I'm a 26-Year-Old Black Woman and I Love Dave Matthews Band
I'm not what people think of when they envision a typical fan of the band that could be considered the epitome of "white people music," and this is my story.
We’d been dating for over a month. It was time. As I gave my makeup a quick touch-up in the restaurant’s bathroom mirror, I wondered how I’d tell him. Would I just blurt it out at a random moment in our conversation? Or would I ease into it? No matter how I decided to do it, he needed to know. He deserved to know. I mean, if we were going to start a relationship, I’d have to tell him eventually, right?
As I marched back to our booth, I knew it was time to reveal my deep, dark secret: I’m a Dave Matthews Band superfan.
Back in November, I was among thousands of Dave Matthews Band fans who flocked to Madison Square Garden to see the group live. It was my third time seeing them—my first was in 2016—and I made sure to wear my favorite Dave Matthews Band sweatshirt. Not just because I love it, but to assure the lines and lines of white people that, no, I was not lost and, yes, I did know who was performing.
I'm not what people envision when they think of the typical DMB fan. I'm not a possibly balding former frat boy and IPA enthusiast who owns way too many Birkenstocks. I’m not a middle-aged white woman whose dance moves to “One Sweet World” can best be described as loosely inspired by one of those Wacky Waving Inflatable Tube Guys.
I'm a 26-year-old Black woman and a superfan of the Dave Matthews Band, the '90s jam band that can rightfully be considered the epitome of music by, of and for white people. Still, I can’t help but yell with the crowd, “people in every direction!” during “Ants Marching” (first recorded in 1993, but a Billboard Top 40 hit in 1995) or let out the required “woo!” during “Warehouse” (from their 1994 debut Under the Table and Dreaming). Along with supporting their music, I own a variety of DMB merchandise, including blankets, t-shirts, sweatshirts, posters and flags. I even once had a guitar with the band’s famous "Fire Dancer" logo painted on the front—even though I don’t play. (I know.) I first fell in love with Dave Matthews Band during my junior year of high school. I’d heard “Crash Into Me” on the radio and was fascinated by the sweet song, the folk-jazz mix wasn’t like anything I’d ever heard before. So, I looked up more of the band’s music, quickly entranced by the funky mix of jazz, rock, folk, and blues—thus, the DMB fanatic before you was born.
My background is not what many would suspect births a DMB-lover. I am not from a predominantly white town and I did not grow up in the jam band era. I’m from West Philadelphia and I grew up on ‘90s R&B, gospel, and Philly battle rap.
The peculiarity of my DMB obsession is not lost on me. (Hell, I’m a bit confused too.) But their music’s jazzy foundation reminds me of the songs I grew up on: The saxophone, drums, and bass sounded like the tame little sister of the 70s funk music my grandfather used to blast through my childhood home. But even with all the familiarity of the music, I found its folky touches and Dave’s unique vocal range intriguing. To me, their sound was familiar but new at the same time. To be honest, I’ve always wondered why more Black people aren’t into DMB.
The band’s makeup (there have, up until recent years, been more Black musicians in the band than white) only added to my obsession in the early days. Learning that Dave is an ostensibly down-to-earth white guy who surrounds himself with Black musicians and fills his music with voices like those you hear in a Black Baptist church on Easter Sunday only cemented my superfan status.
I stick out like a sore thumb at DMB shows. I always make a point of looking around for other Black faces at shows and, if I’m lucky, I’ll spot one or two in the distance. But usually, most, if not all, of the Black people who attend DMB concerts are on stage (shout out to Carter Beauford, Rashawn Ross and Buddy Strong! R.I.P LeRoi Moore!)
At my first show, in 2016, I had the pleasure of being in the pit at the very front of the crowd, with my hair in natural curls. I have to admit, I did feel a bit out of place as the white people around me, no doubt on their 300th show, danced and jumped around during the sets. At several points in the concert, Dave looked at me with an expression of perplexity and pleasant surprise. Every time, I gave him a smile. At the end of their second set, he walked right over to me and handed me the signed setlist and signed a t-shirt I bought. To top it all off, Carter gave me one of his drumsticks. I learned quickly that the significance of my presence at the event wasn’t lost on the band.
Although I go alone, I’ve managed to make friends at these concerts: sweet 40-year-old women on their 212th show, men who bring their young sons and daughters (usually celebrating their first shows). Still, when I look at the drunken white guy yelling aggressively at Dave to “Play ‘Grey Street!’" or the sky-high couple to my right pretty much making a baby, I remind myself that “I’m just here for the music.” All while I dodge looks that clearly say, ‘Wow, you listen to Dave Matthews Band?” (Don't you see the sweatshirt?!).
I don’t tend to fare much better with my own people, though.
In the Black community, music is an important cultural staple—it has served as a political, social, and spiritual foundation for Blackness and is much more to us than words and sounds. So, it's only natural that, in any setting (at parties, meetings, dates, hangouts, etc.), we discuss our various music tastes. In these conversations, I've learned to give generic answers—"Oh, I love Beyonce, Rihanna, and Drake!"—for fear that they will learn my secret: I like "white people music." And not just the acceptable "white people music" (Kelly Clarkson and Paramore are Black-people approved), but music that would automatically brand me as the weird Black girl who probably only hangs out with white people. In the past, strangers have twisted up their faces or nodded slowly with a simple “that’s cool” (but I could tell it was, most certainly, not cool to them).
My younger brother has always dismissed my DMB obsession as “weird”—with love, though, I’m sure—and, over the years, my Black women friends have reacted to my superfan status with a simple, “Sis, I guess.” Of course, they’ve all grown to accept (or, more accurately, ignore) my love for the band. But I still brave the sea of white people at DMB shows alone, as my Black friends have less than zero interest in going, and the white ones aren’t trying to hear that “old people music.”
Of course, liking DMB doesn't preclude me from liking more "typically" Black music. When I'm not geeking out over Stefan Lessard’s opening bass line in “Crush” or Moore’s skills on “#41”(from the band’s 2005 stop at Red Rocks, of course), I can be found screaming Meek Mill lyrics and blasting Noname’s Room 25 (fire, by the way). I just like to say my taste in music is "eclectic." Almost every Black person has had a run-in with the overall tension of liking things that fall outside the realm of Black culture. Because Blackness is not a monolith of course everyone has different tastes. Still, many of my peers scratch their heads when they learn of my love for DMB.
Over time, I’ve learned to hide my superfan status, even if a simple scroll through my socials is a dead giveaway. I save my DMB declarations for the Internet. Honestly, my Twitter can best be described as a DMB fan account. There’s a comfort that comes from sharing your secrets from behind a computer screen. Twitter is like shouting into a deep, dark abyss that you just happen to share with 50 million other people. (Though on the rare occasions that my DMB tweets do draw the attention of some Black listener from across the Twittersphere, it is usually to inform me of their expert opinion that DMB does, in fact, “not slap.”)
So, what’s a young, Black woman DMB fan to do? I’ve resolved to stand in my truth! I don't really find a sense of community among my fellow concertgoers—like I said, I’m just there for the music. And it sucks to be judged or face scrutiny for my music taste, but I wear my DMB superfan flag with pride.
This is not to say that I consider myself the only young, Black woman DMB fan. I’m sure there are more of us. Hey, maybe we’ll all meet one day and go to a show (seriously, if you’re out there, please reach out)! For now, I don’t mind standing out, being the only Black fan for miles at the usually-packed shows. I’ve learned to welcome this.
And as for the date. Well, it went better than I expected. I offered my big confession—and he told me he loves Paramore.
Char Adams is a writer for PEOPLE Magazine. Follow her on Twitter.