Friday, July 30, 2010

"So Damn Lucky" (or How I Met Dave Matthews)

I'd been waiting all year for this past Wednesday night. It had been too long (last summer) since I'd been to a Dave Matthews Band concert and I'd been having DMB withdrawal. Plus, they recently announced they wouldn't be touring next year (the first year they've skipped in 20 years), so this summer's shows would have to last me a while. When I found out my Tampa tickets were in the orchestra pit, I was ecstatic. Can't get much better than that, right?

Wrong. It got much, much better than that.

Late afternoon on Tuesday, my DMB concert buddy Robin called me with the news that we were going to meet Dave before the Wednesday night concert. I didn't believe her. I thought she was playing a cruel, cruel joke on me. Robin and I have attended the Tampa shows together since I moved to Florida back in 2003. We even both went on the Dave & Friends cruise back in 2006. Personally, I have lost count of how many DMB shows I've been to all over the United States in the last decade or more, but it's approaching 50, I'm sure. So for someone to tell me I was going to meet Dave Matthews and not mean it? Yeah, that would be a cruel, cruel joke.

Robin's a fanatic like me; I found it hard to believe she would trick me that way, but I found it harder to believe we were going to meet Dave Matthews. I screamed, she screamed, I screamed, she screamed, my daughter who was in the car with me screamed "Mom, stop it! You're hurting my ears!" For about 40 minutes, Robin and I screamed some more.

Turns out, just minutes before, Robin got a call from The Warehouse, the official DMB fan club, of which we both are proud members. (If you're a fan, you'd be stupid not to join the fan club – as a member, you can request concert tickets and know whether you received them in advance of the public on-sale dates.) Each year, Robin and I both request two tickets to the Tampa show, and then we use the two best seats. (This year, because mine were in the orchestra pit, we were using mine.) When Robin picked up the phone, a woman introduced herself and asked Robin how she'd like to meet Dave Matthews. I don't need to tell you: Robin screamed.

We're not sure exactly how they choose whom to call. We don't think it's based upon seniority, because I've been in the fan club a few more years than Robin, and I've never received such a call. The woman gave her a quick briefing – telling her she could bring one guest (moi!), explaining what to do when she arrived at the amphitheatre, informing her that there would be four other fans there, too, with their guests, explaining how each person could bring one thing to be signed and we would all be able to take pictures.

Hmm, what to have signed?? Ever since my first book, Tell No Lies, was published, I've thought about how I might get a copy to the band. I thanked DMB in the acknowledgements section because it was their music most often playing in the background when I was writing the book. (I often joke that I'm not sure I could ever sell movie rights, because then I'd lose control over picking the soundtrack . . .) As corny as it sounds, I wanted them to know how much their music means to me.

So now, not only would I have the chance to give Dave the book in person, I could have him sign one, too. But it's a bit hard to frame a signed book and hang it on the wall in the billiards room (where much of our family's memorabilia hangs). I thought, maybe I should have him sign my concert ticket. Maybe I should have him sign an 8 x 10 glossy of one of the great pictures I took during the cruise show. Maybe I should have him sign a CD cover. Or maybe a band T-shirt? Decisions, decisions.

Nope, it had to be a book. Nothing else seemed as personal, as special, as one of my own books. Rick, Jess, and Sally all agreed: it had to be a book.

So Robin shows up the next day at my house around 2:00 p.m. She comes from Jacksonville, and then we leave together from my house near Orlando. No sooner do we pull onto Interstate 4, it starts raining. We're not surprised. It has rained every year we've been attending the Tampa shows together. Usually the rain and lightning like to have a little fun with us and wait until we're in Tampa, until we're tailgating in the parking lot of the amphitheatre or trying to find our way to our seats. So this seems a good sign. Let's get the rain out of the way.

We giggle like two school girls the whole way. The rain stops almost as soon as it starts, and we turn up the DMB music and sing our way across the state. At the fairgrounds, we set up camp in the heat and spend the next hour and a half wondering what we'll say to Dave and how we'll keep from acting like blubbering idiots. It's all we can do not to tell all the other fans around us that we're about to meet Dave, but we're afraid we'll somehow jinx ourselves. We're sweating profusely because it's SO hot, so every once in a while we get in the car and start the engine to cool ourselves off. Before we know it, it's time to head over to Will Call and wait for our escort. Once there, we immediately see others with the same, amazed "Cinderella at the ball" look on their faces, and we know they're there for the same reason. We keep pinching ourselves, convinced it must all be a dream.

Our serious-faced escort shows up, and Robin, always ballsy, says to him, "Where's your lanyard?" (The woman on the phone told Robin the escort would have a lanyard.) Leave it to Robin to check the guy's credentials . . . Without cracking a smile (you can tell he wants to, though), his hand goes to his waist, where the lanyard is clipped to his pants.

After he checks everyone's names off a list, we're given special stick-on passes that will indicate we're allowed backstage. He then walks us to the back lot, which we enter through a small opening in the fence. About twenty or thirty hopeful fans are loitering around the opening, hoping for a glimpse of Dave or one of the other members of the band (been there, done that), and we feel a bit guilty, because this time we're the lucky ones who get to go in. (This is where my husband would say, "Guilty? Do you know how much money you've contributed to this guy's career? Tickets, airfares, hotels??? You deserve to meet him!")

