Dave Matthews Caravan Day 1 of 3 Live at Lakeside - Chicago, 7/8/11

Dave Matthews Caravan Day 1 of 3 Live at Lakeside - Chicago, 7/8/11

Would tens of thousands of fans be able to make it into the venue in an efficient manner using only 79th and 87th streets (the Lakeside venue sits on a parcel of land along the lakeside between 79th and 87th)?  Would a venue that has sat largely vacant and covered in debris from an old steel mill for the past twenty years even be ready for tens of thousands of concertgoers?

Amidst many questions concerning the first time venue, the Dave Matthews Caravan rolled into Chicago’s southside for day one of three on Friday.

I left from Lakeview around 2pm and hit only typical traffic downtown heading south on Lake Shore Drive.  South of Lake Shore Drive on city streets like South Shore Drive and 87th St., we experienced no delays and cruised directly into the venue’s free parking area.  Getting in couldn’t have been easier and this was a pleasant surprise.  Getting out took forever… but that’s generally to be expected at a concert of this size and attendance.

If there was anything to complain about on Friday, it was indeed the parking lots.  The lots remain strewn with tree stumps, steel debris and very large potholes that have accumulated on the grounds over the past twenty years and I watched cringing as many cars bottomed out or ran over huge pieces of debris.  Advising concertgoers to use caution while driving in the Lakeside parking lots is advice I can’t suggest strongly enough.

VIP parking was a joke.  People who paid $55 to park slightly closer to the venue found themselves further from the exits on the way out and probably had to wait hours to leave the lot.  I can’t stress enough how useless VIP parking was on Friday.  Anyone who paid for this should feel very ripped off.

That said, the festival grounds were outstanding.  For the most part, any high traffic areas were covered in wood chips, which made for easier walking (especially in comparison to the parking lots where open toed shoes can only be described as “wear at your own risk”).

The three stages are close enough to allow concertgoers the opportunity to see as many bands as possible with only a short walk between stages… but are far enough apart to prevent sound bleed over.  Sound bleed over was a big issue during the first (smaller) year of Lollapalooza as a destination festival in Chicago in 2005.  The Caravan had a good handle on this.

Concession stands and bathrooms were so plentiful that I never waited more than 2 minutes for a beverage and I literally never had to wait in a line for a bathroom.  Prices could be worse for a concert, with 12 ounce domestic beers selling for $5 (craft beers and wine are available as well).

Fans are allowed to bring two sealed bottles of water into the venue and there are water stations to refill bottles free of charge.  The line for free water however was far and away the longest line at the festival.  This line was so ridiculously long that I never bothered to enter it and opted instead to pony up $3 for a bottle of water at the concession stands.

Security was present but never overbearing which was refreshing.  And for day one, the crowd was generally well behaved which was also shocking.

So my complaints for day one are pretty much limited to the poor condition of the parking lots (which wasn’t unexpected and won’t be changing) and the insanely long line for free water amidst such warm temperatures (we’ll see if this changes but I doubt it will).

Day two should provide more logistical issues with Lake Shore Drive closed in Jackson Park for an event.  This will force the majority of concertgoers heading to the festival to do so using the Dan Ryan expressway and a three mile stretch of 87th St. between the express way and the lakefront.  Plus, with more people off of work on Saturday (as opposed to Friday) it’s likely more people will be heading to the festival early.  This could get messy.

All of that said, I remain cautiously optimistic entering day two of the Dave Matthews Caravan.

And now onto the music…

Dirty Dozen Brass Band – The New Orleans natives have been doing their thing since 1975 and they got my day started in their typically outstanding fashion.  2 trumpets, 2 saxophones, tuba, drums and guitar.  The band managed to round out their rhythm section with the tuba acting as bass.  The perfect festival party band with their unique mix of jazz and funk.

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – Easily the most disappointing live act of day one and second only to the long line for free water as biggest disappointment of the day.  They did manage to play their hit “Home” (which they dragged out for an unnecessarily long amount of time) and it sounded ok.  But between song banter that eventually denigrated to the point where the band started singing “Everybody poops…” to the tune of R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” was sophomoric, stupid, unnecessary, boring and just plain unfunny.  Simply put, they sucked.

Soulive – This three-piece instrumental unit (organ, guitar, drums) was an unexpected highlight of day one.  These three guys managed to put together an impressive wall of sound that was perfect as they launched into several Beatle covers including an organ drenched version of "Eleanor Rigby."

The Drive-By Truckers – Ray LaMontagne and O.A.R. were playing at the same time on the other two stages (I’ve seen O.A.R. twice and find LaMontagne a bit boring).  So I chose to skip both of those sets altogether in order to obtain an optimum viewing location for The DBT’s.  As is generally the case in the live setting, the band’s three guitar assault on the ears didn’t dissapoint with pedal steel a welcome addition to day one.  Opening with “Lookout Mountain” from 2004’s The Dirty South, the band set the tone for what was going to be without a doubt the loudest set of the afternoon and maybe of the entire weekend.  With Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley trading lead vocal duties (even bassist Shonna Tucker sang an intoxicated lead on one track), the band tore through a Jack Daniels infused set of their hard rock meets country take on heart-on-the-sleeve southern rock and for me was the best set of the day.

Dave Matthews Band – The band (featuring Tim Reynolds on guitar) mixed newer hits like “You & Me” and “Funny the Way it Is” from 2009′s Big Whiskey &  The GrooGrux King (for my money, the band’s strongest album since 2002′s Busted Stuff) with older ones like “What Would You Say?” (pretty sure that in five concerts, this is the first time I’ve personally seen them perform that) and set closer “Stay (Wasting Time).”  The band’s revamped brass section allowed the newer material to sparkle.  The band was jovial and even offered their take on Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times, Bad Times” and Prince’s “Sexy Mother Fucker.”  People say many things about the Dave Matthews Band, bad and good.  But they’ve always been a steady live act and night one of the Dave Matthews Caravan at Lakeside was no exception.

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