The Dave Matthews Band Caravan in Atlantic City surprised a lot of people including myself, a DMB vet who has been to over 30 Dave Matthews Band performances. On the surface, the asking price of $195 for the three-day pass was reasonable for a fan like myself. Attending three straight DMB performances alone would cost you this for a spot on the lawn at the Susquahana Bank Center. But add in the value of other quality acts and even the occasional DMB fan got their money worth.
Bader Field played a perfect playing ground for this unique road show. It was spacious enough to hold the three stages for the 39 acts, but was not too big where it was a hassle to float from one band to another. The spacious abandoned airfield also allowed for one key element – plenty of bathrooms. The free water stations were plenty and even when you had to wait and extended period of time for some H20, it didn’t seem that bad as they were all located within earshot of a stage so that you could at least enjoy some music while you waited.
Transportation was not as big an issue as I thought it would be. I did not take the shuttle buses that the festival offered back to the Philadelphia area for $35 a day nor did I bite on getting a hotel room that I thought were overpriced. Instead I was one of the few that took the train from Cherry Hill to Atlantic City and back every night. Every night I walked into the train station to see that the next train would not be for a few hours my heart sunk only to be filled with joy that they announced an extra train due to the demand. Sure I still got home at 2:30 AM every night, but I only paid $12 round trip each day. In the long run that saved me at least $23 a day, good enough for three beers at the show. And what is a DMB concert without a few suds in you?
The festival was not all roses and peaches. The biggest problem was the dust and dirt. With the amount of people that attended the shows on any given day, there was always a dust cloud that, combined with suntan lotion, created a dirt paste that would take two post-concert scrubbings to get off. All this dust also caused problems breathing at times, though it was not totally unbearable.
One foreseeable problem was the crowd. For the most part, fans do not go into a DMB concert until right before the band goes on and instead enjoys the parking lot atmosphere until the last second. I myself am a culprit of this. And with the temptations at the many casinos within walking distance, I honestly thought that there would be a low crowd until right before DMB took the stage.
To my surprise, the majority of the crowd was there for the entire day. And it made the festival better. This gave the smaller acts that played in the afternoon, such as TR3 and Fitz and the Tantrums, a livelier crowd and in turn made the fan experience that much better.
Concert goers were also more exploratory than I expect too. I am a huge Guster fan so I made sure they were one of the bands I got to a bit earlier to get closer to the stage. Not only was the entire crowd digging their hour set, but as I was walking after their performance, I overheard quite a few people saying “I’ve never heard of Guster but I am glad I came over to see them.”
As I said before, I’ve been to more DMB shows than my parents probably would like. I’ve seen them up and down the east coast and usually have to defend them to an average concert goer when they play an unreleased song instead of playing Crash or Ants Marching. That being said, Night 1 was lackluster at best. I’m not sure if it’s because this is their first show of the year, but at the end of the show I was left standing saying “that was it?” even though their rendition of Led Zeppelin’s Good Times, Bad Times was great. The energy from the stage was great, but the performance seemed a bit rusty.
The second night they were getting their act together a bit better with the help of a few friends such as Vusi Mahlasela guesting on Everyday, Warren Haynes on #41, and Leon Mobley on Two Step. But this band could do a bit more.
For the final night the band brought the house down. It was one of the best mixes of hard hitting fan favorites and older and unreleased tunes that brought a punch. To the opening notes of Seek Up off their first album Remember Two Things to the crowd leaving the venue singing the refrain of the final song Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again) it is hard to say that out of all the shows the Dave Matthews Band has played in the New Jersey/Philadelphia area that this was not one best that they have played.
In the end I must say that if this festival becomes an annual event, I would be torn as to whether I would enjoy it or not. For a one-time thing this was great. But doing this year in and year out could play itself out, especially since I am sitting here a week after the festival and still feel tired just thinking about those long days.