Nobody, including Dispatch itself, expected to draw a large crowd at its 2004 farewell show. Guesstimates ranged from 5,000 to 30,000.
Instead, fans from as far away as Italy, Portugal, South Africa and Australia flew into Boston for the July 31st performance at the Hatch Shell. Police had to close off Storrow Drive when as many as 110,000 showed up. If the estimate is accurate, the event drew more people that year than Coachella or Bonnaroo.
Even if the number is fudged, a band like this can certainly fill up an evening at Madison Square Garden, and it intends to when Dispatch re-forms July 14th. The band wants to raise awareness of the atrocities in Zimbabwe.
Underneath the band’s noble efforts is a question that unifies most people in the music business: Who the hell is Dispatch? It was never signed, has one television appearance in its eight-year history ("Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn") and had dismissive radio play.
Even when Dispatch hired a publicist to announce the final show, major media outlets would not sniff. Yet, the band will be the first unsigned band with no radio play to ever headline the Garden.
The charity event is important to the Caucasian trio; each member has connections to Africa. Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe is making a push to become president for life, postponing the 2008 presidential election. This has reportedly set off a series of events that has led to extreme poverty, famine and human rights abuses.
MSG talent buyer Melissa Miller Ormond told Pollstar that it was no great shakes to book Dispatch. In fact, the Garden sought the band, which was considering other venues, and offered Dispatch an aggressive marketing plan.
"They’ve played a lot of venues in the New York City area – Irving, Roseland. I think this is one of the 10 largest markets for them in the country, so we know who they are," she said. "I think they tend to do better on the East Coast, for whatever reason, but they have some huge markets on the West Coast, too, like Los Angeles and Denver."
For all of the fumbles the music business must have made with Dispatch, the band still had plenty of success. It sold out two nights at Bank of America Pavilion, a night at Central Park SummerStage in New York, the City Lights Pavilion in Denver and two nights at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston.
"Whenever anyone asks me how the Dispatch phenomenon happened, I’d attribute a huge portion to the early days of Napster," band manager Steve Bursky told Pollstar.
Napster founder Shawn Fanning was a huge fan, Bursky said. In fact, when Fanning testified in front of Congress in 2000, Dispatch sat behind him and, later that evening, hosted a benefit show for the file-trading network.
Meanwhile, promoters like Sam Kinken, Geoff Gordon, Andrew Stahl and Seth Hurwitz supported the band and helped raise its profile, the manager said. The upcoming show will be promoted by Bowery Presents and its boss, Delsener-Slater vet Jim Glancy, who worked with the band in the lean years.
"It kind of makes you wonder where they would be if they had followed a traditional path and continued to perform and record," Glancy told Pollstar. "But that’s what’s so exciting about the project: They’re not doing it for the reasons most people in the music business do things – i.e., sell some more tickets or records or because their egos need it. They’re coming together for something they’re passionate about and for something that’s not on people’s radar."
The show was expected to be announced January 5th, with little traditional fanfare but with a lot of hoopla on MySpace.
"There’s no paid radio, there’s no paid print advertising, there’s no paid television because of who the band is and the success they’ve had over the years," Glancy said. "It’s launched through the street and virally. Let the fans’ passion work on its own.
"Quite frankly, looking forward with a lot of bands, when it works we’ll use this as a template for other artists. Let’s spend money on new ways to reach people who are 16 to 25 who may not be buying tickets or hearing about concerts the way the industry has informed people in the last four years."
For promoters and facility operators reading this article and speculating on a Dispatch reunion tour, the answer is quite likely a discouraging one. Bursky said the band has moved on to individual projects, are happy with their legacy, and there is no talk of anything beyond the MSG gig.
"[Bursky] and the guys in the band are the people to talk to about that," Glancy said. "As a promoter, I’d love to see them out there working on a regular basis but it’s one of those things where, if it happened, I’d be thrilled but I don’t have that expectation."