Tapers Pick Their Favorites

By Ryan Shepard

It occurred to me the other day, after I came back from the Gorge shows, that there really were some powerful shows recorded this year. I'd heard a couple due to various people playing them as I travelled around to various concerts; people debated the merits (and demerits, I suppose) of shows on the message boards (and still do); others built up their collections and waxed philosophic on the little things that made each show great.

I'd been given three shows by my new friend Bobby (who came in from SoCal); listening to these, I got to thinking about what other shows I hadn't heard, and had theoretically missed out on.

Frankly, folks, I'm clueless when it comes to "what shows are the best." I attended only a handful this year: Buffalo, both Shoreline shows, Darien Lake, and two of the three Gorge shows (it would have been all three, but a miscalculation in food preparation and's a long story). Many of you know I'm not the hugest of DMB fans in comparison to my cohorts - but still, there's some good shows that keep the flame going, if you will. I still enjoy hearing the #36 > Everyday > #36 from the Darien Lake show, and not just because I was there.

So who, then, would I turn to if I was interested in hearing other shows? Tapers. You know them, you love them, you ask them for shows way too early. These folks are, as I see it, the first line of defense in spreading the "gospel" of the band - the ones who put out all the live discs that create new fans and motivate old ones.

Now, I've only known a couple of tapers personally since I came into the online fold back in 1995 - Mike Vernal and Craig Willoughby. Over the years other names have popped up, and whereas I hadn't met them, I'd seen how they became more and more infamous. So it's some of these folks that I turned to. Understand that I did not poll every taper that exists, or even all of the "big name" ones - but it was these names that I'd seen mentioned a few times over the Spring and Summer tours.

I wrote them, wanting to find out what they considered some of the better shows of this year, what experiences they'd had, and what they foresaw for the rest of the year.

Craig Willoughby's first show was 11.19.96, and he's been taping since January '99. He's seen 133 shows - including 113 different songs played. Coincidentally, he's seen "Too Much" performed 86 times...which would be too much, depending on how you look at it.

Some of his favorites from this year:

4.20.02 & 4.21.02 with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones 5.13.02 with Warren Haynes on AATW - a "solid show" that included Beauty of Wynona. 5.19.02 with the Seek Up > PNP > Rapunzel to start the show. 7.09.02 with Mike Durham 9.8 with the last half being great - "amazing Stefan intro > Dreaming Tree > Watchtower and the encore of Long Black Veil and Halloween."

His speculation on the winter tour? "Last stop, of course - probably Christmas Song and I'll Back You Up, which seem to always come out during the winter. I would expect to see Dreaming Tree, #40, and Little Thing which were teased during the summer. I would also expect to see a lack of Everyday songs."

As far as interesting taping stories go: "5.16.02 - We (Jeff Fulton and I) were quickly hassled about our taping equipment while entering the venue, by Supervisor 220.) We called Rudy Arais over as a staff member with DMB (showed her all of his credentials, laminate, etc.) and told the security woman what the equipment was and that it was allowed into the venue. She didn't agree with what a member of DMB's crew was saying to her, so Rudy called for backup, and it was straightened out although we were not allowed to bring in our taping bags, just the equipment.

"Fortunatly Bill Bess spotted a beer vendor that gave us a few Coors Light boxes to put our gear in. So we emptied the bags and put everything in them. We got all the taping equipment in except for the light stand (that big metal pole that our mics sit atop), and after Gov't Mule a tape with a stand was let into the venue. I then walked back down to the main entrance (probably 1/4 mile walk) and talked to the head of security who escorted me to my car to retrieve my stand. I set up my stand inside the venue only to be hassled again by more security in the venue, while setting up my stand. The matter was quickly settled with a radio call to the head of security. Odd considering that the rest of the tour was very easy, in fact several venues had "tapers" entrances. There is a picture of us on the Warehouse - 5/16/02 under the fans section, last picture of the group unloading the taping bag."

Jon Ice has been seeing the band since Deer Creek in 1997. Since then he's seen 71 shows; he started taping in 2001 and has around 50 shows since then.

His favorites from this year:

The entire Canada run (featuring Bela Fleck and the Flecktones) 8.10.02 & 8.11.02 "My first venue, and will always be one of my favorites." 8.27.02 "Total lack of Everyday." 9.08.02 "Halloween."

Wishes and thoughts on the winter tour? "Would love to hear The Last Stop again, along with Halloween and Dreaming Tree. As long as the band keeps playing with the enthusiasm they did at the end of the summer tour, we will be in for some great shows."

On showing appreciation towards helpful security: "A buddy of mine mooned the security guards at Alpine after we almost got in a fight with them after night 2. They said we weren't getting out fast enough, so we let them know how we felt."

Bob Haag got into the band back in mid '98, and got into taping near the end of last year's tour. A self-described "audio/visual geek," he figured taping would be "...right up my alley." His MCI (4.4.02) recording has been the widest circulated around the trading circles, and now after 58 shows, he's hooked. "Just lots of fun toys to play with along with DMB is always a good thing."

