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Dave Matthews Band: That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore

And then he said, "Dave Matthews Band!"


Nearly 20 years ago, Rolling Stone's Paul Evans called Dave Matthews Band's RCA debut, Under the Table and Dreaming, "one of the most ambitious releases of '94." His album review highlighted the frontman's "gorgeous vocals" and the collective's "complex harmonies" in an article about the "Southern-rock spirit" revival. He called them virtually "unclassifiable," arguing that DMB wasn't the clear descendant of one particular band but rather "four or five groups in one."

The Dave Matthews Band's effortless blend of Southern roots music and blues-driven soul peppered with elements of funk and Afrocentric rhythms was truly one of a kind. More than just a group of friends from Char­lottesville, Virginia, in some jam band, DMB was a symphony of five extraordinary musicians organically united by fate and the common desire to compose unforgettable music.

Released in September of '94, Under the Table and Dreaming peaked at the 11th spot on the Billboard 200, spent 116 weeks on the chart, and was certified platinum six times. Comparatively, Nickelback's first record, Curb, originally released independently two years after DMB's debut, entered the Billboard 200 at 182 when it was reissued in 2002. Curb spent a week on the chart before falling off into relative obscurity and earning a gold certification from the Canadian Recording Industry Association.

But record sales and chart positions measure only the quantity of records sold, not the quality of each release. For Dave Matthews Band, however, quantity and quality seem interchangeable.

Each of DMB's six studio releases that followed Under the Table and Dreaming charted better than the previous one and earned at least one platinum certification in the process despite the breakthrough of illegally downloadable music. Although the group's core demographic could've easily pirated DMB records, for fans, the music justified a physical purchase or digital download from iTunes rather than an unlawful online torrent.

Curiously enough, though, it was bootlegging that helped launch DMB.

In the early '90s, as the Dave Matthews Band was building a name for itself, the group encouraged fans to record its live shows and share the product privately with friends and family in an effort to grow a fan base. It worked.

Fans — especially college students — helped spread the "Gospel According to Dave" one bootleg recording at a time, converting nonbelievers into faithful disciples into the 21st Century.

Last year, DMB celebrated its 20th anniversary. But rather than touring like it had done each of the previous years, the group decided to host a series of four, three-day music festivals in cities across the country. They called it Dave Matthews Band Caravan and featured a plethora of artists ranging from the Flaming Lips to Gogol Bordello to the Roots.

Diverse indeed, the lineups embodied the spirit of DMB and celebrated the beauty of unpretentious music in its purest form: live.

But if you're still wondering how Dave Matthews Band, a group that has been linked to frat mixers and your mom's iPod, could share a stage with such relevant acts praised by snobbish indie-music folk, the answer's simple: They're pretty great.

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Victor Gonzalez