The summer concert season is underway, and if the past is any guide, the most popular musical act will be a multi-racial, multi-musical group called the Dave Matthews Band.
The No. 1 live musical act in America might be a bunch of baggy pants hip-hoppers or maybe some heavy-metal demons from the seventh circle of hell.
Yet the No. 1 touring band in America for the past two years is a multiracial, multigenre act called the Dave Matthews Band. It sells out football stadiums in minutes, yet the band lives in a small town and generally declines publicity and interviews, as Charlie Rose reports.
The band is difficult to describe. It sounds just a little bit like a lot of acts, and a whole lot like no one else in pop music. The band will tell you the members never planned it that way. In fact, they never planned anything at all:
"I never really knew what to expect," says bassist Stefan Lessard. "Once we started filling clubs and moving on to bigger spaces, and the theaters and then into...amphitheaters," he says, "I started to think,'Wow, OK, this is really interesting,"
"It's amazing it could come together because everyone is so different. It's sort of strange," says saxophonist Leroi Moore. "It's a pretty cool bunch of guys. How I ended up here, I don't know."
"People have said, 'How did you plan this?'" recalls guitarist, singer songwriter Dave Matthews. "'Did you go out thinking I want a violin and saxophone?' And it, it was nothing like that."
"The first couple of times admittedly it was pretty awful," he says. "But within six months of us being together, we were all real aware of the fact that we had something that was beyond all of us."
The roots of this happy accident can be found in Charlottesville, Va., home of the University of Virginia and a melting pot for musicians who play the frat houses and the bars. There's jazz, bluegrass and reggae.
"We have folk musicians there," violinist Boyd Tinsley says. "Jazz guys come down and sit in on the rock guys' gigs. The rock guys come in a(nd) sit n on the jazz guys' gigs....That's the normal way things go down there."
It all started at bar called Miller's about 10 years ago, as bartender and native South African Matthews began sharing some of his musical ideas with local musicians like Carter Beauford.
"We weren't too sure about this guy, you know," Beauford recalls. "We were like, 'Well, he's got some pretty...happening stuff here,' but we weren't sure if he was going to come across as a top-notch musician. Well, he proved us wrong."
Matthews was born 33 years ago in a suburb of Johannesburg, where he spent much of his youth, well aware of both the joys and the injustices around him. There is more than a faint echo of his homeland in the music he creates.
"I would have had to had both hands stuffed in my ears," Matthews explains, "in order to avoid getting some inspiration from it. And my mom...often she says, 'It always reminds me of South Africa, when you play.'"
Matthews would sit alone in his room inventing complex songs with unconventional rhythms. After working up the courage to play for the other musicians who would form the band, his repertoire consisted of only four original songs. What the band did with them was something else. While playing at a local club, the band caught the ear of club owner Corin Capshaw, who eventually became the group's manager.
"I didn't pay much attention the first time they were playing, but I noticed that there were a good number of people there the first time," Capshaw says. "The second time they played there, I started really looking at the band and said, 'This is a pretty special band here.'"
The band just had a different sound, he says. "They're the best live band I've ever seen, bar none."
Because the band's trademark became long, airy, intricate solos, reminiscent of the Grateful Dead, Capshaw knew that live performances and word of mouth - not studio recordings - would be the key to its success.
The band would play anywhere, anytime and even for free. And it would encourage fans to tape shows and send them to frinds who would do the same for still other friends. The band released its first album, Remember Two Things, on its own label. It sold more than 150,000 copies, mostly out of the trunk of a car.
"It was entirely about performing and being on the road 'cause that was really the only space that had accepted us," Matthews says.
Today there is no space too big to accept the Dave Matthews Band, including the 20,000-seat shoreline amphitheatre in San Francisco. Each event is a mini-Woodstock, with tens of thousands of fans gathering in mid-afternoon for a nighttime show:
Recently the band's new album, initially planned for a Christmas 2000 release, was not going well. The band found a needed wake-up call with a new producer named Glen Ballard in a studio in West Hollywood.
Producer, songwriter and musician Ballard is a protégé of legendary producer and arranger Quincy Jones, who has worked with Michael Jackson, Alanis Morrisette and Arrowsmith. The band's record label, RCA, suggested that Matthews meet Ballard to jump-start the new album.
"We had nine days allotted to us, and the idea was that maybe we would create one or two new pieces of music for this record. And as it turned out, we did 10 in nine days," Ballard says. "So it was an explosion creatively."
"We're still trying to understand what it is we've done," he adds.
"Glen Ballard came in the building...and it's like...the pedal to the metal," recalls Matthews. "Oh, and the writing...it's been like high-speed, creative....We've never been in this environment."
Carter says he thinks the songs have been like the best songs the band has recorded.
"Most people sit around and wait to be inspired," Ballard says. "I say you have to go find it."
The new album is slated for release next month. And the nonstop tour of the band continues.
"I couldn't be luckier person to have ended up in something that is so blessed," Matthews says. "I do think we have something really magical to give."