The Dave Matthews Band played the welcome picnic during my orientation week at the University of Virginia. They were beginning to attract attention for their regular Tuesday night gigs at Trax, which by my third year there was a statewide phenomenon. But at the time, they still played picnics and fraternity parties. I thought they were neat, but didn’t stay long since I had yet to develop the ability to interact with strangers my own age. What I remember about that day was the crazy guy in the straw hat playing violin.
Three years later, I was pitching him my music video ideas.
My brother Jonathan was one of the crazy people who drove 150 miles every single Tuesday to go see Dave play at Trax. I, on the other hand, didn’t catch on to him until my brother lent me a bootleg cassette tape from a gig. I would listen to it on the walks to and from classes, and grew to love it.
Sometime around 1993 or 1994, I started working concert crew for a lot of the big shows around Charlottesville, including a couple of Dave shows. I worked a show where Dave Matthews Band opened up for the Neville Brothers at an outdoor festival in Richmond. Just after Dave’s set, moments before the Nevilles went up on stage, Dave introduced himself to Aaron Neville. I was sitting a few feet away, propped against a tour bus and waiting for the next round of heavy lifting.
“I just wanted to introduce myself and say how much I love your stuff,” Dave said, in his throaty warble. “I grew up listening to the Neville Brothers and you’re one of my big influences.” It makes sense; Aaron Neville is probably the guy who showed Dave it’s possible to sing in a squeaky voice and still be cool.
Then DMB Got Signed
About a year and half later, having sold over 100,000 copies of their homemade CD and basically written their own record contract with the highest bidder (as I reckon, anyway), DMB was ready with “Under the Table and Dreaming.” My brother had graduated college the year before, we’d already made our first short film, and we’d basically put together the first Conversations with God book by hand (he singlehandedly did all the promotion, turning it into a bestseller, and I did the design and typesetting in my little college room for something like $200) and were feeling very creative. One day he called me and said, “I had a vision.” He proceeded to describe this amazing music-video idea he had for the Dave song “Warehouse” and we started brainstorming others.
I pointed out, for example, that it was unlikely RCA Records would be interested in our ideas for DMB songs (such as “Warehouse”) which were not on the album.
So we developed magnificent treatments for “Satellite,” “Typical Situation,” “Jimi Thing,” even “What Would You Say,” which I knew would be the first one out. I read in a pre-release interview with Dave that he kind of liked the idea of just having his first video be him sitting at the kitchen table eating cereal. So I created a brilliant video for “What Would You Say” where he sits at the table eating Cheerios while all kinds of crazy shit starts happening around him (monkeys on strings, concerts in adjacent apartments featuring John Popper and other bandmembers, mailmen getting bitten, doors getting knocked on, as we go from floor to floor, with Dave showing up in identical apartments from time to time, just munching away, at one point calmly blowing out a birthday candle someone sticks in there) and being completely nonplussed by any of it. I didn’t even like that song all that much, but I loved the shit out of this video. The others were less fun, more inspired and meaningful.
I started calling my contacts.
Every Nobody Knows Somebody Sometimes
I knew Dave’s manager Coran, since he was technically my boss whenever I did concert crew. But he was known for being a hardass with no imagination, so I didn’t want to start with him.
I had done a jazz-improv class with John D’Earth, a beloved trumpeter in the Charlottesville area who toured with Bruce Hornsby a lot and played with Dave and other local names, big and small, whenever they came through town. So I called him and asked whether he could give me Dave’s number, or some friend of his who could help me get him a business proposal. He put me in touch with Ross Hoffman, who was once the band’s manager. I say “once,” because it was just my luck that he’d only recently had kind of a falling-out with the band. It may have been a simple professional parting of ways, or it could have been personal—the details weren’t any of my business. (As anyone who has been around me for the last month knows, I am reverential in my respect for privacy.) Nonetheless, I talked to him earnestly about what we wanted to present the band and he still agreed to help.
Jonathan and I put together a package of our video treatments, put on a cover letter, and sent them to Ross with the understanding he would pass them along to the band. I’m not sure where it went from there or whether it got through.
So then I talked to my playwriting teacher, Doug Grissom, who had directed Dave in some local theater productions. He didn’t know how to reach him anymore.
So a couple months later, when the band kicked off their massive debut-CD tour for “Under the Table and Dreaming,” I decided to just talk to Dave in person about it. I’d been rehearsing daily for Hair at UVA and didn’t have time in the evenings anymore to pursue it. But their tour kickoff concert was right in the UVA Amphitheater, a big outdoor amphitheater in the middle of Grounds with no fencing or other fanciness, so I just stopped by while they were setting up. I was pissed I’d be missing the big show—which, by the way, was free—because of rehearsal; I may have even briefly considered dropping out of the show.
I found Dean, my concert crew chief who was overseeing the setup, and said, “Look, I’ll help break everything down if I can just talk to Dave for a minute.” He needed help breaking down the Hole show downtown, though, so he said if I would do that then he’d see what he could do. So instead of getting to see the last few minutes of the Dave show—a five-minute walk from my rehearsal!–I had to go clean up after Courtney Love. Oh well; I was on a mission from God.
So he went and grabbed Dave, who was finishing up a short sound check, and pointed him over to me. Dave came up, and I said hi. It went on, to the best of my memory, like this:
I’m sorry I can’t see the show, man, but I have rehearsal for Hair tonight; we open in a few days.
Oh, I always wanted to be in that.
No shit? It’s not too late. If you want to skip the gig and come to rehearsal I’m sure the director won’t mind.
Look, I’m taking an independent study with Doug Grissom now; he says he worked with you.
Oh yeah, tell him I said hi.
Sure. Well, look, the reason I wanted to talk to you was my brother and I are filmmakers and we have a partner who’s done videos for Salt n Pepa and all kinds of bands, and we have some amazing video ideas we want to show you. They’re not bullshit; we really love your music, and we think they’re worth seeing.
In fact, my brother’s met you a couple of times. He says he came up to you at JM’s a few months ago to say hi and you totally remembered who he was. His name’s Jonathan.
Oh yeah, I think I remember that.
So then I went on a bit more about the videos and asked what’s the best way to get them to him and for the life of me I can’t remember what he said, but I looked into it and I think I sent the package to some other guy—and never heard back.
So that’s how I met Dave Matthews.
Well, after that it only got more comical. Jonathan and I went to see their New Year’s Eve gig in Richmond, a $50 ticket, and then he cornered Dave afterwards and handed him the video treatments. Which I knew would probably go straight into the ashtray before he even got on the bus.
Then my brother started dating a girl who used to be pals with Dave and used to work with Coran and was still good friends with him. This is the same Coran whom armor-piercing tank shells could not strike and still hit a beating heart. Nonetheless, she repeatedly lobbied him and got him to read our video treatments and promise to pass them on. Still no word.
Meanwhile, Dave did an interview on the radio (it may have been on NPR) during which he was asked about how involved he was in making the videos. His answer was, to roughly paraphrase, that he didn’t really know or care what went in the videos.
Well, That Explains It
So that’s why his videos for that album utterly sucked. Only Jonathan and I know what he missed out on.