It would be difficult to find a band that has sustained as much derision and reverence in equal measure as Dave Matthews Band. Equal parts beloved contemporary jam band and hipster punching bag, the Charlottesville, Virginia group is known for extended improvisation, unpredictable set lists, and singer-songwriter Dave Matthews’ unique stage presence. It’s also known for things like its devoted yet detested fan base, some regrettable acting stints by its frontman, and that time it dumped shit all over a ferry full of people in Chicago. Seriously.
This July 26 and 27, the divisive band will return to West Palm Beach’s Coral Sky Amphitheatre for yet another run of summer shows. In advance of those gigs, which will mark the 14th time the group has played back-to-back nights in South Florida since 2002, it’s worth taking the time to consider whether DMB really deserves all the hate it gets.
With the exception of opinions of the poor souls who were on that ferry in 2004, the case against DMB isn’t quite as strong as some make it out to be. The band doesn’t have any unbearable Nickelback-esque radio hits. Its members haven't gotten caught up in any insufferable tabloid romances. The group never put its music on people's phones without consent à la U2 in 2014.
Yes, the band does have a legion of die-hard fans, some of whom are pretty obnoxious. (I might be a bit biased on this front because the campsite next to mine at Bonnaroo 2016 hung DMB flags from its tent and played “Ants Marching” six times in a row at full volume at 5:30 in the morning.) But even then, most ardent fan bases have their fair share of lamentable members. Why is it that DMB fans get such a bad rap?
Anti-nostalgia might be the biggest factor working against the band and its fans, because many people associate the group with a rather regrettable period in the '90s. For every douchebag who subjected a college party to acoustic renditions of a few Dave Matthews Band songs after the album Crash came out, there are at least ten adults now who absolutely abhor both the band and its fans.
But here’s the thing: DMB isn’t really that terrible. Maybe it’s not your thing, but hating the band is like hating the taste of celery. Even the group’s strongest detractors can’t deny the overt musicianship of its members: Carter Beauford is a passionately revered drummer, and at his worst, Dave Matthews is still more interesting than most acoustic singer-songwriters.
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The band’s greatest crime might be its almost aggressive inoffensiveness. The band makes music that both grandparents and frat boys can enjoy concurrently, and that’s just too innocuous for many opinionated music fans to accept.
But like it or not, DMB’s summer concert runs in West Palm have become an annual tradition for a subset of South Floridians. While attending one of the shows last year on assignment, I witnessed two fans behind me on the lawn get engaged. People take this band and its shows seriously, and the money they make is nothing to scoff at — they're some of the most profitable events of the year for Coral Sky Amphitheatre.
Nobody’s going to accuse these guys of breaking down any barriers, but they were never trying to do so. As long as they don’t dump their shit on any of us, who cares?
Dave Matthews Band. 8 p.m. Friday, July 26, and Saturday, July 27, at Coral Sky Amphitheatre, 601-7 Sansburys Way, West Palm Beach. Tickets start at $45 via livenation.com.