Crusted stuff: Under the bridge and screaming

The stink over an alleged sewage dump by a DMB tour bus continues to spread. On August 24, the state of Illinois filed a civil suit to the tune of $70,000 against the Dave Matthews Band for allegedly dumping 800 pounds of human waste onto a boat carrying over a hundred tourists.

The complaint, filed after a two-week investigation by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, blames both the band and driver Stefan A. Whol for water pollution, discharge of a contaminant into a waterway, and creating a public nuisance.

There were no major injuries as a result of the August 8 incident at Chicago's Kinzie Street Bridge, but two thirds of the boat's passengers were reportedly covered with what authorities described as a yellow-and-brown liquid.

"I feel like I'm in a bad Ben Stiller movie," wrote Chicago Tribune reporter Brett McNeil, who was one of the unfortunate passengers on the popular $25 tour run by the Chicago Architectural Foundation. McNeil witnessed passengers vomiting; and while no injuries were reported, some of the boat riders were taken to a nearby hospital for tests.

The ensuing scandal has proven to be particularly ironic considering the group's reputed social conscience. Their Bama Works charity foundation counts Greenpeace, The World Wildlife Fund, the American Oceans Campaign, and even an organization called Clean Virginia Waterways among its many beneficiaries.

Each member of the five-man, Charlottesville-based band rides from gig to gig in his own luxury motorcoach. Initially, the Band insisted that all five buses had been parked at a hotel at the time of the dump. One implicated bus driver even found a police officer to check his septic tank. However, police now say that a surveillance video indicates that another bus, fiddler Boyd Tinsley's ride, was the source of the effluent.

"Certainly, this is the bus that discharged this fluid," officer Michael Chasen was quoted in the Chicago Sun-Times, which reports that Chicago Mayor Richard Daley is encouraging police to consider criminal charges.

The bridge has a metal mesh surface, and according to the attorney general's complaint, emptying the bus's waste collection tank can be accomplished in under two minutes simply by flipping a toggle switch near the driver's seat. Still, the band won't pass judgment.

"Our driver has stated that he was not involved in this incident," said DMB publicist John Vlautin, in a statement issued shortly after the incident.

"We're dying to look at this tape," Vlautin was quoted in the Sun-Times. He also added that the band "will continue to be cooperative in this investigation." The band members kicked things off by offering to donate DNA samples to compare with that found in the fecal matter. The offer was declined.

Since the incident, detractors have begun cracking jokes about how they typically only have to pay $14.99 to get Dave's crap in their ears– as well as pointing out lyrical ironies, such as "Don't Drink the Water." Band supporters, meanwhile, are touting algebraic proofs demonstrating the difficulty of dumping so much fecal matter through such a short bridge.

"Dave's always talking about poop between songs," says Laura Crandall-Bohl, a UVA student who has attended no less than 15 of the band's concerts. "He's always talking about the poop he hid his weed in as he was crossing the border, or something like that." [See Essay, page 79].

Dave Matthews

Boyd Tinsley