Same Difference: The DMB vs. Phish Debate
- By Brandon Chiat
- Published on July 16, 2012
Periodically, we’ll feature an article by a columnist on the Headstash staff who will give you a personal take on themes within our scene, including anything from jam bands to electronica acts and environmentalism to drug reform.
When I sat down to write this column I was prepared to argue how similar fans of Phish and Dave Matthews Band, really are. I wanted to talk about how the penetratingly passionate communities of both groups create a bond amongst strangers seldom seen in nature outside Apple stores and #Occupy rallies.
Then I went to a Dave show in Hershey Park, PA and everything changed. Well, sort of.
Before I go any further let me confess that I am and have been a fan of Dave Matthews Band. At least let me get a head start before you start chasing me with pitchforks and torches.
I know that some people have legitimate gripes with Dave as a musician. To some, his voice sounds like the soundtrack to a cavity filling and his singer-songwriter roots should have been left in the coffee shop generation of the early-90s.
But more often than not, the grievances I hear are about the fans rather than DMB’s music. Say what you want about Dave, but he is an exceptional lyricist. While it’s true that the group’s mainstream, radio-friendly hits have drawn the ire and resentment of jam purists, his thoughtfully crafted songs speak to real visceral emotions.
Unfortunately, much of what makes Dave great – and what jumpstarted his rabid fan base when DMB was starting out alongside Phish during the jam-band renaissance 20 years ago – was cast aside at the expense of fan stereotypes.
|Dave Matthews in 2009, using a microphone to combat shrieking females - Photo Credit: Mark Jeremy|
So much of what goes into actually enjoying the experience of a show is accepting what you’ve bargained for. That being said, I have never had a bad experience at either show. That is, of course, until the Hershey Park incident.
There were beefed up bros fighting over split beer, territorial disputes in the pit worthy of a “Planet Earth” documentary and worst of all, the shrieking. The sky cracking, ear splitting, power drill through the temple shrieking of a few high school girls. To be fair, each probably had a solitary Smirnoff Ice, which is to say they were sufficiently smashed.
Stumbling around the pit in pack formation, these young ladies were intrusive to say the least. It’s sad and frustrating because not only is their concert experience in jeopardy, but now so is yours.
At this point I’m sure all the Dave haters are thinking to themselves: “Yup, this is exactly why I don’t go to DMB concerts.” The invasive alcoholism, the offensively hostile fraternity bonding rituals and the prissy princesses; continue to [place preconceived Dave Matthews Band stereotypes here].
Now, imagine for a second how bizarrely wonderful your first true experience in a Phish lot was. It was probably such a cataclysmic culture shock that you instantly grew dreads and sweated patchouli, right? Of course not. That’s a generalization and one you’d probably take some offense to, but so is saying that DMB tailgates are populated only by the local Alpha Beta chapter.
It’s not as if, upon entering the Dave tailgate, I suddenly felt the undeniable compulsion to adorn an old high-school lacrosse jersey, park myself next to the closest 30-pack of (warm) Natural Light and proceed to shotgun beers until I couldn’t tell “Shake Me Like A Monkey” from “Sleeping Monkey.”
A Phish show has a lot scene. You have your vendors and your hustlers – your pushers and miracle seekers. On the other hand, a Dave show has a tailgate. You have your games of corn hole and the contact-sport of competitive drinking.
There is something to be said for the culture of community and how it shapes our perceptions of the bands we follow and the music we love. It’s these in-group/out-group schemas that form the very foundation of the jam-scene and community.
But the in-group/out-group mentality is so pervasive and so crucial to forming a strong identity that simply aligning oneself with a “fringe” band like DMB calls into question one’s true fandom.
If Dave weren’t such a mainstream radio darling, he’d be just another hippie with an acoustic guitar much like Keller Williams or Zach Deputy. And if either of those guys hit the top-40, they might be shunned as well.
In the jam scene, perception determines reception. Bands live or die by their image, and unfortunately, that seems to have more to do with the trajectory of their careers than the music they put on stage. When you think about it, Dave Matthews Band is Phish’s mainstream counterpart. A fiercely loyal fan-base built from constant touring, word-of-mouth recommendations and the widespread circulation of recorded shows built a similar reputation for each band. Dave and Trey even share a close relationship on and off the stage and the history of both bands are inextricably linked in the lore of modern rock music.
Still, it is petty stereotypes that come to define each band. Those drunken shrieking girls at the Hershey Park show could have easily been some spun phan too twisted to even stand. Dave and Phish fans may come from different backgrounds and may desire different experiences from their favorite bands, but to chastise either group’s body of work simply based on the reputation of a few fans is shortsighted.
As the pool of legitimate headlining bands in the scene remains stagnant, it seems thoughtless to alienate any hard-working musicians based on surface-level assumptions. Give every artist their fair shake and don’t judge. So now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to put on my Phish Summer Tour 2010 shirt, blast “Before These Crowded Streets” and chug a Smirnoff Ice.
What do you guys think about the DMB vs. Phish fan controversies and stereotypes Let us know in the comments below.