This past weekend, some 60,000 plus college kids watched history being made as Dispatch became the first unsigned band to sell out New York City's famed Madison Square Garden. While one night of maximum capacity is an incredible feat (next week's White Stripes concert isn’t even sold out, to give you some perspective), the underground Boston-based jam-band managed to do it for three nights in a row with each concert selling out in under a half hour. While this is worthy of buzz all by itself, the band deserves additional applauds: all proceeds were donated to a charity cause for Zimbabwe, making this not only a coup for the band, but for those in need.
Consisting as a three piece, band members Chad Urmston, Peter Hemibold and Brad Corrigan, a.k.a.Braddigan, are all multi-talented and able to play each instrument. Forming in a dorm room in 1995, the group grew organically with little press hype and no major label. Instead they gained fans by word of mouth, concerts and Napster, making four studio albums and two live, selling over 600,000 copies.
I myself, discovered them through a friend back in 2000 while shuffling through list of songs on their computer and was instantly addicted to the highly catchy grooves. Mixed with influences of reggae, rock, ska, folk, pop and funk, this metaphorical casserole of style has been noted by many as to the reason their music spread so quickly amongst college age fans. It has no defined borders and was and still is enjoyed from the Greek houses on campus to the hippie haunts of any college town.
This broad fan base of youth was apparent in the crowd at MSG, where thousands of the 18-22 set converged together wearing everything from Abercrombie button ups to ripped jeans with peace sign appliqués, to shout the lyrics of the well known songs like “Bets in the Belfry" at the top of their lungs. What was surprising about the crowd however, was that even though the group has been broken up since 2004, they still attract so much attention from this age group especially when each band member has his own successful careers: Corrigan now plays as Braddigan, Heimbold as Pete Francsis, and Urmston is a member of State Radio. These Dispatch songs were the same I was singing back in college and to be honest, I thought that today's students would have moved on to something more current.
Well, I for one am glad they are not and I am positive that those benefiting from their philanthropic activities and initiatives are as well. While being eco and socially conscience is the new black lately, Dispatch is, or a least seems, genuine in respects to their various initiatives. Books for Kids, Rock for a Remedy and Musicians on Call all collected donations for a night and Crocs gave 10,000 sandals to the children of Zimbabwe. Dispatch founded the Elias fund, a non profit organization for Zimbabwe after Urmston spent some time living and teaching there. The concert series was subtitled “A Concert for Elias,” which is also the name of a song, and all proceeds were donated to it and local charities.
During the concert, powerful vignettes were shown on the screen between sets and during songs, featuring graphic images of the suffering in Zimbabwe along with shocking stats such as an HIV rate of 1 in 4 and a 90% poverty level. The band was joined on stage for the song “Out Loud,” by an African children’s choir and also later joined by an adult bongo group called Bongo Love. Despite the somber reasons for their coming together, the mood was joyous and the music euphoric.
The set list was packed with fan favorites like “Bats in the Belfry,” and personal favorite “Running” which was performed during the middle of their set as the band stood on their first tour bus in the middle of the floor in front of a roaring crowd. Nearly everyone was into the groove, singing along and dancing. During the chorus of “The General,” one of their more popular songs, which tells of a General releasing his men, 20,000 voices carried throughout the venue shouting the chorus “Go now you are forgiven” over and over.
In a time when the cultural climate is apathetic about the government and news of war and famine are pushed to the back pages of the newspapers to make room for blaring headlines of celebutante nipple slips and books about magic wizards, it was refreshing to see the communal conscious join together. While controversy over so-called “concerts for a cause” rears its head over big budget projects like Live Earth, the Dispatch concert was a reminder that music, at least for a few minutes, can truly create change or at least make that first step and create a change in attitude.
To download music from the concert, see the video or find out how to help, please visit their MySpace page.