Before I outgrew him, Dave Matthews was a big part of my life -- looking back, I guess he still is
Brian Landis Folkins
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.