music / Columns

Jam Central Station: Dispatch

January 14, 2017 | Posted by Jeff Modzelewski

“The biggest band nobody’s ever heard of” is a pretty odd way to describe a group. But, in the case of Dispatch, it’s probably very fitting. How else would you describe a band that drew over 100,000 people to their “final” concert, sold out three nights at Madison Square Garden for a benefit, and sold out a string of dates across the country for their 2011 reunion tour, yet even most educated music fans have no idea who they are? Dispatch is a very odd case of underground and independent success that never was coupled with mainstream popularity. As such, despite their ability to sell out shows and draw fans after a lengthy hiatus and come back with a successful reunion album and tour,, Dispatch is still flying well under the radar. But they are a band worth knowing.

Throughout their college years in the early 90’s, Dispatch members Chad Urmston, Pete Heimbold, and Brad Corrigan played in a variety of bands. All three were accomplished musicians and able to play a variety of instruments, a fact that helped contribute to the unique nature of Dispatch down the road. After playing in bands such as Hermit Thrush and Woodriver Bandits, the three Dispatch members came together under the moniker One Fell Swoop. The group was odd in the fact that there was no real leader, no front man, and the members would change instruments from song to song, with different members playing guitar, bass, and percussion on different songs.

After changing their name to Dispatch, the band began to get an active following in the New England area. They had a unique folk-rock style but were unafraid to incorporate other genres into their performances. Add to that the fact that they were a college band with a sense of humor playing to a college audience that was looking for something other than what pop radio was playing, and you had a recipe for success. Their early (and, frankly, unexpected) success led the band to continue with the band after college, despite not having any label support.

The band recorded their first album, Silent Steeples in 1996, and released it independently. The album is primarily a collection of folk-rock tunes written by the band, although hints that the band were comfortable with other genres were present on the album. Even though the album was primarily an acoustic album being released at the tail end of the “grunge” era, the well-written songs and strong vocal harmonies allowed the band to appeal to a wide audience. Each member contributed songs to the album, and each took opportunities to sing lead vocals. The release of Silent Steeples helped the band expand their fan base throughout the east coast, and the band took the opportunity to expand their touring base.

The band likely could have signed to a label after the release of Silent Steeples, but chose to remain independent for their second album. Bang Bang showed a lot of growth from Silent Steeples, including using electric guitars and songs that moved very clearly away from their first album. The transition wasn’t so drastic to alienate fans, however. It was just enough to showcase the strengths of their respective members and bring in new fans. A little bit of hip hop and reggae were added over their acoustic jamming to create a new and distinct sound.

Just as the band was taking their do-it-yourself approach and avoiding signing with a major label, a new musical development was taking place, primarily on college campuses. Napster was created in 1999, and it allowed independent artists like Dispatch to have their music be immediately accessible across the country. The band was in the process of touring the country and were surprised to see that there were so many west coast fans that were not only familiar with their music but already major fans. The rise of file sharing allowed the band to grow their fan base without having to utilize the resources of a major label at all, and, unlike the major label bands, Dispatch embraced and supported the movement.

Their third album, Four-Day Trials, was another departure for the band. First off, Brad Corrigan didn’t write any songs on the album. Second, the album was again significantly heavier, with even more influences from reggae, ska, funk, and hip-hop. The band included a cover of the Beastie Boys’ “Root Down” on the album, as well as re-recordings of a pair of songs from Bang Bang.

The lack of Corrigan songs on the album and the fact that there was only collaborative song on the album highlighted some internal tension in the band. It was never that the band members didn’t enjoy working together or like each other personally. The tension came primarily from the fact that, with three strong songwriters and no real front man, each member felt a struggle to be heard. With the different directions the band was taking, there was also obvious tension from that growth. Finally, as members later stated, Dispatch was formed while the members were still in college, so, as they grew up, they were becoming different people than they were when the band formed.

Despite this tension, the band was seeing continued success. Their albums were selling very well for an independent band, their shows were getting great crowds, and they had the freedom to do whatever they wanted to as a band. Who Are We Living For was released in 2000, and was another departure for the band. Of the 17 tracks on the album, 7 were instrumentals. Also, the album had a much starker political tone than previous releases. While their musical transition was for the band was spread out over 4 albums, putting Silent Steeples next to Who Are We Living For shows just how far the band had come from their beginnings. However, since the band wasn’t relying on radio or MTV for exposure, they had no problem bringing their fans along for the journey.

