BEHIND THE CURTAIN
Chapter One: In the beginning/Dave Matthews
by Scott Tournet
It was the summer of 2005 and my band (Grace Potter & The Nocturnals) was on the road for our first real summer tour. Between our savings and borrowing from our families we had managed to come up with enough to purchase an aging RV which we called “The Bounder”. It had a painting of a “bounding” Kangaroo on the side of it and was pretty much the size of an actual tour bus. It was huge. We connected our massive trailer carrying everything we owned to the end of it and were somehow legally allowed to operate this deathtrap on wheels. We set sail for the promise of adventure and stardom from our little home in Waitsfield, Vermont and headed west. For some bizarre reason our first show was in Aspen, Colorado of all places. So we drove…and drove…and drove some more. Through New York, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, and not much happened. Well, that’s not totally true. We blew out a tire in New York. We blew out another in Ohio. One in Indiana. And another in Missouri. Interesting. Vehicles are expensive. I might add here that maybe a few things happened that I missed as I was indulging quite heavily in Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg’s favorite pastime…smoking a shit ton of weed. I had brought a pretty massive bag of weed with me as I apparently was under the impression that it only grew in Vermont. Everyone was nervous about getting pulled over so I didn’t smoke inside the RV. When we would stop for gas (every 100 miles or so) I would get out and somehow maneuver my body into our packed trailer and smoke in silence and darkness as truck drivers and families on vacation had muffled conversations from beyond the walls of my sardine can of smoke. This routine worked pretty well for me until we got to the middle of Kansas. I was halfway through a jazz cigarette when the trailer started moving! The door to the trailer was slightly ajar and I had to leap over a Hammond B3 organ to pull it closed so that everything we owned didn’t go sliding out. HOLY SHIT!!! All of the sudden we’re on the highway and picking up speed and I’m fucking stoned and holding this door closed with about 4 thousand pounds of equipment pushing against me. I was certain that I was going to die on the road and we hadn’t even played a show yet. I’m pounding the trailer ceiling and screaming and they can’t hear any of it. Luckily after a few minutes on the highway, someone realized I was missing and pulled over to the side of the road. I came “bounding” out of the trailer of death and ran straight into the cornfields of Kansas. So thankful to be alive.
After my near death experience, I celebrated by buying a beautifully corny shirt of horses running through the open fields over a sub-text of a cursive KANSAS. Between that, the cut up striped tube socks for wristbands, my fishnet Top Gun hat, and my frightened for my life/stoner gaze, I was ready for my first show “ON THE ROAD”!!! It was all looking so good until that fateful night at Buffalo Bill’s grave in Golden, Colorado.
We had only blown one tire since Missouri and it seemed our vehicular troubles were behind us. But then we started driving up into the Rockies…and up…and up…and…something about the Bounder seemed to get weaker. She just wasn’t seeming to make it up the hill. The kangaroo’s zest for life was waning. Cars were flying by us, bikes were passing, I think a couple squirrels may have scurried past as well. We were going slower and slower. Luckily there was a pull off up ahead. “It looks like…it says…Buffalo Bill’s Grave. Hmmm. Pull in there”. We turn in and the old Bounder just shuts down. Pure silence. I don’t think any of us had cell phones yet. Maybe there was one early flip phone in possession but no one had a clue of what to do. We were broke. We hadn’t played a show yet. We just sat there in silence as it slowly got dark and then all of the sudden, out of the mist this Rip Van Winkle character emerged and said “you folks need some help?” We basically fell down on our collective knees in thanks and were so relieved to have some kind of a chance again. He got down under the engine and tinkered away for hours while we played frisbee, offered help, ate food, offered help, wrote a song (Stop the Bus), and offered help again. Finally, after what must have been 5 hours he popped his head up through the floorboard and said “see if she’ll start up now!” We crossed our fingers and one of us slowly turned the key and….er er err errrr errrrrrr errrrrrrrrrrummble!!! We were alive again! Celebrations and dances and pats on the back ensued and in the midst of all of this the helpful Rip Van Winkle character drifted back into the mist (perhaps the same mist from whence Ray Lamontagne cometh?). “Did you catch his name”? “No, did you”? “Nope.” “Huh”. Was he real? I’m still not sure, though I know none of us fixed that thing.
