Come January, we’ll learn whether or not Seattle will bolster its ranks in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Western Washington is already well represented in the Cleveland-based rock temple, and the class of 2020 could secure hometown heroes Soundgarden and Dave Matthews Band a place among the music legends.
The local stars are two of the 16 nominees being considered for induction at the May 2, 2020 ceremony — the roster also includes Whitney Houston, The Notorious B.I.G., Depeche Mode, The Doobie Brothers, Judas Priest and Nine Inch Nails. Each year, a voting body of roughly 1,000 industry folks and rock historians will select a handful of artists to enshrine, with an online fan poll open through Jan. 10 counting as one ballot.
After weighing the case for and against Soundgarden earlier, we turn our focus to Dave Matthews Band. While the jam-pop troubadours formed in Virginia, main man Matthews has called Seattle home for years, turning up at local charity gigs and holding court at the Gorge Amphitheatre every Labor Day weekend. Does the touring behemoth that crashed into the mainstream 25 years ago have what it takes to get into the Rock Hall? Let’s take a look.
The case for Dave Matthews Band
While the grunge era was waning, the cult of Dave was expanding, one CD wallet at a time. Equal parts coffeehouse singer-songwriter and bluegrass-y jam-pop bandleader, Matthews’ run of ’90s hits like “Ants Marching” and “Crash Into Me” are as evocative of the era as Ross Geller whining about Rachel’s new beau at Central Perk. And they hold up as well as “Friends” reruns.
With a cast of ace musicians, the band earned a die-hard following through jammy live shows, becoming the highest-grossing touring act of the 2000s, beating out the Rolling Stones, U2 and Madonna. That rabid following has also propelled Dave to the top of the Rock Hall fan vote, as of this writing, which should send a message to the industry folks and rock historians selecting the handful of inductees.
The adopted Seattleite has racked up seven straight No. 1 albums, an impressive streak that ironically doesn’t include the two ’90s records that made him a household name (“Under the Table and Dreaming” and “Crash”). Chart success isn’t an explicit criterion, but consider this: According to Billboard, only two rock bands have notched more than DMB’s 16 (!) Top 10 albums — the Beatles (32) and the Rolling Stones (37).
A compelling folk singer with a rich voice, Matthews shines in his intimate acoustic mode as well as in funky, full-band hoedowns.
The case against Dave Matthews Band
While still a massive star and touring draw, DMB’s music hasn’t made much of a splash outside its hardcore fan base in two decades. Rock Hall voters haven’t been moved by acts with huge cult followings that operate on the mainstream’s periphery, with bands like Phish and Iron Maiden infamously sidelined.
Dave’s time in the pop spotlight should be big enough to overcome that, but arguing the significance of the band’s influence is an uphill battle. Sure, without Dave Matthews Band, there might not be a John Mayer or Jason Mraz but, like, that’d be fine.
With the demeanor of a neighbor who would lend you the nicest tool in his garage, no questions asked, Matthews is one of the more likable personalities in pop music. Yet poor Dave’s taken his share of lumps from too-cool critics, fairly or unfairly, due in part to his fans’ golf-shirts-gone-wild reputation. The musicianship is unquestioned, but DMB’s songs are often dismissed as “safe” or “bland.” Does ol’ Dave deserve a piece of Rock Hall real estate just a few doors down from Ziggy freakin’ Stardust? Matthews himself doesn’t seem too sure but, oh hey, thanks for the pressure washer, buddy.
Ultimately, DMB feels too big, too enduring to keep out. But before booking the after-party at the Gorge, consider that Dave is hardly a shoo-in like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and 2Pac in recent years.
Bands formed in the ’80s and ’90s have had a tougher time cracking the voting bloc‘s old guard, and while that will inevitably change, the floodgates may not open this year. Whitney Houston’s hit parade can’t be denied, Soundgarden has an emotional thrust and there’s a strong case for The Notorious B.I.G., especially as the committee slowly warms on hip-hop and as incoming chairman John Sykes has pledged to increase diversity in the Hall’s ranks.
Or maybe, just maybe, this is the year Nine Inch Nails finally gets over the hump. The Rock Hall hasn’t been inclined to select more than two or three younger acts per class. Will DMB make the cut? If not this year, eventually it should.