Remembering West Point 2003
By Chad Flood
April 5, 2012
I received the one-line email from the chairperson of the Bucknell University Concert Committee at an internet café in Bath, England, sometime in November of 2002:
"Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds are touring this spring. We have already placed a substantial Bid."
To this day I'm fairly certain that I startled more than a few surrounding customers with my reaction.
By December, our agent informed us that we had placed one of the highest bids in the northeast, and upon returning to Lewisburg in January, it seemed like a done deal. It was a veritable dream come true - not only had I never seen a Dave and Tim show, but there was a very real chance that I would actually be *working* with the duo in March. Much to my chagrin, the day before dates were announced by the band, our chairperson called us to an emergency meeting, where we were informed that the 20-some show tour had been cut to just 13, and central PA would not be getting a stop.
Disappointed but undeterred, I figured the Warehouse would take care of me. Nope - declined for each and every request. The scramble was on, and within about a week I had secured tickets to three of the four shows I planned to attend. My white whale became Eisenhower Hall at West Point, where tickets were extremely limited due to the understandable preference given to cadets, and the fact that the only public sale was being conducted in person at the box office.
By the morning of February 10, I had given up hope. Luckily, an extremely boring afternoon class allowed me some time to brainstorm, and within minutes of getting back to my dorm I had learned that tickets went on sale at 9 am, West Point was a mere three-and-one-half hours away, and that two other fans were willing to make the trip with me. Invigorated, I forced myself to crash for a few hours before gearing up for an overnight journey. We hit the road at midnight.
The first hour of the drive was swift and uneventful. Traffic was light, caffeine was plentiful, and we all agreed that we'd be among the first inside when the gates opened at 6. We were cruising up I-84, just outside of Scranton, when we saw the first snowflake. With the Electric City in the rearview, we were in the midst of a full-fledged blizzard, undetected by any reputable weather report. We crossed into New York with minimal visibility, our pace hindered by slippery roads and 18-wheelers barreling past us. We needed a sign that our trip would not be in vain.
Less than an hour from our destination, through the blasting music and roaring wind, I heard what sounded like the honk of a car horn. Looking to my right, I believed for a moment that I was driving alongside a giant mirror - another red Jeep Cherokee was cruising next to us, piloted by a wild-haired young man wearing a sweatband around his head. He was waving excitedly, and his car got dangerously close to ours more than once. My co-pilot opened his window, and at 65 miles per hour our new friend yelled, "You going to West Point?" We affirmed, and he laughed like a bastard, exclaiming, "Me too! Coming from Bloomsburg! Weather sucks but hell yeah!" He proceeded to pass us, revealing an identical DMB sticker to the one on my back window, and within a mile the storm had passed and we were back to a reasonable speed, following our doppelganger.
We reached the gates at around 4 AM, finding a few cars that had beat us to the goal waiting in a small parking lot. We pulled in, parked in order, and began to wait. Sometime before 5 AM, a young man came up to our car and asked if he could hop in, as he'd taken a bus in earlier in the night and had no source of shelter. We happily obliged, and relaxed with our new-found friend for about an hour. Then, chaos ensued.
The guards at the gate came out to announce that cars could begin lining up on the street and that they'd be opening the gates a bit early to ease traffic flow through security. The orderly fashion in which we had positioned ourselves immediately gave way to the equivalent of a mosh pit of cars, with some blocking people in and others refusing to allow access to the roadway. The cars in the lot attempted to merge with those on the street with little success, and politely asking to slide in was met with laughter or less appropriate gestures. Eventually we forced our way in front of the unhappy occupants of a banged up sedan by giving them the option of hitting us or ceding to our might, made it through security without the full-car check that some were subject to, parked inside, and walked to the line at around 7 am, which was already over a hundred people long.
It was freezing outside, and about an hour later they let us inside to wait. The line went from the box office, up two flights of stairs, down a hallway in front of the mezzanine level, up another two flights of stairs, and down another hallway in front of the balcony. We figured we'd have tickets by 10, and be back on the road by 10:30. There were good people around us, and we began to make small talk. Unbeknownst to us, we would have plenty of time to get to know way more than we needed to about everyone else in line - we finally got our tickets at 2:30 that afternoon, elated and spent. The two hour traffic jam on the ride home was an unwelcomed surprise, and both of my friends missed classes, including a lab that couldn't be rescheduled (I was off on Tuesdays that semester). I got back, put the tickets in a drawer, and slept for 14 hours.
Returning on March 23, 2003 was a bit surreal. We entered the venue with the tiny pieces of paper that took almost a full-day's effort to obtain. We listened to sound check through the doors of the theater in the same hallway that we'd spent hours in waiting to make our purchase, and it did nothing but increase out anticipation for the evening's entertainment. Over the course of roughly 45 minutes, we heard full versions of Watchtower and #41, neither of which had been performed at the Wallingford show I attended a few nights earlier. There was also a brief snippet of Last Stop and Warehouse, and while neither appeared that night I was thrilled to hear the latter a few days later at the now-famous Appalachian State show.
Entering the seating area, we saw that we were about as high up as could be, but this mattered little because the place felt tiny, and our view was perfect. The civilians were the earliest to arrive, and watching the orchestra below steadily fill up with cadets in their formal white suits, accompanied by dates donned in evening gowns, was certainly memorable.
Two Step opened, and immediately I could tell the crowd was excited but would be respectful for the duration of the show. The acoustics in the venue were pristine, and each note came through with crystal clarity. As the pair settled in with So Much to Say, When the World Ends and Fool to Think segued into Where Are You Going, I was finally able to sit back and relax without ever losing the anticipation of what was to come.
Dave and Tim never disappointed throughout the three hour set, doing a fantastic job of mixing new and old with fan favorites and rarities. #41 and Satellite gave way to Grace is Gone, followed by the all-too-fun Too Much tease into Drive In Drive Out. Bartender upped the ante, and after a standard Everyday, Crush got the place moving a bit.
I also look back on that show as a special one for Tim, as no one within my sightlines headed for the exits during his solos (a far too common occurrence these days), and still remember how great it was to hear Jimi Thing, What Will Become of Me, Long Black Veil and Watchtower in succession, trumped only by the final three song run of Stone, Graves and Ants, which would probably cause Ants to explode if it were played today. Nancies capped off a great night of music.
When I first took my seat, I thought about the time and effort that went into being there that night and wondered for a moment if I would do it all over again had I known what was to come. By the time the final notes of that #41 faded to a pin-drop silent room, I knew with absolute certainty that the entire ordeal had been worth every minute.
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