You’d think the stories leading up to our first gig would be over but, no, they were not. After we left Buffalo Bill’s (and almost the Bounder’s) grave we made it about a mile until something started feeling funny with the breaks. They were getting weaker somehow. We weren’t slowing down as much as we should have. Uh oh. Everyone started hovering around Matt (Burr-drummer) who was driving. He did a good job keeping his cool but it was getting worse…and worse. Pretty soon we were picking up speed. We all went scurrying for seat belts though the Bounder only had two or three to offer. We all found somewhere to brace for impact and waited. After about 5 minutes we started to level out and had somehow made it to a flat area. I don’t know how but perhaps by divine intervention we made it to an RV repair shop. We hadn’t showered in days, it was hot and sticky, and we all flooded into the air conditioned waiting room wondering if our short careers were coming to a sudden end. After a couple hours the mechanic approached us like a Dr. in a soap opera with news of The Bounder’s passing. We had only known her a short while but her death still rattled us to our core. A few desperate phone calls were made to family back home and a new plan was set in motion. We would rent a new RV for the rest of our 3 month tour. In addition to this massive financial blow we had to cancel our first show. Opening for a jam band in Aspen, Colorado. At the time it seemed catastrophic.
We had a couple days to kill before our next shows in Denver so I dug through my wallet and found a phone number of a crew guy for the band Sonia Dada that I had met at a festival in Vermont. He had said “hit me up if you ever come through Denver” so that’s what I did. Bryan (Dondero- our bass player) and I called a taxi (before Uber, kids) and headed over to his house. It turned out this guy was growing poppy plants in his back yard and very much liked to indulge in marathon Opium sessions while watching VHS tapes of single camera shot concerts that he had taped while working at some venue in Florida in the early 90’s. We leaned back into that leather couch, passed the opium pipe and jumped into a time machine watching mediocre performances and questionable fashion choices by Dickey Betts (indian or cowboy Dickey…you gotta pick one), Bonnie Raitt (bangs and shoulder pads baby!), Johnny Winter (ooof…poor Johnny looks rough) and Steve Miller (in a matching sweatsuit and headset mic). Two days later we simultaneously awoke in a sudden gasp of breath and silently escaped the lair of comfort.
After my foray into the Opium diaries it got a little murky for a bit. We opened up a bunch of shows for some jam bands and were not really accepted into that world. We kind of were, but we kind of weren’t. It was weird. For being such a non-masculine group of men, there was definitely a hesitation to accept women into that world. It’s like there was this whole community of ponytailed dudes who couldn’t get laid in college who then turned to Jerry Garcia, weed, acid, and unapologetic spin dancing and had mostly given up the pursuit of women but now were being confronted by one fronting a band that “jams” and they weren’t sure how to handle it. What to do? Titillation or spin dances? Boners or Bongs? “Do you guys cover any Grateful Dead?” In this world the Grateful Dead are God, Phish is Jesus, and there ain’t no re-writing the Bible folks. Where once this was a world of exploration, creativity and discovery, now there is only nostalgia, Grateful Dead cover bands and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong. We are in the last daze of Jamtopia friends.
But wait! one last bastion of jam-hope! Dave Matthews…and his “band”. Damn, I thought I had “blurry guy” complex being simply a Nocturnal. The guys in Dave Matthew’s band don’t have any name at all…they’re just “band”. That’s rough too considering the fact that they are all monster musicians…much better than the goofy dude fronting them with an acoustic guitar…ahem. But the story of these guys is years away at this point. Right now we are still in 2005 and we’re about to play our first show opening for Dave Matthews (and his “band”). This is the big time! Woohoo! We’re gonna blow up in no time! We’ll be playing to 20,000 people a night! This is what we all thought leading up to that first gig somewhere in the midwest.
We rolled up to the mega venue cocksure and full of chutzpah and rolled down our windows at the first security stop. “Hi we’re the band and we’re here to play tonight.” The security guy gave no answer and looked at our RV and the massacre of insects on the front grill…emotionless. He then walked away and got on his radio. He came back over and said, “yeah, you’re gonna need to go back that way and head over to the other parking lot to where the little stage is set up.” “What?” Reality came crashing down on us that we would not be playing inside in front of 20,000 people but outside in the parking lot on a rickety little stage with a guy who recently got fired from Guitar Center running sound. We got on the phone with our booking agent and discovered that, yes, this was correct and he managed to convince us that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to tap into the incredible audience of Dave Matthews and we bought it hook, line, and sinker. We dusted ourselves off and got psyched up to play and when it was time to play there were about 20 confused people there. We played our hearts out and did our thing and 2 people seemed to care. This happened again the next night and the night after and our enthusiasm started waning. Another call into the booking agent and he promised that for the next couple gigs, the stage would be INSIDE THE VENUE!!! Yeah! Alright! NOW it’s gonna start working! We get to San Antonio and it’s a windstorm. The stage is about 20 feet high and it’s hard to stand straight. The sound guy counts down backwards from 10 for us to start. They’ve got the whole thing timed so when they open the gates and the crowd comes flooding in, we start playing. 10…9…..8……3…..2……..1…..gooooo! We hit our big opener, a song called “Some Kind Of Ride” and we’re sure we’re gonna catch us some jam-fish. This massive herd of Dave Matthews Band fans comes running past and no one stops. They just turn their heads in slow motion with a look of incredulous confusion. It’s almost as if they were saying “nooooooooooo?” The herd passes, the windstorm continues and our “concert” ends quickly thereafter. We then head towards the real stage and try to watch Victor Wooten (the actual opener) kick off the show. We start heading in and…it turns out our passes don’t get us anywhere. Not backstage, not catering, not showers, not seats, not lawn seats…nothing. Interesting. Ok. We left with our tails between our legs and drove to some campground outside of San Antonio and slept it off. The next night we showed up and there were no microphone stands. The following night we tried to watch the show again and were escorted out. The night after it was my birthday and I seriously considered quitting. It was depressing. These people were just not interested and the Dave Matthews band management/crew seemed to consider us imposters. It was awful.
