New Year's Dave: Solo, shopping, snagging awards

It was only a matter of time. Dave Matthews is going solo on tour, at least.

Matthews isn't digging a grave for his band, just dropping the "B" from DMB for a series of as-yet-unreleased 2003 tour dates.

But don't look for "DM" plucking his Taylor-made guitar at the small smoky venues some stars select for such outings. Matthews' management is auctioning off Dave's performances to colleges only, eBay-style, asking a rumored minimum bid of $50,000 for a solo show.

Clear Channel Entertainment (the nation's largest concert promoter) is offering at least 15 solo Matthews shows for March and April at college venues that hold at least 2,000 people.

This departure is likely largely Dave's doing, as Matthews seems to have been testing the solo waters recently with a slew of (mostly benefit) performances and an appearance on NBC's "Elvis Lives" tribute program, where he performed a rendition of Presley's "Stuck On You."

The shows will probably yield a live solo album, perhaps to the chagrin of his bandmates. Figures for tour revenues (including the band's brief jaunt this month) are among the highest in the country, so none of the group should be moaning about the year's receipts.

Planet Dave: More than a million DMB fans can't be wrong. The Dave Matthews Band was the #5 grossing concert attraction for 2002 with $60.1 million, even with their average ticket a relative bargain at just $39.84. The group was also the most popular in terms of number of tickets sold, with more than 1.5 million fans paying to see their 77 shows.

And the winner is... You won't find the socially conscious Dave Matthews Band following Sean Penn to Iraq (though Dave did join a campaign by celebrity opposition dubbed Artists United to Win Without War), but the charity-minded group has aligned itself with causes closer to home.

Last month the band received the 2002 Missions in Music Award from the Environmental Media Association for its "One Sweet Whirled" campaign, based on its collaboration with Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream and the eponymous flavor. Matthews performed "One Sweet World," "Where Are You Going?" and "Gravedigger" at the Los Angeles ceremony in late November.

The Grammies may have dissed The Dave in favor of U2 last year, but DMB are still darlings of contemporary music channel VH-1. For DMB, December meant trophy time at VH-1, in a re-vamped music awards show dubbed "Big in 2002" on December 4. DMB took home a live show performance award, "Taking It to the Stage," trampling such competition as Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen.

Shopping around: It's no secret in the cutthroat music business that DMB may be a huge success (and moneymaker) for its parent label, RCA, but the band has yet to crack a lucrative worldwide market. The band wrote off its 2001 European tour to post 9/11 turmoil. Matthews played a solo London gig (supported by a weak "Who's Dave Matthews?" campaign and an in-store performance at a Virgin Records mega store), but both DMB and RCA are twitching at the band's inability to "make it" outside the continental United States.

The finger-pointing has continued for years RCA does little to promote the band overseas; DMB has yet to produce a song that moves a fickle European audience. While the band remains committed to the company for two more albums, DMB management appears to be seeking a more aggressive label for both its own recordings and those of the artists signed to ATO Records, Matthews' boutique RCA imprint. Dangling its breakout success, David Gray, as the carrot, DMB management is reportedly seeking a $6 million, three-record deal for ATO, with the possibility of a contract buyout that would include DMB.

Chart action: The band's latest live album, recorded in the summer of 2001 in Boulder, Colorado, and released in early November, made a strong (if brief) debut on the Billboard charts in the top 10, but as of press time has taken a massive dive to No. 81. It's been certified as a gold record (500,000 sold). Meanwhile, Busted Stuff, while certified twice platinum, sits at No. 98 on the industry bible's top-100 chart.

Gorge yourself: As reported here and elsewhere, DMB's Gorge (Washington) September 6-8, 2002 performances can be seen on the cable satellite channel Music Choice in an hour-long special. No schedule has been set, but the Gorge shows are likely to be repeated on the network. Promotional spots for the show are said to be airing on VH-1, MTV, and the E! networks.

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