There are two kinds of people at New Times -- those who hate Dave Matthews and those who like Dave Matthews but express ambivalence toward him for fear of those who hate Dave Matthews. (One of the haters is editing this very article; fans unhappy with its less-than-hagiographic tone should direct all correspondence to this paper's brass, not to the writer. Thank you.) Even for those of us... er, those who don't mind this group, it's hard to pin down its mass appeal. To call the Dave Matthews Band a jam band would do a disservice to pure improvisational rock, along the lines of Phish or Béla Fleck. DMB has more in common with, say, the Spin Doctors or Big Head Todd and the Monsters, except with more instruments. So why has the Dave Matthews Band sold out its Friday show and, by concert time, will likely have sold out the Saturday gig as well?
The secret to DMB's success is also the problem with DMB and is neatly encapsulated in the following anecdote relayed to us by our operatives in the jam-band community: A die-hard fan proclaimed the Dave Matthews Band to be the greatest live act in existence today -- then later in the same conversation revealed that DMB was the only live show he had ever seen, though he had seen it several times.
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Therein lies the cross section of audience members that has given the group success and will continue to do so in the future. Dave Matthews is jam band for the masses. One need not put up with too many dreadlocks and patchwork pants at a DMB show. Sure, they're there, but they are a comfortable minority, lost amid the swirling masses of frat boys, vaguely alt-rockish fans, and others who fill the DMB fan niche. In addition, one's tastes need not be too eclectic. It's much easier for a corn-fed, all-American boy to get into the DMB approximation of worldbeat than it is for that same soul to dig the juju of I.K. Dairo. But if there is one shining light in the Dave Matthews experience, it is this: At least his eclectic-lite group might start a few people down a path of discovering that there is more to life than the top 40.