Bob's favorites from this year:

7.09.02 "Not so much about the show per se, but what happend after. Carter came to the edge of the stage where he goes to throw his drumsticks out, he signalled to a little boy who was in about the 9th row and had everyone crowd surf him up. He pulled the kid up on stage, gave him the sticks, gave him a big hug and held him in the lights for everyone to see and cheer. That little boy was my girlfriend's son. Seven years old at his first DMB show and he gets to go up on stage." 7.31.02 "That very first full Nancies of the year just blew the roof off the place, then to segue into Warehouse old-school style almost put everyone into tears." 9.08.02 "...close to the best setlist of the year in my opinion."

Speculation/wishes for the winter tour? "I don't know, after this summer, it seemed as though they really kept us setlist predictors in check towards the end of the summer tour. This past tour was different in that they didn't rotate the same 30 songs back and forth. We REALLY saw a very nice mix of almost the whole library of song...I think that my greatest hope/wish for this winter tour is that they keep the momentum of what they had going toward the end of the summer."

On good vibes at Gorge: "The first two nights I was fortunate enough to be facing the stage on the right side. We didn't have to worry about any cameras or anything on that side. Third night though I had 12th row on the Left side. This was where the 50ft Jib was swinging all around all night. Logically, one can't tape from here, so I talked to the camera guys running the jib and one of them said, "Um.....well, we don't mind if you set your stuff up right here." So I did, I set it all up within a little restricted area they had setup for camera control and jib operation right up near the stacks."

Mike Sarnovsky has taped almost 20 shows and has seen over 35 since he started seeing the band back in 1996. His first show that he taped was 6.19.00, the first night of Polaris.

His favorite show this tour would have to be 8.05.02, primarily due to the band's performance of Captain. As he puts it, "I did tape the 8-5-02 show, but I think if you give all of them an objective listen, you will find this to be the best."

Security is Job One: "In Cleveland at Gund Arena on 4.24.02 I was taken aside and had to power up every piece of equipment and demonstrate to the security guard how each piece of my rig worked. This went so far as me taping a bit of our conversation and playing it back for him on headphones so that he indeed agreed I had taping equipment only and not some type of explosives or what have you. Everything else has been smooth!"

Scott Brown has been seeing the band since 1995, and has been taping them for the past three years.

His favorites of this year?

"I saw 18 shows this year (8 in April, 2 in May, 6 in July, 1 in August, 1 in September) and my favorite was 7.26.02 (Hartford 2). Proudest Monkey, #41 > Everyday, the 2 separate Nancies teases, Warehouse, the insane Butch solo on Two Step. For some reason I enjoyed that show a lot more than any other, though Alpine night 2 surely rocked as well.

As far as best songs/guests, the #41 I saw at Ottawa with all of the Flecktones is clearly the coolest jam I saw from them this tour. Hell, it's probably the coolest jam I've seen from them since I saw them do Seek Up with Bela Fleck and John Popper at Jones Beach on 6.10.97."

Thoughts on the winter tour? "The Last Stop will probably come out, along with another Halloween. I'd love to see Typical Situation, but I highly doubt it."

Mike Vernal is one of the online community's long-running tapers, having seen the band since '97 and taping them since 1998.

Mike's thoughts from this year:

"Ottawa and Montreal were two fantastic shows, as you might expect. #41 and Two Step were extremely nice from those shows, though it was disappointing not to get the full Flecktones on a couple of songs (a la September 2000).

Personally, I really liked the Alpine shows too. I actually find that the best full-band, no-guest shows are the one where something is wrong. In Alpine (and the Gorge), it was Dave's voice failing. In these situations, I think Dave feels an overwhelming need to compensate for what is wrong (e.g., his voice) by doubling his efforts to entertain. In Alpine, there was just a surprisingly hilarious Bridge, Stir It Up, and some other nice turns overall.

I also think the solo tunes were a fantastic part of the show, and I'm jealous I never got to see Wynona live this year. I wish he would bring back Typical Situation solo, a la summer 1995."

Thoughts on the winter tour? "I see some of the tunes ignored over the summer showing up: Dreaming Tree, Last Stop, Stay. I'm sure Christmas Song will show up. I could hope for some nice long Recently's and Typical's, but that would be a reach."

Even Security Gets the Blues: "Head of security at a venue asked Scott Brown for his ticket stub so he could stub his brother down. We were sitting front row. I mean, he's the head of security -- why does he need to stub someone down? Can't he just escort them down?"

Thanks to all the tapers that participated in the creation of this article. For those of you playing at home (or you skimmed!), consensus is leaning towards Christmas Song and Dreaming Tree to make appearances later on this year. So if you had inklings about trying to attend but weren't sure...well, if those tracks are some of your favorites, I'd count on the knowledge from the tapers above to be pretty accurate.