You may find this narrative familiar if you grew up in the Connecticut suburbs. You were young. You made friends. Some of them became your best friends. You went to each other’s houses and played each other’s video games and used each other’s pools. When you were old enough, your parents would take turns driving you to the movies. You started thinking about girls and the social activities that will put you in contact with them. Eventually, in the twilight of middle school, a parent would volunteer to take you to see Dave Matthews Band at what was then simply “The Meadows.” Everyone was going. You see people you know scattered across the lawn. You never thought you would see all of these familiar faces so far from home.
You go to high school and listen to punk. You drift away from some of your friends. Some you stay close to. You talk about the Dave Matthews concerts rarely, sometimes with the social qualifier of where you’re from. You speak derisively about your past interests. You never wear shorts or sandals. Seriously, you are an overweight teenager and you are wearing jeans in sweltering heat.
Facebook happens. People from your past appear as if from nowhere. They seem to be growing old on your computer screen, getting married, having children. Are you getting that old?
The people all seem to live their lives on your computer screen in relative isolation from each other, yet once a year, the Dave Matthews Band concert happens in Connecticut. Everyone is going. “DMB 2NIGHT!” is scrawled across your screen. You imagine for one moment that all of these faces from your past are together, basking in the eternal chemical glow of Hartford. It’s a nice thought.
People rioted over some dumb shit in 1999. The simple utterance of Woodstock ’99 connotes flames and Rolling Stone photos of a hard partying Verne Troyer. Remembered as a glorified Family Values Tour stop that exploded into an orgy of violence and terrible music, Woodstock ’99 is mentioned now almost entirely with distaste. Laying claim to one of the more bizarre festival lineups in history (John Entwistle on the “Emerging Artists” stage? Sure. G Love and Special Sauce performing twice over the weekend? Why not!), it ultimately encapsulated all that was abominable about Nü Metal and alternative radio rock in general at the time. A lot of print was given over to the irony of a festival still touting the “peace and love” principles of its namesake, engulfed in flames stoked by overly expensive water and corporate greed.
Weeks later, Connecticut got it’s own 3-day festival in a weekend of outdoor Dave Matthews concerts replete with tailgating and, I imagine, hundreds of incidences of sexual harassment. (It’s maybe telling that our state’s version of a festival was three days of the same band. It would take a decade for things like EDM and Kings of Leon to pied-piper the bros to Randall’s Island.) Like Woodstock ’99, the Connecticut tour stop erupted into reckless aggression, making for what can now be viewed as the second stupidest trail of destruction in human history (let’s say the first is the time Dave Matthews Band’s combined human waste was dumped on an unsuspecting tour boat by way of tour-bus-trap-door and grated bridge).
Tailgating and the public intoxication it entails were to blame. Countless frat bros sans tickets, drinking blindly into a shapeless night: not the makings of a positive outcome. Add to that the Hartford police force, and you’ve got the worst of the world: two days of car fires, rubber bullets, birkenstocks and blood.
I never called him Dave. That much I can say in confidence. I owned some CD’s and a DVD. I was young enough to be impressed by arpeggiated anything.
I went to a show in 2001 with my dad, the happenstantial result of my brother double booking his evening. I stood on the amphitheater lawn while my father stood nervously beside me. My mother was worried; murmurs of concern about 1999 repeating itself and, of course, the possibility of me seeing a boob.
It was my first concert being around actual young people, an exciting prospect on its own. Up until then it was all blues reviews and the last living members of Motown institutions. In fact, some shows my parents took me to see were pitched almost directly at the elderly. (On this end, I witnessed the bizarro double bill of Liza Minelli and Dudley Moore, on vocals and piano respectively. As you could imagine, they played the song from Arthur.)
I was for the first time feeling the pangs of depression, the clear idea that I now had a past and possibly a future. It was thrilling to be amongst older teenagers, especially older teenage girls. Even with my dad by my side, I felt like I could maybe absorb the inebriated joviality of the crowd by proximity. Everyone there was the very image of popularity I had witnessed on my visits to my brother’s boarding school. The then up to 5-years-old radio singles riled my newly found sense of nostalgia.
I’ll be honest. This was Hartford. Someone my very age, just miles away, was at their very first hardcore show, entrenched in wayward limbs and beer sweat. I was surrounded by oversized plastic booze flutes and trustafarian make-out-sessions on a big lawn with my dad. I was listening to Ants Marching. This is my shame.
There were no riots at the Meadows in 2001, though it would have been a suitably trivial way to close out the pre-9/11 era. A month later we drove my brother to his NYU dorm. A few weeks later he would be mere blocks from the World Trade Center as it crumbled to ash. I would spend my day ignoring the gravity of the situation, watching PCU on Comedy Central, again, and assured of my brother’s safety.
This is all to say he was most certainly not holding Dave Matthews tickets the following summer. Why would he? He was not only irreparably changed (forever unchill); he was living in New York from the stretch of 2001-2003, a time period many now-in-their-30’s once-denizens of the city still seem to dwell in from time to time. If you can ever get my brother, or any 30 something ex-alphabet city dweller, to talk about the blackout in ’02, you’re likely to hear palpable romance in the way they talk about it.
And yet I had another year or so of blissful ignorance. I would begin my flirtation with indie rock almost accidentally, purchasing Stephen Malkmus’ first solo album based entirely on his appearance on the cover. I didn’t know what Pavement was yet. I wanted to listen to the guy with the Underdog shirt. If you want to hear palpable romance in my voice, ask me about him.
I would still see Dave Matthews Band the next summer before high school with my two best friends, peering over shoulders to find people we knew. My dad gracefully kept some distance, giving us some illusion of independence. One of my friends bragged about touching a girl’s butt as she maneuvered through the crowd. Some of us were already learning the insidious tailgating ritual.
I can’t say I cared as much for the music the second time around. I was beginning to acknowledge its innocuousness, just as I would later see those concerts as the quintessence of Connecticut’s limited cultural potential. I remember I felt a little bolder. I was finally allowed black-rim glasses after a full year of begging for them (this being the year between the Green Album and Maladroit). I had stolen some of my brother’s thrift t-shirts and his left behind stick of Bed Head hair product, a likely source of consternation between my father and me. My summer before boarding school ended with the always-slow crawl of paid parking lot traffic, red and blue lights flickering far behind us to quell the still-camped bros.