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The Plight of a Sincere Dave Matthews Band Fan

I can’t say that I hate them, but I definitely have an unhealthy dislike for diehard fans of the Dave Matthews Band. This situation is troubling because I, myself, am a diehard fan of the Dave Matthews Band.

Because of DMB fans, I have to defend the genuine skill and complexity of their music. Because of DMB fans, I have to justify the legitimacy of my appreciation for their style. Because of DMB fans, I have to endure the inevitable eye rolls and derisive chuckles that meet my street performances of “Ants Marching” (or maybe I should just stop singing aloud in the street).

But let’s start from the beginning.

It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I became a self-proclaimed “Davehead,” a lover of all things Dave Matthews. It started out as an honest infatuation, the kind of temporary euphoria one experiences when a piece of music unexpectedly strikes a chord. Though I had heard the sweet yet strangely voyeuristic “Crash” and the ethereal “Satellite” on the radio before, it wasn’t until I heard the opening lick of “Jimi Thing” on my cousin’s Strat that I truly became entranced. Totally oblivious to the social implications (some might say prerequisites) of being a fan, I eagerly ran to the library with my Sony DiscManTM to take out a non-strategic selection of DMB compact discs.

As my fondness for the band grew, I became familiar with its adoring fan base, and much like the entire DMB catalog it was diverse, colorful, and undeniably annoying to the uninitiated. I began to discover that the Dave Matthews Band was the nucleus of a fan culture so saturated with expectations and entitlements that it was bound to repel even the most indifferent music fan.

At the heart of DMB culture lies a lexicon that acts as a screening device for “posers” who dare proclaim their faux DMB fandom. If you’ve ever heard a DMB fan talk wistfully about seeing an EPIC, Night 3 “Daaaaaaaaave” concert at SPAC at which he played “Ants,” “Billies,” and “Nancies,” you’ll know what I’m talking about. To ask for clarification would be to admit your ignorance of the fact that this person saw a really enjoyable Dave Matthews Band performance at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on the third night of a three-night gig during which the band entertained the audience with numbers such as “Ants Marching,” “Tripping Billies,” and “Dancing Nancies.” Your iPod might as well consist of ABBA, Cher, and Uncle Kracker.

Perhaps the DMB fan’s most irritating mannerism is his insistence on addressing the band collectively as “Dave.” The sobriquet not only takes away creative credit from the supporting band members (who deserve more attention in the music world), but also gives off a gag-inducing air of intimacy with the lead singer. Dave Matthews might have many friends, neighbors, and acquaintances, but chances are that you are not one of them. Besides, could there be a nickname more mundane than “Dave”? The name of the band itself is bland enough. Unless your favorite band has a lead singer named “Bono,” “Ozzy,” or “Axl,” the full band deserves nickname recognition.

It is difficult to fault DMB fans for this elitism. Most already belong to an associated subculture with its own memes and behavioral tendencies. At a typical DMB concert, clouds of sweet smoke – the unmistakable patronus of the hippie – hover over a nauseating sea of rainbow-colored hemp sweaters and headdresses. The hippie, as everyone knows, prides himself on being “chilled out,” and so he identifies with the drawn-out jams and occasional bluegrass of DMB’s repertoire. But being “chill” is almost a religious rite, and some fans treat it as a religious right. These fans make DMB their exclusive property, the musical embodiment of “chill.” Any affront to the honor of DMB is an affront to their mode of existence, an affront to their essence, an affront to “chillness.” Try telling a hippie DMB fan that your favorite album is 2001’s rock-heavy Everyday or 2005’s more mainstream Stand Up, and you’ll know what I mean. Their reaction is bound to be unchill.

But perhaps more annoying is the frat boy/sorority girl variety of DMB fan. These fans weirdly use their knowledge of DMB as a booster for their already-inflated egos. Collars popped and hats cocked, these fans torment the casual listener with mostly fictitious accounts of drunken stupors in parking lots and sexual exploits on amphitheater lawns. They fruitlessly chant song demands - “Halloween!” and “Last Stop!” - at the band mid-concert (the DMB version of yelling “Freebird!” at a Lynyrd Skynard show), and malign those who don’t join in. At my first DMB concert, I had the pleasure of sitting next to such a fan. While discussing the songs that might appear in the encore, it came to light that I was not familiar with the song “Halloween.” With an expression of disbelief, exasperation, and slight offense, he eloquently said to me, “Bro, you have got to be f***ing kidding me!” He probably went to school the next day and told his friends about the dilettante who hadn’t heard of the obscure song off one of “Dave’s” less popular albums…And then about the hot chick he didn’t get with on the lawn. At least he got his “Halloween” closer.

Life as a sincere Dave Matthews Band fan is tough. We all want our friends to share our aesthetic tastes, whether in music, TV, food, or art, and I want to spread the message that DMB writes quality music. I want to make ‘80s style mixtapes for all my friends and have them sample the jazzy, funky, dark, uplifting, passionate rock stylings of the band that I came to love. I can try to assure them that the two-decade-old band deserves its hype and longevity – that it’s not just a product of groupthink. But DMB is an unfortunate haven for the maladjusted and the insecure. And that may be an obstacle too hard to overcome.