Drinking the Water of DMB: A Reflection on Being a Fan

Geeks come in many forms. Sometimes they play video games, sometimes they’re mathletes, and sometimes they stay up late at night reading message boards and commenting on threads as setlists are updated from their heartthrob band.

I was an Ant. For the uninformed, an Ant is a loyal follower of DMB. Ants gather on antsmarching.org to discuss everything from tailgating to guitar selections to Dave’s wine label. But to understand why I was an Ant you must first understand my high school graduation present.

I had grown up listening to the band and in high school I declared that if I “died tomorrow” my biggest regret in life would be having never attended a Dave show. I had no idea what was in store…

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My graduation party was held in my family’s small brown barn in southern Maine. My two older sisters surprised me with a very large box. Upon opening it, I found a smaller box, and inside that box was a smaller box, and so on, until finally I held in my hands an envelope. The envelope contained tickets to a DMB show in Mansfield, Massachusetts that summer. I was shocked and ecstatic as any 18 year-old would be.

Before the Massachusetts concert, however, my sisters pulled a second surprise on me—a remarkable, over-the-top surprise (I have pretty amazing sisters). We were on vacation in Chicago. We got on a train. I was told we were going shopping. Then I noticed there were people on the train who had Dave shirts on. I thought, hey, these people are cool. Little by little, clues started to emerge right in front of my eyes but I was oblivious. I had no idea we were headed to a DMB show until my sister finally placed the tickets in my hands as we got off the train and approached the stadium.

I could probably write a book about my memories from different DMB shows—if I remembered them all—the idiosyncrasies that happen for each venue, each night, each group of people present. I’ve pushed our car out of the mud at the site of Woodstock; I’ve hugged Boyd Tinsley; I’ve seen Willie Nelson as an opener at Fenway Park. But what I value the most, above any specific anecdote, is the pure happiness that I have felt when anticipating a concert or dancing barefoot on the grass or hearing a favorite or rare song.

What is this fascination with falling in love with bands? What is it about the obsessive nature that takes hold—be it for a Beatle, the Dead, or Dave? It’s optimism. It’s hope. It’s youthful ambition and idealization. It’s believing that each show will bring not only new experiences, new friends, new songs…but that each show will somehow shape our identities. The live experience presses upon us in a way that no studio-produced album can.

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Throughout all of college I attended shows every summer. I took road trips and camped out and even went as far as writing a math paper about the probability and statistics of guessing DMB setlists (I got an A). But after college I found myself swept away into other experiences—I traveled and picked up jobs and attended graduate school and found I couldn’t commit to summer shows. I also faded away from my identity as an Ant online, ceasing to check in on a regular basis.

As I explored more of the country and progressed further into my 20s I started to learn firsthand more about the kinds of things the band sings about—love, loss, freedom, pain. I met people outside of my bubble. I challenged myself and the world challenged me back.

So now here I am—a person who holds a full-time salaried “grown up” job. In three weeks I will see DMB for the first time since 2010. It will be my 12th concert. I’ve been digging out my paraphernalia and I’ve found myself “coming back” to the band. I’m being sucked into this wonderful world of youthful hope, except this time it’s paired with the insight that can only come with time spent and miles traveled.

Is it a little silly? Sure. Is it meaningful? Of course. We all go through a natural ebb and flow of interests and obsessions. If we didn’t, well, we’d be lacking a very essential ingredient to what makes life so damn rewarding and worth living: passion.

My dormant antsmarching.org profile still lives on. It’s been a little lonely but like any old friend, it’s good to catch up and reminisce. For those who understand where I’m coming from, my handle is emmalovesdmb. It’s true; I do.

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