Last Wednesday night countless rock fans did the unthinkable. They sat through hours of televised country music, even if they watched it on mute. What would possess an otherwise twang-averse person to do this? The promise of a duet with Dave Matthews of course. And those who persevered were rewarded with Dave's amazing voice adding depth and emotion to Kenny Chesney's “I'm Alive,” a timely song about gratitude.
I, on the other hand, cheated, and only watched the video of Dave's performance, so what I'm about to say could be totally off, and I trust that you'll tell me if I am. But to me it was incredible to hear such strong applause when Dave walked on stage, and to see the crowd offer a standing ovation when he finished. Did they do that for everyone? Yes, I know, if I had watched the whole show I would know this. But just the fact that a rock musician can elicit such a positive response from a country crowd is astounding. And that's what got me thinking about Dave's undeniably universal appeal. Just what is it about this singer/songwriter that draws admiration from every audience?
For now, let's just put aside the fact that his technical and vocal abilities are stunning, because truthfully audible tastes are very subjective and it's not possible for every person to appreciate the same style of sounds. An alternate theory then, might be that Dave's self-deprecating humor makes him easy to relate to. Unlike the stereotypically arrogant and leather-clad rock-star, Dave emits a casual, down-to-earth vibe that allows him to connect with his listeners a-la-Johnny Cash. Or we could consider the fact that his music offers such diversity in regards to both his own roots and the many genres in which he dabbles that he offers something for everyone. While these are plausible hypotheses, I think there's a deeper dynamic at play.
And that feature, I believe, is the element of searching evident in so many DMB songs. There is a curiosity about the nature of life, death, and existence that we all can relate to at a profoundly deep level. Instead of providing answers, Dave joins us in the exploration of what our time on earth is really about. While many of his songs offer positive philosophies like caring for the planet and loving one another, there is nothing preachy or judgmental in his message. And in this time where too many of us are trying to prove that we are right and others are wrong, this shift in perception is a welcome change.
Perhaps we can never fully explain what draws us into Dave's vortex. And some of the magic surely lies in the mystery. One thing that is for certain is that his effect on us is clearly noticeable wherever he goes. Even Ellen DeGeneres commented on how happy his fans were when he played her show back in September. Happy friends and meaningful music. Now that's something to be grateful for.
Hayley Bauman, Psy.D.
Author of Serendipity and the Search for True Self