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The First DMB Show?

By Jake Vigliotti

It’s been known for at least 18 years. Just a common fact; Dave Matthews Band’s first show was April 20, 1991 at Meade Park. Everyone knows it. The Official Site says so (they even mentioned it in the Best Of What’s Around Volume 1 greatest hits disc), the C’ville Weekly newspaper mentioned it in a retrospective of the band. Boyd even mentioned it during an I.E.M. recording from 4/20/01, remarking it was the 10th anniversary of the performance.

There was this little mention from The Minarets Digest on May 14, 1994. Minarets Digest was the first fan mailing list (a precursor to fan websites). J. A. Crothers, a fan familiar with the band from their early days, answers a question on their first gig as simply:

The first 'official' dave matthews band gig appears to be march 14, 1991. Boyd was not part of the band but was invited on stage to jam.
That’s from page 1098 if you have a copy of the digest handy.

But that was it. No reaction to J.A.’s email. Nothing. It was just like he accidentally typed March 14 when he meant to type April 20. He probably just had his facts mistaken; after all, it was known that Boyd did indeed appear at the 4/20/91 Earth Day show.

What do we know about the “Earth Day” show? Well, we know it was a festival at Meade Park. We also know it wasn’t on Earth Day. Earth Day is April 22. But many cities move around the date to coincide with a weekend, or the availability of a park. April 20, 1991 was a Saturday, much more convenient to have a festival show on a Saturday, vs. a Monday. According to the story most associated with the “Earth Day” show, DMB ended up going on last, due to some cancelations and other bands from Charlottesville having gigs that evening. The first song, according to legend, was Recently. And from the very first song, fans were dancing. Dave remarked about this in an interview in the mid 1990’s, and it gave him a bit of confidence that they may be something of a band.

So, that was that; until Stefan started tweeting about the first show not being at Earth Day. Surely he was mistaken. His first tweet that started the wheels turning was September 28, when he remarked:

The band's first show was on April 20, 1991....????? Not so sure about that:/

It turns out it was a false alarm. The show he was thinking it was from February 26, 1992 . No harm, no foul. I mean, after all, it was a long time ago, and he was only 16 at the time. We had all that ‘proof’ that said it was April 20. Not counting that email from 1994 that said otherwise.

Then it happened. The world, as we know it, collapsed. Stefan announced on October 8,

I am so excited!! I found the tape of our first gig! 3/14/91 Trax, benefit for the mid east children's alliance

Surely this was just some inebriated tweet. After all, who outside the Hanson Brothers brings their toys, er shows, on the road with them? How did Stefan “find” a tape when he was in Brazil? Well, he probably used the biblical “I”, and had his people find it. Regardless, Stefan says he has a tape of the first show, and lo and behold, look at the date: March 14. Sound familiar?

Lets analyze the set. Stefan reports the show is only himself, Dave, Roi, and Carter. He does not mention an appearance from Boyd (unlike the Minarets listing). The set list is:

Typical Situation
The Best of What's Around
I'll Back You Up
The Song that Jane Likes
Cry Freedom

From what we know, this is a set list that would be consistent with an early 1991 show. In other words, there are no songs that we are certain were written after April 1991 in the set. We know for certain the first 4 songs written (I’ll Back You Up, Song That Jane Likes, Best Of What’s Around, Recently), and we know from a recorded practice and the demo that Warehouse, although it barely contained lyrics, existed (it was actually called “Anytime We Can Stop” according to its copyright, but that’s neither here nor there). Cry Freedom and Typical Situation were both on the “Rutabaga Demo” from roughly the same time period (according to copyrights) so their appearance makes sense.

It’s also worth noting that Peter is not present. He did not join the band until August of 1991. Also absent is One Sweet World, a song we are certain debuted in June 1991, because we have a recording of the performance.

There are some troubling things. One, playing “Trax” was big time for a band’s first gig. Trax was the big venue in Charlottesville. Even for a benefit gig, that’s pretty big time. Also, it seems very odd that the charity is the “mid east children's alliance”. Would that be the Middle East Children’s Alliance? Talk about obscure charities for Charlottesville. But then again, F.A.I.R. (an American Indian charity) had a benefit in 1993 at Trax, so it’s plausible.

It’s also weird that a band that no one outside of Dave’s mother and sister, Carter’s mom, and a handful of C’ville friends, had ever heard this band, yet they did not play a single cover song. No Watchtower, no You Won’t See Me, no The Maker, no Sympathy For The Devil. Those are songs we know they did in 1991. Then again, maybe they were just taking advantage of the opportunity and decided to play all seven songs they had.

Can we ever know for certain? Absolutely. We don’t know the lineage of the tape, but let’s just accept that Stefan hand wrote the date on the tape shortly after the show. That’d pretty much take care of that question; the tape is legit. If he post-dated the tape, there are some other ways we can know.

The lyrics to Warehouse will be a giveaway. It shouldn’t have much of lyrics, and basically be a jam. Anything that even resembles the lyric to the song would indicate it’s from much later 1991. The current lyrics we have for Warehouse were not finalized until February 1992. Recently should contain the line, “Growing still to do…” instead of “…looking forward to much more” on the second time through. It wouldn’t surprise me if I’ll Back You Up was ‘full band’ too. As opposed to just Dave and Carter, Stefan and Roi both performed on a practice version from February 1991. So basically, when we hear it, we’ll know for sure if it’s legit.

Is Stefan right? What about all the history and fable that says 4/20/91 was the first show? Until we hear the tape, we must take Stefan at his word; the first show from Dave Matthews Band was March 14, 1991 at Trax. They opened with Typical Situation.

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


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