Inside the fence, we're greeted by the numerous tour buses, lined up, one after another. As we continue to follow our escort, I spot Tim Reynolds walking by in the opposite direction. I nudge Robin and whisper, "Look! It's Tim Reynolds!" One of the guys in our group reaches out his hand and Tim shakes it.

We're led to a small Tiki hut area behind the amphitheatre. There's a bar, stools, and several patio tables, and even though I think I'm about to melt from the heat, the last thing I want to do is sit. The escort gives us a short briefing, which is pretty funny, because after he tells us how Dave will come around and spend a few minutes with each of us, take pictures, sign whatever item we brought to be signed, etc., he says, "But once he's finished and goes on to the next fan, DON'T follow him." In other words, don't be obnoxious.

All of a sudden, here comes Dave. He just walks into the Tiki hut and strolls through the middle of us, heading in the direction we all came in from. He mumbles something, like he so often does (if you know anything about Dave, you'll know what I mean), and then he says, "I'll be right back." So we all stand there looking at each other with our mouths open and our eyes wide.

As promised, he comes back after just a few minutes. The next half hour or so passes in about 20 seconds. He goes from couple to couple, chatting a bit, posing for pictures, signing whatever . . . We're standing near the end of the whole group, which is great because it gives me time to snap some pictures at leisure. He likes to be quite a goof when he poses for pictures, giving the same devilish or silly faces he sometimes gives the crowd when he's onstage. Robin whispers to me, "I hope he doesn't do that for the picture with me." I think it's charming, though, so I don't care what look he gives. He could blow spit bubbles for the picture and I'd be okay with it.

All of us are lined up in a rough half circle, and since we're at the end, I assume we'll be the last ones he greets. Nope. About halfway around, he suddenly crosses the Tiki hut to our side. The next few minutes or so passes in a millisecond. Robin gets her picture taken with him (below), then I get my picture taken with him (first pic at top). In the same way he posed with everyone else, he puts his arm around my back and I put my arm around his back, but I'm so excited that I spontaneously fling my other arm across the front of his belly. It suddenly occurs to me that, oops, maybe I shouldn't do that. Maybe I'm being a bit too chummy. I quickly remove my arm. I think I might have even said, "Oops, sorry." But if he minds or thinks I'm being a bit presumptuous, he doesn't reveal it. Heck, maybe he doesn't even notice. He's probably thinking about his upcoming set list.

But the best part is still to come. I grab my book off the table behind me, and I open to the page near the front containing my acknowledgement to the band and hand it to him. I tell him this is my book, that I'm the author, and I point out the acknowledgement and explain why it's there. Now, mind you, I'm speaking ninety miles a minute because I'm so afraid my time is about to run out, and at first I don't even think he's registering what I'm saying. He's probably thinking, yeah, yeah, let's get on with this. He begins to sign the book, but then all of a sudden he stops and flips the cover over to look at the front jacket. Time seems to stand still (for me, at least). It feels very intentional, the way he stares at that front cover. I'm wondering, what is he doing? He opens the book up again, then, and as he resumes writing, I see him begin to personalize his message, and I get it. He looked on the front cover for my name.

When I recounted this to Rick later, Rick said, "He realized this was personal for you, that you weren't simply going to turn around and sell his autograph on the internet." I don't know if that's true, if Dave ever gave it that much thought, but I like to think so. I like to think he understood how special all of it was for me.

I thank him (at least I hope I did!), and I reach back around to the table for bag of books I brought for him – one of each, Tell No Lies and Rescuing Olivia – signed to him and the band with my own personal note of thanks. Reading material for the long bus rides, I tell him. His assistant, who'd been trailing him the whole time, says "I'll take that for him" and grabs it from me.

Dave is about to move on to the next couple when Robin and I realize he hasn't signed the shirt she brought. It all happens so fast, but I grab a camera and manage to get one more picture – Dave signing Robin's shirt. The escort then tells us to follow him, he'll lead us out. I lean over and tap the assistant on the shoulder, and when he turns to me, I motion to the bag of books and say, "You're sure he'll get these?" He says, "Yeah, I'm on his bus. Don't worry." Who knows if he's telling me the truth? But nevertheless, I choose to believe him.

Once we're out of the Tiki hut and have been set free by the escort, I think we scream again.

The rest of the night is like most Tampa DMB concerts – incredibly hot and sticky – but we barely notice because for the entire evening, we're both floating on this little cloud of pure delight. Our smiles are glued to our faces, and when the band comes onstage, those smiles get even bigger. Our seats (or rather, our standing room spots) in the orchestra pit place us just in front of the stage on the left side, where we feel Carter's every drum beat from the humongous speakers that are so close we can almost touch them. (I'm certain we lost a bit of our hearing Wednesday night.) The fans around us give us high fives when we tell them we met Dave, and like every DMB show, there's a camaraderie I've never felt at anyone else's concerts.
And then, toward the end of the concert, as if the night couldn't get any better, the band plays "Crash Into Me." It's not my all-time favorite DMB song (that would be #41), but if you've read Tell No Lies, you'll know it makes a cameo appearance in the first chapter, so hearing it on this night is extra special.

After the show, still on our dreamy cloud as we walk back to the car, Robin and I realize something: it never rained. A Tampa DMB show without rain. It reminds us of another song they played that night.

"So Damn Lucky."