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Jeff Coffin juggles two instruments while playing with the Dave Matthews Band during a June concert.

A surreal opportunity: Bemidji man enjoys unfettered access to band

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Editor's Note: This is the second of two submissions written by Del Lyren, professor of music at Bemidji State University, after he toured for three days with the Dave Matthews Band.

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BEMIDJI - The second day of my mini tour with the Dave Matthews Band began much too early after the party the previous night.

I don't know how these rocks stars are able to function on little amounts of sleep.

About 8:30 a.m., saxophonist Jeff Coffin invited me to breakfast with his delightful sister and niece. His niece is a gifted, high school trumpet player, so we had many interesting things to discuss.

By about 10 a.m. the hotel lobby was already full of fans hoping for autographs. Even John Mellencamp's father was hanging around, and I had a chance to say hello to him. After some time to relax in downtown Indianapolis, we left at 2:30 p.m. for night two at the Klipsch Music Center outside of Indianapolis.

Once at the venue, Rashawn Ross and I had some time to grab a snack and chat about the schedule for the day. The entire operation is smooth from beginning to end.

Schedules are posted and the band and crew stick to them exactly. Everyone is on time and does their job efficiently and effectively. What really struck me about the crew and band is how friendly and welcoming they all are. Everyone works extremely hard, but they all have fun and take time to chat with each other and joke around. For me, it was entertaining to sit back and people watch.

After lunch, Rashawn arranged a chance for me to interview both Dave Matthews and drummer Carter Beauford (drums) for the article I am writing for the International Trumpet Guild Journal.

My question for each of them was, "What does Rashawn bring to the band?"

Both Dave and Carter spent significant time talking about Rashawn's outstanding ability to arrange, compose, and memorize everybody's parts. They rely on Rashawn for musical advice, and in a way he has become the musical director of the group. Dave says he relies heavily upon him.

Rashawn has an almost uncanny ability to explain everyone's parts to them accurately and simply. It makes rehearsals go incredibly smoothly. Carter mentioned that when they go into pre-concert rehearsal, he relies on Rashawn being able to take control and get everything done quickly.

Simply put, Rashawn can hear music in a way that most of us can't quite understand or comprehend.

Because he is so unique and good at it, he is starting to get many calls from other bands asking him to do their horn arrangements. I have a feeling we will be hearing plenty of Rashawn's work on the albums from other great bands.

After my interviews with Dave and Carter, the band went into their rehearsal room and worked on some new tunes from their upcoming album. When they were done, Rashawn, bassist Stefan Lessard, tour managers Bill and Brian and I gathered around a table for supper. The spread they have for their suppers is unbelievable. I had to take pictures of it all.

They have a choice of many different salads, and main courses of specialty dishes of chicken, pork, salmon, vegan, etc. Desserts like fruit-filled cream puffs, apple pie, many varieties of cake and cookies - all freshly baked. I can understand why they have a fitness trailer for the band.

Without working out every day, these guys could really pack on the pounds. During the meal, the main topic of conversation was the types of hot sauce they had on the table. They kept talking about a sauce called Intensity. A few stories were told about its extreme heat, so I finally had to try it. I put about a dime-sized portion on my plate and dipped my finger into it. They were all giving me this look like I had just signed my death sentence.

I barely had any on my finger, but they stopped me and said it's too much.

The looks of terror in their eyes made me wonder if they were kidding me, but I wiped most of it back onto the plate. No way could it be that hot. I was wrong. It really is scorching hot.

A pin drop on my tongue felt like it was going to burn a hole through it! Even Rashawn, who grew up eating spicy food in the Virgin Islands, is wary of this stuff.

A little before the show started, I went down to the photographer's pit in front of the stage. I was the only photographer allowed down there on Saturday night. They only allowed photographers into the Friday night show, but I had gotten to know the security guys so they let me down there to take pictures. It's a unique perspective to be in the pit.

You can look back and see the entire audience of 26,000 people. Meanwhile, if you turn around you're so close to stage that you can practically touch Dave Matthews's foot. My security pass allowed me access to pretty much anywhere in the venue, so I got brave and took advantage of it.

I walked all around the venue getting shots of the band, listening to the great music, and watching the crazy antics of the crowd. After the show, I returned to the hotel while the band caught their private charter plane to Minneapolis. I slept for about four hours and caught a quick flight to Minneapolis in the morning.

The third day of my trip was the one I most looked forward to because the band played at the River's Edge Music Festival in St. Paul and my wife, Betsy, joined me.

Many people on the plane were going to the concert in St. Paul, and I chatted with a few of them. It's amazing how loyal the fans are for this band.

Jeff Coffin told me he met someone who has gone to more than 300 DMB shows. Two ladies on my flight were going to 10 shows this summer. I'm not sure if that's dedication or insanity.

Once I arrived in Minneapolis, I immediately received a text from Coffin, so we walked around downtown Minneapolis and ate a quick breakfast. A few fans politely interrupted our conversation and asked to take a picture with him.

For the guys in the band, it's nearly impossible to eat a meal without getting interrupted. They always try to be thankful and accommodating to the fans - even though some will ask for pictures and autographs three days in a row.

Betsy arrived shortly after noon, and we hung in Jeff's hotel room for a bit because the hotel didn't have our room ready. When Jeff heard this, he called the main desk, told them a guest of the band had been waiting for their room, and then they suddenly and conveniently had one ready. Oh, to have such power and influence.

They even had our bags in the room before we got there.

After grabbing a quick lunch, I had some time to formally interview Rashawn for the article. I met Rashawn in the hotel lobby and chatted with Dave Matthews while I waited for Rashawn. Dave is so gracious and kind.

I thanked him for all he does and told him that the organization is extremely impressive. He thanked me for my work with Rashawn, and said it's been nice to have me with them. Then Rashawn arrived, so we sat in the lobby and he talked about his work with the group - concentrating on what it's like to tour with them.

We also talked about his heavy involvement in the making of their new album, which is due to be released in September.

After our interview, Betsy and I drove to St. Paul and headed into the venue. We had my all-access pass, plus two artist wristbands and a media wristband. This was enough to get Betsy access to anything along with me. Once there, we walked around backstage and talked to some of the security guys to make sure Betsy could accompany me into the photographer's pit.

After supper with Coffin, Betsy and I waited backstage for the concert to begin.

There were about 25,000 people in the audience and you could feel the electric excitement in the air. When the band meandered onto stage, the cheers from the fans were deafening to us backstage. For the first few tunes, Betsy and I walked into the photographer's pit and then back to the soundboard area. But for the rest of the show, Betsy and I remained backstage and just took it all in.

It was very fun to watch all the tech guys, sound guys, light guys, etc. They are busy constantly and have to pay extremely close attention to their part of the concert. Rashawn's assistant made sure that Betsy and I had the same headsets as the band members so we could hear everything that was happening on stage. The band always has some interesting banter between tunes, and it was fun to hear them joke with each other or laughingly discuss the antics of fans in the audience. Carter's tech man made sure that I got a couple signed drumsticks from Carter for my two daughters, Alex and Nicole.

And Jeff Coffin gave Betsy a printed, official set list immediately after the concert. As the band walked offstage after the encore, I had the chance to thank Dave once again for letting me accompany them on tour.

I introduced him to Betsy and she got to chat with him briefly.

After quick hugs from Jeff and Rashawn, the band went immediately to their buses to catch a private charter plane to Philadelphia for their next gig. And that, my friends, was the end of my time with Dave Matthews Band. Awesome, surreal, and the opportunity of a lifetime.

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Pioneer staff reports
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