Due to copyright laws, or some other crap like that, the band I was listening to changed their name to Dispatch sometime in the late ’90s, and slowly they began to take off. They didn’t take off in the traditional sense. Throughout the history of the band, not once did they sign to a major label, but rather they stuck to their “independent” moniker and spread the word through playing as many shows as possible in any venue that would give them stage time. And despite not being a household name, the Grassroots Strategy built them a big following.
Fast-forward seven albums and many years, and they were huge. But again, in breaking tradition, they were huge not because of commercial success or major-label distribution, but through their own hard work and musical talents. In keeping with tradition of many bands, as their success and amount of traveling grew, strife within the group continued to grow as well. So, in late 2002, the band decided it was time to part ways.
But, in a tribute to the fans that stuck with them throughout the years (including myself), they decided to throw down one more time in a big way. What came out of that is what was called “The Last Dispatch,” held in July 2004 at the Hatchshell in Boston: a free concert to say goodbye and thank you to their fans. No one knew who would show up and from where, but they didn’t care, they just wanted to play one more time.
What happened was…epic…the largest concert in independent music history. The estimates for how many people showed up vary, but at least 100,000 people arrived that Saturday, causing a highway to shut down and one large fucking party to occur. I was there, and let me tell you, it was just amazing. They played…and played…and played…it seemed like the show would never end, and no one wanted it to.
But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, and the three men went their separate ways. Chad went on to form State Radio, a Boston-based political-rock band that I love. Brad (or Braddigan, if you will) now has a solo career and travels to third-world countries surfing, spreading the word about his faith in God and writing beautiful songs about it. And Pete has launched a successful solo career, performing up and down the East Coast with his soulful, often sullen voice and heartfelt songs. While that’s all well and good, it left a hole in many hearts, including mine.
There hasn’t been a day gone by where I haven’t listened to at least one of their songs. I still talk about them like they are together and performing, and I still preach about them to anyone that will listen. I will always have their music, the DVDs they put out documenting their travels and “The Last Dispatch” (I highly recommend picking that DVD up) and the memories I have of the many shows I went to. But still, it’s not the same without them. I now know what many a Phish fan feels like, aside from the nitrous balloons and dirty feet.
As fate would have it, the dreams of many Dispatch fans would come true one more time (or three more times for some — four actually). This past weekend, the band got back together to play a benefit for the country of Zimbabwe, a cause that has been close to their hearts from day one.
A little back story: One of the more “famous” Dispatch songs is Elias, a story about a man named Elias from Zimbabwe that Chad met when he traveled there many years ago. The song talks about how life for Elias is difficult because he does not know what will happen to his children — life in Zimbabwe is scary and every day holds the threat of failure for the citizens of that country. Over the years, Chad and the rest of the band have stayed in touch with Elias and his family, and during that time, life over there has only gotten more difficult. Inflation is at 3,000 percent and growing. A loaf of bread is $10,000, and the average person doesn’t make a tenth of that in a year. And let’s not forget that the AIDS epidemic there is just enormous.
The call to help these people rang loud and clear, especially to Chad, Brad and Pete. So, what did they do? They decided to get together again and play a concert where 100 percent of the proceeds would go to Zimbabwe. The concert was scheduled for 7/14/07, and when the tickets went on sale, a few things became very apparent to Dispatch. First, one show would not be enough. The first show sold out in less than an hour. Oh, and and they didn’t sell out just any arena. They sold out Madison Square Garden! And they also didn’t just sell out one show, no, they sold out three fucking shows. At MSG!
The second thing that became apparent was that this band is as relevant today as they were five years ago, if not more. And finally, what also became apparent was that both the band and the fans could and would help Zimbabwe.
I was fortunate enough to attend the originally scheduled show for 7/14/07 with my wife and two friends, and it is a night that I will never forget.
Fifteen minutes before showtime, my friends showed up to the bar with the tickets and we made our way into the arena. The place was going crazy…people singing, smiles all around. We just knew it would be an event like none other. At about 8:15, the lights dimmed and the Garden erupted. A group of about 25 Zimbabwe natives took the stage and performed a few traditional songs, and that got everyone dancing. But when they walked off the stage, the fireworks really began.
What ensued was a 3-plus-hour-long performance that will stay in my mind as the best show I have ever been to or will ever go to. They played as if they had never broken up. Not a note was off, not a cue was missed, and the music just roared out of the speakers with reckless abandon. Here’s a little glimpse of what it looked like when they got on stage:
I danced and sang my ass off, and so did everyone else. For one night, we were all able to forget the little, annoying stuff that we think causes trouble in our lives and focus on real struggles that people in other parts of the world have. For one night we were able to come together and celebrate the music that we love, the band that has changed our lives and how there are so many things that we can do to help each other. It was truly a celebration.
If there were any more words that could describe this event, I would use them, but they are not coming to me. You really had to have been there to experience what I did, to feel what I felt, to hear and see what I did.
I don’t know if these guys will ever perform together again. And if they don’t, I am okay with that — this show left an impression that will never go away. In July 2004 we said goodbye to these guys, thinking it was the last time. But it was not. I can now only hope that the success they had this past weekend and the amount of people who showed up to see them will register in their minds that what they do is real and meaningful to a lot of people, and not just to the fans, but to the people like those in Zimbabwe and across the world.