First things first: Lakewood is a dump. The first show I ever saw at Lakewood was Bon Jovi in 1989. Nothing about the venue has changed since then except for the title sponsor. It has all the charm of a reform school and the amenities of a prison camp. With all the huge acts, and the millions of tickets sold, one might think it would be in the budget to add another women’s restroom. It often takes 30 minutes for a woman to pee, which means she is understandably upset, which means her companions are equally perturbed, which means the enjoyment of the show goes, well – in the toilet. That said, many of my favorite shows of all time have taken place here so ultimately it’s not about the creature comforts, it’s about the artists, the music and the fans. The same held true for Dave tonight.
Cut to the fall of 1993. The Georgia Theatre in Athens is buzzing with excitement as the enigmatic South African/ Virginian that wore pajama pants and bounced bowlegged while he jammed was about to take the stage with his equally fascinating band mates. The authors of the unofficial soundtrack to life that fall in the Classic City, the EP with the stereogram of a hand giving the peace sign called, Remember Two Things,were about to launch themselves into the stratosphere. My friend T, who was always ahead of musical trends, knew of and loved Dave like no other well before, I, or any of our other friends put Dave on steady rotation. T was one of those guys who just had “it” and knew how to hype the concert and get everyone we knew to the Theatre. The show that night was one of those special shows that changes how one feels about music, how one feels about himself and how one falls deeply in love with a band and a sound. Boyd’s passionate fiddle, LeRoi’s sensual sax, Carter’s thunderous and ponderous drums, Stefan’s bouncing bass and of course Dave, the absolute Superstar in waiting. For the 1800 hundred folks in the crowd that night, nothing would ever be the same. DMB was a part of our DNA. T and I became the best of friends for the next ten years, with many more Dave shows and many more adventures cementing a friendship that was truly special. He was my brother. We haven’t spoken since 2003. Pride, women, selfishness and fear have gotten in the way.
Cut back to the present. Dave Matthews Band takes the stage in the vast gray wasteland that is Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood. LeRoi tragically died in 2008 and has been replaced by two new horn players. Tim Reynolds, guitar virtuoso and star of the double album Live at Luther College, has joined the band. Boyd, Carter, and Stefan seem to be frozen in time. Dave, like me, has a bit less hair and few more pounds than he had in that magical fall of 93. As the mellow, slow-ish first act begins, I look around at 29,000 fans and I become sad. I miss my buddy T. I miss that night in Athens. I wish my girlfriend didn’t have to wait so long to pee.
DMB was great, weaving in newer tunes with the big hitters like “Seek Up,” “#41,” “Don’t Drink the Water,” “Jimi Thing,” and “Ants Marching.” The new ones were excellent too, but one could sense the crowd wanting more hits so the night could turn into karaoke for 30,000. Things change (except old amphitheaters). DMB is a global phenomenon and they put on an excellent, polished and wonderful show. It would of course be better with a small group of fans, who all have their best years in front of them. It would be better if I still had a full head of hair and six pack abs. It would be better if I could look across the crowded row and see T, happily taking in every note from his favorite hero. It would be better if I had my friend.
Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?