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How Dave Matthews bridged the gap of Grateful Dead

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How Dave Matthews bridged the gap of Grateful Dead fandom

(Credits: Far Out / Apple Music)

Music

The jam band scene is littered with all different kinds of acts. Someone like Dave Matthews can exist both within the community and outside of its walls. After all, the Virginia-based musician had more mainstream success than just about anybody else in his peer group. The Dave Matthews Band were legitimate music stars in the 1990s, allowing a path for fellow acts like Phish and Blues Traveler to at least sniff the mainstream as well. But what truly made Dave Matthews stand out in the jam scene was his complete lack of connection or perceived reverence toward the Grateful Dead.

Part of that was that their careers only overlapped for a short time. The Dead were done once Jerry Garcia passed away in August of 1995, which was less than a year after the Dave Matthews Band released their studio debut Under the Table and Dreaming. But for three gigs, Matthews supported Garcia and the Dead when they played in Las Vegas in May of 1995.

“In 1995, at the beginning of my Dave Matthews Band career, we were invited to [open for] the Grateful Dead in Las Vegas,” Matthews told the French publication Telerama in 2019. “None of us was really a fan – I’ve become one with time, Jerry Garcia is a great songwriter – but we were compared to this band because we liked to improvise on stage and revisit our songs all the time.”

Matthews was worried that the audience would be hostile. “We were warned from the outset that fans of the Dead were the most ruthless in the world. That even if it was Bob Dylan or Tom Petty, they were against the [opener]. They were watching their watch until you cleared the stage to make room for their group. Yet after two or three [songs], I saw some faces light up, and people get closer to the scene, curious. At the end of the 45 minutes of our [set], the whole stadium was dancing!”

“And, suddenly, something crazy happened. We played our cover of ‘All Along The Watchtower’, and I approached the last line of the lyrics, ‘the wind began to [howl]’ When the wind rose for good, and a storm of dust fell on the crowd, which went into complete delirium,” Matthews remembered. “Just to talk about it, it [gives] me goosebumps! Maybe they were all [on] acid, but not me!”

Just two days after Garcia’s death, the Dave Matthews Band played The Greek in Berkeley, California, not far from the Dead’s hometown of San Francisco. To honour Garcia, DMB performed the classic jam vehicle ‘Eyes of the World’. It solidified their connection to the world’s biggest jam band and certainly converted more than a few Deadheads to the style of Matthews and his cohorts.

Nearly a full three decades later, Matthews brought the experience full circle when he joined Dead & Company onstage in Boulder, Colorado, for the last of their three-night run at Folsom Field. After a melancholy ‘Standing on the Moon’, the band welcomed Matthews on stage to perform ‘All Along The Watchtower’ once again. It was the kind of moment that fans love to geek out over, and Matthews certainly seemed like he was back in the groove.

Check out Matthews’ guest spot on ‘All Along The Watchtower’ down below.

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