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Dispatch at Sea.Hear.Now Fest by Chris J. Smith

“Yeah the train skates into Port Henry - a late Sunday - aw yeah”

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Late afternoon on Sunday, September 22nd ,Dispatch took the stage at Sea Hear Now. I can fondly say, though reminiscently, that this band has been a favorite of mine since high school. I recollect their stories and lyrics like dear old friends as they helped me grow and brought me wisdom in times I couldn’t find my way. Though the band has changed (continuing on without former bassist, guitarist and vocalist Pete Francis) I still feel their authenticity and organic messages at the pit of my soul. Each song, new or old, gives me “bones like iron” and “blood like mercury” so to speak. It’s hard to describe all the feelings associated with hearing 30,000 people sing classic Dispatch tunes at the top of our lungs, but I will try to convey my experience on this day in late September.

The band opened up with a new one, “Be Gone”, which came out in 2017 on their “first” new album America, Location 12 and propelled this still-devoted outfit (though “patched” up a bit) back into fruition. It transported me to my innocent youth and being a small boy moved by the world around me. In this moment, I was just as enthralled as I ever was. “Be gone, be gone, be gone - said the little one to the bad ways” bears weight as I still feel the youthful soul burning inside me, taunting a force much vaster than I almost as if to scream “Here I am!” Although I am a bit larger now, I am still enthralled by the ways and means of people and life itself.

Then followed the summer anthem “Only the Wild Ones” which ,again, felt like a proclamation to youthful energy with just the right amount of nostalgia. There are so many amazing words in this song, but one of my favorite lyrics here is “We talked Corseau and the MC Phife” where Chadwick pays homage to two contrasting art forms of equal importance. I’ve always loved how this band can relate on so many different levels like that. They resonate in both traditional and modern capacities. The band then flowed neatly into more classics such as Bats in the Belfry (with a super back-beat, dub breakdown) and Time Served. These rockers had as much spunk and jam-infused energy as performances of old, creating the same initial reaction in me as “Gut The Van” did when introduced into my cosmos as a youngster.

Nothing topped hearing “Bang Bang” on Asbury Beach though! This is my favorite all-time Dispatch song because, as a teenager, my band used to perform this song for a few beach-goers over at Main Beach in Manasquan. Hearing it again on the same coast-line just brought forth a rush of joy and harmony for me. “Kick kick shuffle shuffle back to the beach with a tune on my lips and my quest in reach”, this phrase alone serves as a snapshot in time for me and is a window to a time I’ll always hold near and dear to my heart. There goes Dispatch again doing what they do best! They create a feeling for me similar to leafing through old photo albums and finding one of some familiar, smiling faces.

Photo by KUTX 98.9

Bradiggan got up next to perform a (very fast) Beto. Here is where I realized that, amidst their countless accomplishments as independent musicians, they were indeed the small fish here. Sandwiched between the B-52s and none other than Dave Matthews and company, the hefty weight of the stage clock began to weigh on them a bit as they tried to move through their set as efficiently as possible. Just as I was about to start pouting and jeering stagehands, the band shifted gears and entered a chilling version of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” amidst Beto. This brough Asbury to a hush and immediately justified the tempo of Beto for me.

Just as I was pondering hopping the next train to my old summer camp due to heavy nostalgia, the band fast forwarded to current Dispatch that we still know and love with “Letter to Lady J” , a refreshing sing-a-long that reminds fans old and new alike that these boys still have gas in the tank (even if they dropped a tranny in Effingham, Illinois). Driving that point home, they plummeted into a cover of Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up” as I’ve seen them do before. Considering the punk attendance of the fest for groups such as Bad Religion and Dropkick Murphys, I thought this was a solid pick. I do wish people would loosen up and put their phones down sometimes, though! The forefathers of rock and roll would be rolling in their grave to see fans live tweeting a badass concert. Anyway, it still went over well. Chad really gets props as an MC for going in on Zach de la Rocha’s verse. Not to mention, the statement of recognizing unrest in our current volatile and polarized political climate had been made well before Dispatch took the stage. Being no strangers to speaking out, the Rage cover was befitting and got the adrenaline pumping for me in the best of ways.

To close out their set, the band returned to their roots with “The General”. Over at stage left, the crowd shared an incredible moment of unity as we sang the words together. This song never gets old as its call for peace and declaration of duty are still heartfelt topics to this day. Lastly, they closed with “Elias”. Holding on to my significant other’s hand at this point in time, I gave thanks for everything around me and all the shows in the past. Maybe I didn’t always have a woman’s hand to hold, but there were always friends around me, even if we had not been formally introduced. This music brings strangers together for a common purpose. Dispatch is merely a vessel for this sensation, but they do it so authentically that it really is something to behold. Unity is just the byproduct of the realization that no matter how different we are, whether we’re from Zimbabwe or right here in Monmouth County, our similarities outweigh those differences and we are all one solitary, beating heart. So, I’ll leave you with these words of enlightenment if you feel like your path has strayed as mine once did. Stay the course and enjoy the music because everyone arrives exactly when they’re meant to. “No, we are not slow - we on a mission.”

Photo by Boston Globe

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