All of these shows were culminating to 2 shows at the famous Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado. Hallowed ground for performing musicians. We set up for our first show and something felt different this night. The people seemed to actually be enjoying us! We played our hearts out for the first 3 songs until i felt a drop of rain…and then another. They were HUGE! It all happened so fast. The power was cut, a tarp was brought out. We mashed our instruments together in one big pile and held the tarp down over us. With every massive gust of wind the tarp would blow up and we could all see each other in our different corners holding it down. It was like being under the parachute in elementary school gym class. It was fun. All of my guitar pedals broke. The storm passed. We played again. It was great. We celebrated by confidently marching ourselves backstage and filling our plates with Dave Matthew’s 5 star catering. I don’t know how we got back there but we somehow managed. Trays of organic salmon and chicken and steak. Vegetarian and Vegan options galore. Steaming rice, baked and mashed potatoes, vibrantly colored vegetables shining with the glow that only Whole Foods pricing can bring, never ending salads….and oh the deserts! Cakes and brownies and ice cream oh my! Never ending choices of beverages. Juices, coffees, booze, Kombucha, teas. Then there was a whole station of vitamins and health powders and hangover cures. We dined like kings and queens and were truly happy in that moment.
It turns out that 2 things happened that night.
1- The husband of an A&R woman who worked for Hollywood Records saw our show, was blown away and called her to tell her to sign us immediately.
2- Dave Matthews management sent us a bill for eating their catering.
Flash forward to 8 years later and we were finally properly opening up for Dave Matthews and company on the BIG stage at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga, NY. The place where I had seen Bob Dylan, Phish, Neil Young, and yes…Dave Matthews when I was a college student. Full circle baby. We roamed the backstage with passes that got us almost everywhere and were treated very differently than all those years before. Unbeknownst to me at the time it seems Dave’s manager and his Walmart-esque management company were looking to swallow up our manager’s little independent store so to speak. So, everyone was being very nice. It was crazy. Each of their band members had their own bus. There must have been 30 buses backstage. 30 tractor trailer trucks hauled merchandise and equipment. One tractor trailer was literally a moving gym so the guys could work out. I didn’t really talk to any of the band but none of them looked happy. They looked bored and tired and emotionless. Maybe one exception. The drummer, Carter Beauford seemed happy chewing his gum and playing complicated fills on his massive drum set while wearing golfing gloves. The violin player, Boyd Tinsley, never took off his sunglasses even when it got dark. He wore jeans with bedazzled pockets and only came alive during his solos. The bass player existed. Tim Reynolds, the guitarist, was the shortest human I’d ever seen and was dwarfed by his Marshall amplifier. He didn’t move much. No one did. Dave seemed like there was a giant dark cloud over him at all times. He’d try to wind himself up into his knock kneed dance frenzy of old but he was like an aging athlete whose body just isn’t what it used to be. It just wouldn't get there. Despite all that, the crowd responded maniacally. They sang along to every word, rocked out to the violin solos, air drummed to Mr. Beauford’s complicated drum fills. They fucking loved watching this dying and bored behemoth known as the DAVE MATTHEWS band. It was strange. It was as if I was watching a different concert than they were.
2 things about Mr. Matthews good and bad.
1- He always introduces the opening band. I think it’s because his audience won’t come into the venue until they hear his booming voice. We generally played to 2-3 thousand people in a 20,000 person sold out venue. About 2 thousand of those people came flooding in when they heard him start announcing us. I found it to be a nice gesture.
2- He hit on our lead singer even though he was married and she was married…to our drummer…who was standing there. We all were standing right there. And he 100% knew they were married. Total douche move Dave. I stuck up for my bandmates and confronted him with a very juicy tidbit about his sexual proclivities while married that I can unfortunately not share due it harming another person who shall not be harmed for the sake of the reader’s entertainment. Sorry. As Omar Little once said “a man’s gotta have a code”. And that’s all I need to say about Dave Matthews.