The band toured worldwide for the next two years, cultivating a strong fan base. However, they were each moving in their own directions as well. Heimbold released a solo album in 2001, and the other two members also began exploring solo projects. The band announced a hiatus in 2002 for each member to pursue solo work. Heimbold and Corrigan each released solo material, while Urmston formed heavier and more politically-oriented State Radio. The band wanted to have “closure” around Dispatch, however, and scheduled one final concert in Boston in 2004. Over 100,000 fans from around the globe attended the free show. The band came back together for three benefit concerts in 2007 and one in 2009, all of which sold out in a matter of minutes.

Near the end of 2010 Dispatch’s website began releasing clues pointing to a reunion. The band confirmed a 2011 reunion tour that kicked off with a three night run at Red Rocks and included performances around the country. The released an EP in early 2011 and followed up with another tour. The band continued nurturing their side projects but Dispatch became a top priority again. They released a full studio album in 2012 and a live album in 2013. They continued to tour as well, playing amphitheaters, arenas, and festivals around the country. It’s been clear since the band came back together that not only have their fans stuck around but they’ve been able to bring in new fans who didn’t get a chance to see the band during their first run. They entered the studio again in 2016 to record a new studio album, but no release date for the album has been announced.

Dispatch is a true self-made success story. Throughout their career they have chosen to do things their way and on their terms. This has allowed them to release music and tour in ways that other bands typically aren’t able to. It’s allowed them to pursue their extensive charitable interests outside of music as well. Dispatch walked away when they wanted to and came back together when they were ready to. It’s great to see them back making music and bringing people together.

Bonnaroo announces lineup
Bonnaroo announced a very mainstream-focused lineup for 2017. U2, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and The Weeknd will headline. However, there are some nice gems for various types of jam fans. Umphrey’s McGee is on the bill and expected to fill a late nite slot. Also included are The Head and The Heart, Big Gigantic, Michael Kiwanuka, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Greensky Bluegrass, Twiddle, and Turkuaz.

Northwest String Summit announces lineup
The Northwest String Summit announced their 2017 lineup. The lineup is obviously bluegrass-focused but includes a nice variety and many acts performing multiple sets. Yonder Mountain String Band tops the list and will perform 3 shows. Other artists include Greensky Bluegrass (2 sets), Del McCoury Band, JJ Grey & Mofro, Elephant Revival (2 sets), Fruition (2 sets), Turkuaz, and many others.

String Cheese Incident announce Winter Carnival shows
The String Cheese Incident announced a run of winter shows out west. The tour features many shows in very intimate venues expected to quickly sell out.

March 3-4 Boulder, CO—Fox Theatre
March 7-8 Aspen, CO—Belly Up
March 10 Crested Butte, CO—The Eldo
March 11-12 Telluride, CO—Club Red
March 14-15 Park City, UT—Park City Live
March 17-19 Crystal Bay, NV—Crystal Bay Clu

Gov’t Mule add dates
Gov’t Mule added a handful of dates to their spring schedule. They’re also working on a new album, likely to be released as summer gets closer.

January 14–18 Runaway Bay, Jamaica – Island Exodus 8
March 3 Lake Tahoe, NV – MontBleu Resort
March 4 Las Vegas, NV – Brooklyn Bowl
March 3–5 Phoenix, AZ – McDowell Mountain Music Festival
April 20–22 Live Oak, FL – Wanee Festival
April 23 Greenville, SC – Peace Center Concert Hall
April 24 Huntsville, AL – Von Braun Center*
April 26 Memphis, TN – Minglewood Hall*
April 27 Mobile, AL – Saenger Theatre*
April 28 New Orleans, LA – Saenger Theatre^
August 24–27 Arrington, VA – Lockn’ Festival
*w/ The Record Company
^w/ Soulive

Umphrey’s McGee adds dates
Umphrey’s added to their early 2017 schedule. The band put up a run that leads into April and includes openers Big Something and Earphorik.

