Dave Matthews Band Caravan: Chicago's answer to Burning Man

July 11, 2011

To get to the Dave Matthews Band Caravan, you had to travel far. Not just to the South Side, where most, if not all, of attendees of the festival did not live, but east of the Red Line stop at 87th Street east. The CTA supplied shuttle buses that appeared to be constantly running. The DMBC organizers claimed the site was only three miles from the "L", but it certainly felt further; once you were past the typical outer regions of Chicago, the former site of a steel mill felt like a no-man's land, entirely sequestered from the city and neighborhood it calls home.

So sequestered, in fact, that the DMB fans seemed more at home in this setting than one would have thought thousands of white, middle class individuals flocking to the South Side would have. The site provided plenty of room for picnicking, hula hooping and dancing.

There was but one notable reference to both Chicago history and the complex race relations this city (and site) has weathered, during Emmylou Harris' Sunday afternoon set. She sang her song "My Name Was Emmett Till", about Emmett Till, a black Chicagoan visiting Mississippi who was murdered in 1955 for flirting with a white woman. Till's death is considered one of the touchstones of the Civil Rights Movement, and Harris' song tells the story from his perspective. "We have an extraordinary man as president of our country, and he just happens to be black, so we've come a long way," Harris said, who also remembered her first time performing in Chicago with Gram Parsons during the 1970s fondly.

But someone forgot to tell Harris that this wasn't Chicago; it felt more like some sort of California desert, except one that was equipped to hold thousands of people who had come prepared for the exodus, carrying fold-able chairs, blankets, and refillable water bottles, not to mention illicit 12-packs of beer. Somewhere in between the commitment required to attend a festival like Coachella or Bonnaroo and the smack-dab-in-the-middle-of-downtown efficiency of Lollapalooza, the DMB Caravan was full of people floating in some magical land where time and place simply didn't matter. That is, until the last shuttle left for the Red Line at the end of the night.

Photos and text by Kate Dries and Meghan Power.