Stefan Has So Much To Say

microphone.jpgSeptember 22nd, 2006

Dave Matthews Band bassist, bandmates eager for home gigs

By JANE DUNLAP NORRIS / Daily Progress staff writer

stefan1.jpg Just because they've been on tour buses for months on a wildly successful summer tour doesn't mean that Dave Matthews Band members are on cruise control.

Coming home to play tonight and Saturday in the John Paul Jones Arena, the band will be heading into the University of Virginia's new basketball venue with its game on.

"You really have to give it your all," bassist Stefan Lessard said.

Starting the final two shows on the current tour will turn up the excitement level for the musicians, and playing for the home folks means "there's a certain amount of nervousness," he said.

"You always want to impress,'' Lessard said. But when the band plays in Charlottesville, and even in such nearby towns as Manassas, when the five men know that local friends and family members are likely to make the trip, "there's always going to be this extra push to impress," Lessard said.

"We're so excited. There's something special about Charlottesville, and there's something special about showing the place to our fans.

"We will be bringing along some extra fans," Lessard said. He said many have told the band that "they want to see the tour from where the band is from."

Lessard has performed with saxophonist LeRoi Moore, drummer Carter Beauford, violinist Boyd Tinsley and guitarist Dave Matthews since 1991.

Fans can expect solid teamwork, and the kind of optimism that brings out the sports analogies. Lessard looks forward to a local showing of the sheer magic that has filled most nights of the summer tour.

"I call it being in the zone," Lessard said. "Those are the nights when it seems like the easiest thing in the world."

Attendance has been high - and enthusiastic.

"There have been more people at this tour than the past couple of tours," Lessard said, adding that he thinks the inclusion of some of the band's older songs may be part of the appeal. "The set list seems to be bringing them in."

If it seems as if it has been a long time since you heard your favorite older DMB songs at a show, "it's just a matter of someone remembering them," Lessard said with a chuckle. "There's such a large amount of songs that sometimes you just forget. We like every song we do."

Lessard brings a high-energy, high-tech verve to the group. Design and presentation matter to Lessard, and he's proud of the light and video production that enhances the band's show. Having the new venue means that nothing needs to be scaled down or approximated.

Lessard also predicted that fans will be "pleasantly surprised" by the "very high-end audio experience" in the new arena.

"One of the great things about our show is the light and the projection," Lessard said. "They'll be able to see our light projection and our rig. There's a big video screen and little video screens around the big one. I wish I could come out front and see what it looks like."

A nightly sense of discovery also appeals to the painter in him.

"Every night we go on stage, it's a blank canvas," Lessard said. "Everything's right there for us to go where we want."

Another blank canvas that came calling was a Web site. For the past year, www.izstyle.com has allowed Lessard to combine many of his interests, from high-intensity sports to technology to fan interaction to design, in one place.

The idea of starting a Web site took on a particular appeal a while back when Matthews and Tinsley were working on solo projects. "I wanted something to call my own, but I wasn't ready to go into the studio," Lessard said.

The Web site gives fans yet another way to keep up with the band. Fans can enter contests and win prizes, sometimes taking home something different from the usual souvenir, such as high-performance bike equipment or organic basil seeds. At the release of "Stand Up," IZ Style threw parties at ski resorts, capturing fans who share Lessard's passion for winter sports.

Lessard wants to bring a participatory element to shows, and these days fans can drop by the IZ Style tent at DMB concerts.

"Every night, there's a contest," Lessard said. "You download the contest page and then you take the page to the tent."

Lessard's love for winter sports and outdoor fun is a family affair.

"We fell in love on the ski slopes," Lessard said of his wife, Jaclyn. "We both like to surf and to snowboard.

"I grew up skating. I mountain bike. I road bike a bit, and I snowboard when we're off tour."

The couple's active lifestyle includes their three children. Son Diego, 8, enjoys snowboarding, and 2?-year-old daughter Hazel loves riding in safe carriers when her parents ride bikes and is "so energetic" that Lessard said he's sure she'll be diving into her share of sports. The youngest member of the family, 2-month-old Flora, will be growing into outdoor activities before they know it.

Lessard, 32, has spent almost exactly half his life in the band. When he joined at age 16, after jazz trumpeter John D'earth recommended him, "I didn't even know I was going to be a musician," Lessard said.

"I was 15 when I started playing a bass guitar, and before I knew it I was in this band," he said. Growing up in a musical family, Lessard had played violin and piano and performed with the Youth Orchestras of Charlottesville-Albemarle in the double bass section.

Being at least seven years younger than his band mates made for some interesting dilemmas early in his career.

Clearly he was old enough to hold his own musically in the band and add his trademark energy and drive, but he wasn't always old enough for some of the venues in which he wanted to play.

"Your first thought is, 'Can I get in?' '' he said with a chuckle.

These days, that's the question fans ask when tickets to DMB shows get snapped up at warp speed.

 

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