well--they were a bit more wistful and yearning for moments that had passed, more grounded in musings about what life is and is not. There was less focus on that electric kind of love that rips through you and makes you do stupid things, and more of a focus on the type of love that is lasting and expansive. And now, it's the lyrics about children and the passing of the guard that resonate most.
I have traveled all over with this band--everywhere from Moses Lake, Washington to Milan, Italy. I have met friends that I never would have known otherwise. There is an entire part of my life that DMB serves as the foundation of. When I go to a DMB show, I know that I can roll up alone or come with a crew--either way, I am going to be surrounded by people and music that make me feel "home," no matter where in the world the venue happens to be.
Last night, I went to my first show following a four year hiatus. Never in twenty-two years have I gone anywhere remotely near this long without seeing a show. Not even close. At first, it was a strange feeling being back--almost like I was an interloper in a world that I once considered mine. Things have changed since I was last there--Boyd Tinsley, the violin player and a founding member, is no longer in the band. And, along with that, I have changed in the past four years. But a couple songs in and it was like picking up right where I left off.
"Why haven't I been coming?" I found myself wondering. "Why is this a place I would avoid?" It's not like I didn't have opportunities to go over the past four years--I absolutely did. I actively turned them down. This idea buzzed around in my head as be band tore through re-arranged versions of songs that spanned the entire course of their career. As each song played, it was almost like I could feel the presence of people I've been to shows with before during those different eras.
The quick-tempo intro to "Warehouse" came on, and I thought of my college crew in Boston, and how we would roll out to Great Woods in a rented van full of our friends, tumbling into the lots in a swirl of manic energy. The tinkling notes of "Satellite" rang out through the pavilion and I felt the feeling of complete peace and fulfillment that had settled over me as I watched on from front row with my brother as a full moon hung just to the right of the stage in Raley Field. The blaring horns that kick off "Sledgehammer" reminded me of how my friend Aaron and I lost it at that very same sound at the Gorge in 2007. We proceeded to play the song on repeat for the nearly 1,000-mile drive home, dirty and satisfied following three days removed from the world in the middle of nowhere. "Shake Me Like a Monkey" took me right back to dancing my ass off in the mud at SPAC with Jen, oblivious to the downpour that was soaking us. Now when I go to shows, it's like all of these people are somehow there with me, even decades after the fact. It's almost as if all the previous versions of me are there as well.
I also realized that, for all of the people I have taken to shows with me over the years, I have never, ever taken a significant other. The only exception to this is my first "real" boyfriend, who I met in October 1996, at the same time I discovered DMB. That was a heady, magical month when everything going on in life mixed and mingled together in one great big buzzing ball of electricity. He and I continued going to shows together long after the relationship ended.
The guys who followed him--even in relationships that were far more significant in the grand scheme of things--were never invited along. In retrospect, I subconsciously (though actively) didn't bring them. During the five years I was with my ex-fiance who I lived with in Cambridge, I would travel to the west coast alone or go on binges of shows while he was visiting the UK. In my last relationship, I shut down my own show-going altogether.
It struck me last night that the biggest indicator of how I feel about someone in my life is probably evidenced by my willingness to bring them into my DMB World. For me, it's sacred ground. There's a permanence to that decision because memories from past shows mingle into the present moment through the music. It's one area of my life that I'm very protective of. And, for good reason--it's home, and it's where you will find the rawest and most real version of me.