Other than Thomas Jefferson, it’s tough to think of a name more synonymous with the spirit of Charlottesville than Dave Matthews. Once a bartender at the city’s most prestigious dive bar, Dave (we’re clearly on a first name basis here) and his band of Cville locals rose to unexpected heights of fame, selling out arenas worldwide and earning two Grammy Awards for his anthemic vocal performances. Many of the guys in Dave’s band got their starts here…keyboardist Butch Taylor plays John D’earth’s weekly gig at Millers, the same bar where Dave worked and where saxophonist LeRoi Moore played before DMB had even started. On May 11, 1991, the Dave Matthews Band (DMB) played its first show. Now, 25 years later on May 7, they will return to town, playing an anniversary show at John Paul Jones Arena.
Matthews is known and celebrated in this town for more than just his music. In 1999, he bought 10 acres of land in Albemarle County, and his Blenheim Vineyards wine is a testament to not only the viticultural potential of land in the Piedmont region, but also his commitment to preservation and conservation. When the band hit it big, they gave back…they’ve donated an estimated $40 million to grants and charity in the Ville (and elsewhere) through the Bama Works Fund, administered by the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation. So it should come as no surprise that the proceeds from May’s show (an estimated $1 million) will go to charity. Face it, when it comes to Charlottesville heroes, Dave is starting to make even TJ look like a normal guy. In honor of the many gifts given, hearts won, and shows to come, we’ve picked out a couple of our favorite classic DMB songs. He’ll doubtlessly play some of these at the May 7 show at John Paul Jones Arena.
The first single off of Before These Crowded Streets, “Don’t Drink the Water” opens with a murky, sludgy kind of bass groove, fleshed out by a frothing, bubbling banjo rhythm courtesy of Bela Fleck. Dave’s lead vocal is supplemented by the wailing cries of Alanis Morissette; together the two reach a fever pitch. Lyrics like “No room for both, just room for me” reflect Dave’s social consciousness. The song is about South African apartheid and the subjugation of Native Americans.
#41 begins with a light, hip drum groove, heavily syncopated. The tune is a testament to Dave’s trademark style; drifting purposely through a myriad of rock landscapes. The subtle grooves of the intro merge and mesh into an open, unrestrained instrumental space, with violin, flute and sax solos over a deep pocket groove.
This is a contender for most famous DMB song. It’s both a tribute to and a repudiation of what some affectionately call “the daily grind.” A musical celebration and a lyric denouement. It’s a song about getting up in the morning and doing the same darn thing you did the day before, an earnest, from-the-heart reflection from a guy who we sometimes forget was a bartender at a decidedly working-class establishment. Musically this experience is redeemed, while the lyrics have a distinctly existential approach.
The textures of this song are porous, shimmering, inviting light into its depths. It’s got lush, full harmonic ideas, rife with substance and motion. It’s also got one of the most head-nodding, groovy backbeats in DMB’s catalogue. The vocal performance by Dave is rich, and at times even soaring.