Today marks the 30th anniversary of the first Dave Matthews Band concert. DMB’s first show took place at Trax in Charlottesville, Virginia on March 14, 1991 as a benefit for Middle East Children’s Alliance. The lineup at the time consisted of guitarist Dave Matthews, drummer Carter Beauford, bassist Stefan Lessard and saxophonist LeRoi Moore.
But as with most bands, DMB’s origins go back further than their first show. The group began when Dave — working as a bartender at Miller’s in Charlottesville — befriended a lawyer named Ross Hoffman. Hoffman spurred Matthews to record a demo of songs he had written and pointed him to a local drummer named Carter Beauford who at the time played on a BET jazz show. Matthews also enlisted saxophonist LeRoi Moore. Dave explained how the three musicians came together in a 2012 interview. Read an excerpt below:
The reason I went to Carter was not because I needed a drummer, but because I thought he was the baddest thing I’d ever seen and LeRoi, it wasn’t because I desperately wanted a saxophone, it was because this guy just blew my mind. At this jazz place I used to bartend at Miller’s, I would just sit back and watch him. I would be serving the musicians fat whiskeys and they’d be getting more and more hosed, but no matter how much, he used to still blow my mind. And it was the sense that everyone played from their heart. And when we got together and they asked, “What do you want the music to sound like?” I said, “I know this is a song I wrote and I like what you guys play, so I want you to play the way you react to my song.” There was a lot of breaking of our inhibitions.
Despite the raw talent, Matthews remembers the trio not sounding great at first. “The first time we played together…we were awful. Not just kind of bad, I mean heinously bad,” Dave recalled. “We tried a couple of different songs and they were all terrible…Sometimes it amazes me that we ever had a second rehearsal.”
But at the behest of University Of Virginia orchestra conductor John D’earth, whom Leroi played in a band with, the fledgling group added bassist Stefan Lessard to the mix, which undoubtedly provided a bottom end foundation that the trio was lacking. While DMB’s first show featured the quartet, they would subsequently recruit Miller’s waiter Peter Griesar on keyboards (Griesar left the band in 1993) and fiddler Boyd Tinsley. “We had no plans of adding a violinist,” Dave remembered. “We just wanted some fiddle tracked on this one song ‘Tripping Billies,’ and Boyd was a friend of Leroi. He came in and it just clicked. That completely solidified the band, gave it a lot more power.”
The combination of violin and saxophone, while nothing new in an orchestra setting, was a bit of a revelation for a rock band and is one of the things that set Dave Matthews Band apart from other guitar-driven grunge and alt-rock groups at the time. Tinsely would join as a permanent member in 1992. On February 13 of that year, DMB performed at Bridgewater College in Virginia. Taking place less than a year since their first show, the performance showcases just how good the band had become in a short time.
The concert also highlights Dave’s skill as a singer-songwriter at an early age and features now classic DMB tunes like opener “Ants Marching (first time played as an opener as per DMB Almanac), “The Song That Jane Likes,” “The Best Of What’s Around,” “Satellite,” “Jimi Thing” “So Much To Say,” “Tripping Billies,” “Cry Freedom,” “Warehouse” and “What Would You Say.” The show also features a rare cover of Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” which the band only played a handful of times in the early days, as well as classic covers like Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” and John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” (sung by Tinsley), which was a staple cover in the ’90s but has become a rarity itself in the past two decades.
Video from the show — with the last four songs audio only — surfaced around 10 years ago and is the earliest DMB video in the JamBase Live Video Archive. To celebrate Dave Matthews Band’s 30th anniversary, watch one of the group’s earliest shows from 1992 below for this edition of Sunday Cinema:
Setlist (via DMB Almanac)
Set: Ants Marching, The Song That Jane Likes, The Best of What’s Around, Angel from Montgomery, All Along the Watchtower, Lover Lay Down, Satellite, Recently, Jimi Thing, So Much to Say, Tripping Billies, The Maker, True Reflections, Cry Freedom, Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard, Warehouse
Encore: What Would You Say
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