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Remembering MSG 2002

By Brian Hanzel
April 23, 2012

"Ladies and gentlemen the Godfather of Soul James Brown".

Ten years later those words still bring a smile to my face. I have been to a number of concerts and sporting events in my 32 years, but nothing will ever compare to one special December night in New York. I walked into Madison Square Garden expecting a good show and left with a story to tell for the rest of my life.

In the fall of 2002 my obsession with Dave Matthews Band was in its infancy. I owned all of the studio albums and live releases and had seen the band live for the first time earlier in the year. I have always been in love with New York City, so when the fall tour was announced I decided it would be the perfect time to visit my favorite city again. I requested tickets for both shows at Madison Square Garden from the Warehouse, but was only confirmed for Night One. At that point, I planned to skip the second show since there would be plenty of other things to do in the Big Apple.

Time passed and my New York trip came together. I bought my plane ticket, booked my hotel and even grabbed tickets to see Rent and Aida on Broadway. My time in New York was quickly filling up, but a couple of weeks before the trip, I still did not have anything planned for December 21st. I thought about the second DMB show and decided to take a look on eBay and see what was available. I ended up winning an auction to sit way up in section 421. They weren't the best seats, but at least I would be in the building.

My New York vacation arrived and I was having a blast. After two nights of Broadway shows I was excited for my first DMB show at Madison Square Garden and the band did not disappoint, delivering a great night one set. I left the Garden looking forward to what the next night would bring.

I don't remember anything else I did on December 21st, 2002, but around 7:30pm I was arriving at Madison Square Garden for my fourth DMB show. My seat was pretty high up, looking down on Roi and Fonz's side of the stage. As I waited for the band to take the stage, I started chatting with the people around me, asking what they thought would be played that night. A girl sitting behind me predicted Halloween. At that point I did not watch set lists and did not know that it had been teased multiple times on the fall tour, so I thought she was nuts. I will also never forget the girl that had pre-gamed a little too hard, fell over, and was taken out by the cops.

At this point I have to say that because this show took place so long ago and I have been to over forty shows since, I can not give a song by song review of the show. I can look back at the set list and say "wow", but I don't have clear recollections of what I thought of each song. I remember going crazy when the band opened with Drive In Drive Out, I remember an epic Seek Up and my first Watchtower, but the real story of this show began when Dave welcomed the opening band, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, back to the stage. That's when the night got very interesting.

With the help of the opening band and a crowd that was on fire, DMB powered through the classic combo of So Much to Say>Anyone Seen the Bridge>Too Much. As Too Much drew to a close, it appeared there was a problem with Dave's mic, because it was being moved out of the way. When a new mic was placed in the middle of the stage, I assumed it was for Dave. However as the band continued to play, Dave walked over to his mic and blew the roof off the Garden with one sentence...

"Ladies and gentlemen the Godfather of Soul James Brown!" There was a moment of shock followed by an eruption as out onto the stage walks James Brown himself! We were alternating between jumping up and down, looking at each other in shock, and saying "holy shit!" James went back and forth with the crowd and his entourage, then launched into Sex Machine. For the next twelve minutes we were treated to a truly unique experience. As we danced, cheered, and sang along, James Brown and DMB tore through Sex Machine complete with solos and a dance off between Dave and James. I have never looked around and seen so many smiles at a show. Everyone knew we were witnessing a once in a lifetime pairing. As the song ended, confetti was fired into the air making it snow inside. Dave thanked James and everyone left the stage to thunderous applause.

Encore break. The arena was buzzing, as everyone turned to each other asking, "Did that really just happen?" It was not long before the band returned to the stage. At this point I had no idea how in the world they could follow up what had just happened. Dave put on a Santa hat that had been thrown onstage. He walked around for a bit briefly strumming chords (which I later found out was Christmas Song), then tossed the hat aside and the band launched into Halloween! The arena exploded again. A show that I swore could not have gotten any better had just been taken to a whole other level. Halloween came to an end and Carter hit the snare to kick off Ants Marching. The band's anthem capped off a legendary evening. Leaving Madison Square Garden, I could not believe I had gotten so lucky.

I have seen a number of Dave Matthews band shows since that night and I can honestly say that nothing will ever top December 21st, 2002. I've told the story of seeing James Brown guest with DMB many times. It's probably for selfish reasons, because every time I tell it, I get to relive the night Dave Matthews shocked Madison Square Garden. "Ladies and gentlemen the Godfather of Soul James Brown."

The views and comments expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of antsmarching.org.


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