Lessons learned tonight: Apparently a cover band can awesome enough to turn me into a real fan of a band I’ve never particularly followed or been interested in before. This is not the experience I was expecting from this show, but I will certainly take it. I am now 100% a fan of the Dave Matthews Band. Opening up the night was some locally-grown entertainment with the Neil Van Dorn Band. These guys showed off their impressive musical chops with a mix of impressive original tunes, including a few songs from their in-progress sophomore album, and some beautifully grooved-up covers, highlighted by takes on the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Black Balloons” and Nelly’s “Ride Wit Me” (both songs I legitimately haven’t heard in 5+ years and still apparently know all of the words to). Guitarist Tommy Mac (proudly rocking a Megadeath shirt at a jam-band show) was a human highlight reel for most of the set, ripping off epic solo after epic solo and adding some serious edge to an otherwise laid-back set. Between Mac’s rock star skill, Van Dorn’s charisma and songwriting prowess, and the rest of the band’s ability to play just about any style and play it well, these guys are full of reasons to check them out and keep an eye on them as they continue to develop their sound and make new music. Due to my very limited knowledge of the Dave Matthews Band, I really can’t attest to how good Big Eyed Phish is as a cover band, but based off of the three songs I did know going in (for the record, “Ants Marching,” “What Would You Say,” and “Crash Into Me”) and how ridiculously hyped the crowd was for most of the show, it’s probably safe to say that they are quite good at what they do. They said repeatedly that they were just a bunch of massive Dave Matthews fans, and they played with the energy of a bunch of guys who obviously loved what they were doing. They did jam bands everywhere proud to, with frequent extended solos, jam breaks, and songs that went on for a loooong time but never really seemed to drag. My one complaint about the show as a whole was that the set didn’t quite sustain the same aversion to dragging that the songs did. These guys went for almost 3 hours, and the crowd was fading pretty hard for the last 30 minutes or so. Even though the guys on stage were still going strong, it’s difficult for any band to keep a crowd going hard after even 2 hours. Honestly, Bruce Springsteen should probably be the only active artist that plays a show that lasts for that long. I do appreciate the effort it took for Big Eyed Phish to put on this long of a show though. In any case, I’m now sold on DMB and will probably dig through their whole catalog in the next week or so, and it’s all thanks to the incredible effort of a bunch of very talented, very dedicated fans.