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."


Susan said...

That is soooo awesome, Julie! I'm so happy for you!

Julie Compton said...

Thank you, SueMac! I have a feeling I'm going to be riding the "cloud" for a while to come.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Fantastic! So exciting. And what fun to be able to have the photo and blog so you can revisit the magic whenever you want!

Carla Buckley said...

SUCH a great story, Julie :) And like the best stories, it has a happy ending.

Julie Compton said...

Thanks Hank and Carla!

Hank, that's one of the reasons it took me a day and a half to get the blog post up -- I wanted to make sure I covered everything I remembered, so that later I could come back to it. I suspect it will be one of those things I go to whenever I'm having a bad day, just to remind myself. :-)

Carla, a VERY happy ending. If you'd asked me on Monday what my chances were of ever meeting Dave Matthews, I would have laughed and said, "In my dreams!" But dreams do come true sometimes! (Must be something about Florida . . .)(It's a Disney joke . . .)

Gina said...

Julie, What a great story! A huge DMB fan myself, I must say it's the concert experience that makes one a true fan. I especially love the ridiculously long lines to the johnies-on-the-spot where so many friends are made. But, your meeting with Dave and his signing your book (WOW) is pure magic. "Eat, drink, be merry, and get Dave to sign the book I wrote" just have to be the new lyrics to Tripping Billies!

Julie Compton said...

Gina, you are SO right. The live shows make all the difference. Listeners who form their opinions about DMB based upon what they hear on the radio don't realize what they're missing. The songs played on the radio don't come close to representing their music and sound. I've converted many a friend by taking them to a show!

Jamie said...

Jules! How absolutely JUST THE RIGHT THING. I'm (of course) tearing up at that moment when he's really LOOKING at your beautiful book. But what I really can't get past is how much he looks like Rick. How cool to see that Rick is ACTUALLY YOUR DREAM MAN.


Julie Compton said...

Jamie, how funny that you picked up on that. You aren't the first person to notice the resemblance (that would be my childhood friend Kris who has known me since I was three years old), but you ARE the second. I think that's why Rick is so cool with my obsession. ;-)

Anna said...

Great story! Being a loyal fan pays off and how cool that you have the books to give him. He should have screamed a little.


Bernie said...

Julie, what a great story! I found your blog when you commented on a DMB mention on mine but I just had a chance to read this tonight. The friend I took to see DMB in DC is a fanatic like you and after seeing his show through her eyes, I think I finally get it.
By the way, my next online stop tonight is to buy one of your books. Looks like something I'd like.

Julie Compton said...

Thanks Anna -- I don't think he screamed at all, but hey, if I learned anything from this, it's that a girl can dream, and sometimes dreams turn into reality. :-)

Bernie, thanks for checking out the blog. I remember you were a writer, too, which was ironic since I found your blog because of the DMB connection, not the writing connection. If you do check out one of my books - THANK YOU. I hope you enjoy it. Let me know!

Tom Wallace said...

Hey, Julie! This is a great story and a great experience. I have a sister and brother-in-law who live in Charlottesville, VA. My brother-in-law owns a gift shop on the downtown mall near their business offices. I'll tell you a story some time about Dave when he was unknown and playing local joints there.

tabitha said...

Julie, this is such a fun story. I vicariously enjoyed every minute of it, from the heat and humidity to the beaming happiness on your face. It makes me feel that I'm a little more privileged to know you.

It makes me happy to watch your success. Hugs, dj

Julie Compton said...

Tom, I can't wait to hear the story!

DJ, thank you! Miss seeing you!

V.R. Leavitt said...

Holy cow!!! What an awesome story. I love that you mention the mumbling he does. I'm from near his former haunts in VA and I ran into him once (of all places) in NYC. We had a beer, and I'd like to say I know what we talked about because his mumbling under all the noise of the band that was onstage made conversation impossible.

I'm glad you got to have such a great experience. Too cool.

Julie Compton said...

Vanessa, I'd take having a beer with him, even if he does mumble the whole time! LOL! Wasn't he mobbed? I would think it would be difficult to go to a place like that without being swarmed by people.

Terri-Lynne said...

So freaking cool. I wish I'd seen this back then!

You know, Julie, this is yet another thing we have in common--our love of Dave Matthews. Though I can't pretend to be half--even a QUARTER of the fan you are, his music speaks to me when I write. I listened to Under the Table and Dreaming, Crash, and Before These Crowded Streets almost nonstop through the years I really knuckled down to learn about writing. I can't separate writing from DMB because of it.

Sept. 2, 1995 at the Meadows Music Theater in Hartford was my one and only DMB concert. I was 31. It was magic, and lives on as one of the best days of my LIFE.

Julie Compton said...

Terri, I swear, I think we were separated at birth! Someday we'll have to hit a DMB show together. You'll do the NYC ones with me, right???

Terri-Lynne said...

Julie--Abso-fucking-lutely!!! NYC, DMB and YOU! Can anything be more perfect?

Will Brunelle said...

I know how you felt. I know how you must still feel.

At the Albany show in November, my best friend and I got the idea to write corny song requests on the backs of our tickets, in the hopes Dave would see us holding them out from the front row and come and take them from us. Granted, we were just shy of center stage in the front, so it wasn't too far-fetched that he'd notice us, but it certainly was hopeful that he'd actually come over and take them.

I wrote "Dave: This is my LAST STOP for the Fall tour!" on mine and my best friend wrote, "Dave, I dressed as you for HALLOWEEN!" on his. Well, Dave never noticed us during the whole main set, or if he did, he understandably decided not to pause mid-show to entertain two random teenagers' fancies.

But after the main set, I leaned forward and asked the very kind security guard in front of us if he could just set the ticket onstage, right behind Dave's personal fan, so that he wouldn't have to reach all the way out and take it. Well, lo and behold, Dave walked out to play Rye Whiskey all by himself, and immediately noticed both us and the ticket. He read my note, laughed, and leaned over to shake my hand and my friend's hand. I shouted, 'Thank you so much for playing for us, Dave!" and got a thumbs-up and smile that are forever burned into my memory as one of the highlights of my life.

And wouldn't you know, contrary to what the printed setlist said they'd planned on playing, they played The Last Stop (I think it was originally going to be Tripping Billies). We got a few quick glances and silly faces from Dave throughout the show, eliciting no end of screaming and jumping up and down from us, of course. It was without a doubt one of the greatest twenty minute experiences of my life, and I'm sure that will never change.

But yeah...he's a pretty cool dude. :) Congratulations on getting to give him your books; that must be an incredibly personal and exhilarating sensation.

Julie Compton said...

Will, what a cool story! It's a great example of why he is so loved by his fans. He's so unpretentious, and he never forgets that it's the people in the audience who are a large part of his success and good fortune.

You should check out my DMB cruise post on this blog, from way back in February 2006. I tell the story about another cool thing he did after the concert on the island was all but rained out . . .

Kerry Ann @Vinobaby's Voice said...

So I am WAY late for this party, but I just discovered your blog today (via another writer's link) and the DMB tag caught my attention. My Hub and I go to all the Tampa DMB shows, except for 2010—because July 30th was our Bday so we saw him in WPB instead. So the date and the pic of you with the man—awesome. I can't believe he signed your book. Swoon. Going to check out your books now.

Julie Compton said...

Hi Kerry Ann!
It's NEVER to late to join the DMB party. :-) I still love to come back and re-read this post. I pinch myself still when I see the pics. (And I did figure out a way to hang up that signed book in our billiards room, so I pinch myself when I see them there, too!)
Robin and I will have to tailgate with you this summer. Give a shout if you'll be going! I'm glad you found the blog. :-)