March 30 Milwaukee, WI – Riverside Theater*
March 31 Milwaukee, WI – Riverside Theater
April 1 Milwaukee, WI – Riverside Theater
April 19 Tulsa, OK – Cain’s Ballroom*
April 20 Austin, TX – Stubb’s*
April 21 New Orleans, LA – The Orpheum*
April 22 Dallas, TX – House of Blues*
April 26 St. Petersburg, FL – Jannus Live*
April 27 Orlando, FL – House of Blues*
April 28 Miami Beach, FL – The Fillmore*
April 29 St. Augustine, FL – St. Augustine Amphitheatre*
*w/ Earphorik
^w/ Big Something

Jam Cruise
January 20-25
Sailing from Miami, FL
The Original Meters, moe., GRiZ, Galactic, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Benevento Russo Duo, Lettuce, Kamasi Washinton, The Revivalists, The Motet, Beats Antique

Los Muertos Con Queso
January 25-28
Riviera Maya, Mexico
The String Cheese Incident, Bill Kreutzmann & Bob Weir with Dave Schools, Jeff Chimenti, and Tom Hamilton, Chris Robinson Brotherhood

Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds: Three Concerts On The Beach
February 23-25
Riviera Maya, Mexico

Winter Wondergrass Colorado
February 26-27
Steamboat, CO
Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, Elephant Revival, Infamous Stringdusters, Sam Bush Band, Fruition, Brothers Comatose, Steep Canyon Rangers, Billy Strings

Panic En La Playa
February 27-March 3
Hard Rock Hotel
Riviera Maya, Mexico
Widespread Panic, Orgone, Southern Soul Assembly, Playa All Stars

Winter Wondergrass California
March 31-April 2
Olympic Valley, CA
Greensky Bluegrass, Yonder Mountain String Band, Leftover Salmon, The Infamous Stringdusters, Sam Bush Band, Hot Buttered Rum, Fruition

Wanee Festival
April 20-22
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, FL
Bob Weir, Widespread Panic, Trey Anastasio Band, Gov’t Mule, Leftover Salmon, Blackberry Smoke, Matisyahu, JJ Grey & Mofro

Sweetwater 420 Festival
April 21-23
Centennial Park
Atlanta, GA
Widespread Panic, Trey Anastasio Band, Ween, Lettuce, Slightly Stoopid, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Anders Osborne, Dark Star Orchestra, Twiddle

Summer Camp
May 25-28
Three Sisters Park
Chillicothe, IL
moe., Umphrey’s McGee, Trey Anastasio Band, Primus, Mike Gordon, EOTO, The Floozies, The Infamous Stringdusters, Keller Williams KWahtro, The Wood Brothers, TAUK, Twiddle, The Werks

Dark Star Jubilee
May 26-28
Legend Valley
Thornville, OH
Dark Star Orchestra (x3), Greensky Bluegrass, Hot Tuna (acoustic and electric), Keller Williams and KWhatro, Rumpke Mountain Boys

Nelsonville Music Festival
June 1-4
Nelsonville, OH
Ween, Emmylou Harris, Rodriguez, Son Volt, Sara Watkins, Parquet Courts

Mountain Music Festival
June 1-3
Wonderland Mountain
New River Gorge, WV
Umphrey’s McGee, The Revivalists, Twiddle, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Big Something, Spiritual Rez, The Southern Belles

June 8-11
Manchester, TN
U2, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Weeknd, Big Gigantic, Greensky Bluegrass, Umphrey’s McGee, Turkuaz, Twiddle

Mountain Jam
June 16-18
Hunter Mountain, NY
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Steve Miller Band, Peter Frampton, Gary Clark Jr., Michael Franti & Spearhead, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Elephant Revival, Shovels & Rope, The Revivalists, The Infamous Stringdusters

Electric Forest I
June 22-25
Rothbury, MI

Electric Forest II
June 29-July 2
Rothbury, MI

High Sierra
June 29-July 2
Quincy, CA
Trey Anastasio Band, Ween, Galactic, Mike Gordon, Fruition

June 30-July 2
Turin, NY

Northwest String Summit
July 13-16
Horning’s Hideout
North Plains, OR
Yonder Mountain String Band, Greensky Bluegrass, Del McCoury Band, JJ Grey & Mofro, Elephant Revival, Fruition, Turkuaz,

Floydfest 17: Freedom
July 26-30
Floyd, VA
Michael Franti & Spearhead, St. Paul & Broken Bones, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, Shovels & Rope, Turkuaz, TUAK, Fruition

August 24-27
Arrington, VA
The Avett Brothers, Gov’t Mule, Widespread Panic, The String Cheese Incident, Umphrey’s McGee, moe, Greensky Bluegrass, John Butler Trio, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, TAUK

Thanks again for stopping by. I’ll be back next week with more jam. Until then, check me out on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute concert announcements. Until next week, Jam On!