Remembering Hartford 1999
By Mathieu Vallier
April 13, 2012
For the last 15 years in Connecticut, one of the "things to do in the summer" has been to tailgate at a Dave Matthews Band concert. I'd heard stories of the epic tailgating scene from friends and co-workers, of how drunk they had gotten, and how much of a party the lawn was. It sounded great, but I had never experienced it in person.
In 1999 I started dating a girl that was really into DMB, almost as much as I was. Being a smart boyfriend, I bought tickets to a DMB concert for the both of us as a birthday present. We would be on the lawn on 8/7/99 to enjoy our favorite band together.
After an awesome summer, the concert day arrives. We parked in an old Jai Alai parking lot, which was situated about 4 blocks away from the Meadows Music Theater. As we began to wander around the various parking areas on our way to the amphitheater, I was amazed at the spectacle that had converged. There were frat boys with full tailgates grilling countless meat snacks. There were hippies with dreadlocks selling their hemp necklaces. There were "entrepreneurs" selling their $10 tie-dyed t-shirts. There was even a group with a Winnebago! It was such an odd mix of people, but it didn't seem to matter. It was one giant party.
My girlfriend and I eventually made it to the Meadows and found an awesome spot on the lawn right in front of a screen. We suffered through a reggae band known as Boy Wonder, who's most interesting moment consisted of a back-flip over their keyboard rig. Once they were off stage, my anticipation to see my favorite band for the first time started to grow.
During the break between the opener and DMB, I noticed a bit of commotion coming from the parking areas. About 10 minutes later, there was a rush of people coming into the venue. It was odd to me, but I assumed that everyone was just trying to get in before DMB made it to the stage.
The band (and Butch) finally took the stage and opened with an awesome #41. I have been a huge fan of #41 live since then. Later on, after rollicking through So Much to Say, Dave finishes it up with my favorite part... "Little Baby!" But I was totally shocked when Carter rolled off a drum lick and the whole band busts into this crazy jam! My thought process for the next 3 minutes was, "What is this? I've never heard this before! Holy crap, it just went into Too Much! This is awesome!"
After Too Much, Dave introduces a good friend (and caterer) Mitch Rutman and explains that this is his last tour with them. They start up this moody, dark song that I don't know, but I like a lot. Mitch was wearing a UConn t-shirt, which got a big cheer from the crowd. In hindsight, I wish I had known how cool of a moment it was to see For the Beauty of Wynona with Mitch.
The boys bring out the Lovely Ladies to help on True Reflections. I didn't know the song, so Boyd singing a full song was a shock. The Ladies help out on Stay, and then they closed out with their famous Ants Marching.
After the encore break, the band and ladies came out to do a quiet little song, Long Black Veil. I liked it. Then the boys finished up with What Would You Say, a song that I had heard the band had stopped playing because they had gotten sick of it. It was a great way to finish up the set.
With the concert over, we made our slow return to our car. Along the way, I saw a very interesting sight... a line of Hartford Police officers in full riot gear blocking the driveway to the Post Office that is in between the parking areas and the concert venue. "Why in the world would they be doing that?"
When I finally made it home, I found out the answer. The commotion I had heard earlier (and the events of the following evening) had been labeled "The Hartford Riots." Those riots, which were started by non-concert goers being forced out of the parking lots by police, would mar people's perception of Dave Matthews Band (and their joking perception of me) for years. None of those arrested were there for the concert. I'd tell people, "I love DMB and going to their concerts." And they'd respond, "Oh, were you one of those rioters?" It frustrated me. I didn't see a riot. I saw a party!
In the years since, I've had the pleasure of going many more concerts. However, that first image of the party I saw will remain with me forever.
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