Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Playing before the music

Dave Matthews fans turn out and tune up before the first of two Riverbend shows

By Mandy Jenkins
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Dave Matthews fans hang out on the lawn as they wait the start of the Dave Matthews concert Monday.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
| ZOOM |
The scene on the lawn at Riverbend Music Center Monday night looks more like an American Eagle ad than a rock concert.

College-aged guys in cargo shorts and striped polos swig beer from plastic cups and toss Frisbees to impress the throng of girls in barely-there tank tops.

It's an open party, no invitations needed, save a love for the music of the Dave Matthews Band. It's the first of two nights headlined by the wildly popular jam band out of Charlottesville, Va.

Jake Miller, 18, came to Riverbend from Wisconsin, only to find himself playing an impromptu game of Frisbee with Bobby McElroy and John Geeding, both 15, from Cincinnati. Miller has been following the band around for two weeks now.

"I just met these guys and I'm like, 'Let's play Frisbee!' And they let me play with them," Miller says, tossing another pass to Geeding.

A group of girls lay on a blanket, fanning themselves with a program, awaiting the concert's 7 p.m. start. Ashley Whitfield, 19, and Lacey Williams, 19, both from Harlan, Ky., proudly wear homemade Dave Matthews Band shirts and feel the sweating is worth it. They've seen Matthews five times already and can't wait for him to take the stage.

The girls examine a band photo, zooming in on bassist Stefan Lessard.

"Look at him, he looks so good," Williams coos.

Whitfield, a student at the University of Kentucky, has been going to Dave Matthews Band (DMB) concerts for six years and says she likes the outdoor lawn shows best.

"We can get, like, seats up front, but we'd rather sit on the lawn," Whitfield says. "There's a lot more sun and the people go crazy out here."

That craziness and camaraderie of the lawn crowd starts in the parking lot. Despite the heat, most ticket holders showed up before the gates opened at 5:30. Many headed straight for the line that stretched around the outside gate; others started the DMB party a few hours early from their cars.

From truck beds, rolled-down car windows and the open hatches of SUVs came every Dave Matthews Band song ever sung. His loyal fans, some of whom had been to the shows in Cleveland and Columbus (and further away), arrived early to drink their own beer and mingle.

Jeff Hill, from Anderson Township and Tim Grubbs from Eastgate, have a group of eight people who play a spirited game of cornhole. Hill explains they do this sort of thing every year when Matthews comes to town. One year, they brought nearly 30 people in a rented school bus.

"Sometimes we'll go over to Coney Island and swim all day, do this for a couple of hours and go right in," Hill says.

Grubbs has been to more than 30 shows and hopes to go to one in every city on a tour. He usually sits on the lawn to be with friends, but he prefers pavilion seats.

"I love it when they jam, when they go on and on, but some people come and just stand around and talk," Grubbs says. 'Me, I sing every song. I get lawn seats because I want to hang out with all of my friends, but I have pavilion for tomorrow night. It's more personal up there."

McElroy prefers the lawn.

"I love outdoor shows, they're very laidback, it's a lot more fun," McElroy explains. "I came to see Blink (182) here, and they had mosh pits and everyone was getting crazy. I actually came out here from the pavilion.

"Seriously, it's better out here, if you're not in the 20th row or lower, you're gonna have a better time on the lawn."

But not everyone is a real Dave reveler. Miller has had a few bad experiences where unruly fans partied more than they listened.

"I went to see Dave last year and he was in the middle of 'Gravedigger,' you know, and it's very quiet and these people are just talking and not paying attention," Miller explains. "Some people aren't here for the music, they're here for the social thing."

It was easy to pick out the fans from the masses when the stage lit up.

When Matthews stepped on stage to introduce opening act Dar Williams, the Frisbees dropped, the hackeysacks fell to the ground.

Each and every barefoot lawn fan rose and walked forward in a giant wave of cheering and gape-mouthed awe. That moment, that reaction, is all they need to have in common to party together this night.

If you go

Who: Dave Matthews Band, with opening act Dar Williams.

When: 7 p.m. today Gates open 90 minutes before the show.

Where: Riverbend Music Center, 6295 Kellogg Avenue.

Admission: $55.25 pavilion; $37.75 lawn. Parking included. Available at the Riverbend box office and Ticketmaster outlets. (513) 562-4949 or on the Web (www.ticketmaster.com) .

Read the review: Wednesday in Tempo.


E-mail mjenkins@enquirer.com

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