On September 24, 2003, the Dave Matthews Band rocked Central Park in New York City with a free concert. 100,000 plus people were treated to the historical "Party in the Park".

"It's nice to run into you in the park here the greatest park in the world in the middle of the greatest city in the world," Dave Matthews said to the crowd of 100,000 fans near the beginning of his band's Sept. 24 set. "My mind is blown."

There's no better concert than one in which the band members are as excited to be playing as the fans are to be hearing them. The AOL Concert for Schools, featuring the Dave Matthews Band in Central Park, was one of those concerts. The Dave Matthews Band, known for its unique fusion of rock, jazz, funk and folk, closed out a whirlwind summer tour of the country with a free concert at the venue made famous by Simon and Garfunkel in their legendary 1981 concert. The concert, which raised over $2 million for New York City's Fund for Public Schools and Charlottesville, Virginia's Music Resource Center, was both a financial and musical success.

The setlist featured a long series of fan favorites, mainly from the band's first three studio albums, that stretched over three hours, making the concert the tour's longest show. Though the setlist was undoubtedly noteworthy, it was not the list of songs so much as the atmosphere that made this concert one for the books.

The band's enthusiasm about playing in Central Park was evident in the energy they poured into each song and in Matthews' cheerful comments during and in between songs. Matthews, known for improvising during concerts, referenced Central Park or New York City in nearly every song, drawing cheers from the crowd of New Yorkers and non-New Yorkers alike. Although there were some technical and logistical problems early on the sound was badly adjusted for the first few songs, making it difficult to hear the vocals, and the crowd was so large that some people did not get into the park until midway through the set the general attitude seemed to overwhelmingly positive. Somehow, in a crowd of 100,000 strangers everyone seemed to get along, and the night was marked not by pushing or yelling but by dancing and smiling. It was amazing to see such a huge mass of people, all brought together by a common love of music, crowded together but happily singing along to every song and marveling at every jam.

Central Park seemed to be the perfect setting for a concert, and the band apparently agrees. An official live CD and DVD of the concert is slated to be released November 11.

The first highlight of the 20-song set was "Dancing Nancies," complete with an improvised introduction and specialized lyrics: "Could I have been a millionaire up there on 5th Avenue? Could I have been lost late at night somewhere in Central Park?" A few songs later came "Two Step," a phenomenal 19-minute version with solos from each band member: guitarist Matthews, bassist Stefan Lessard, violinist Boyd Tinsley, saxophonist LeRoi Moore, drummer Carter Beauford and guest keyboardist Butch Taylor.

Soon after came the surprise of the night: a guest appearance from Warren Haynes, guitarist for blues/jazz/funk band Gov't Mule. Haynes, sharing vocal duties with Matthews on an amazing cover of Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer," added a memorable guitar solo to the ballad, only performed nine times by the band in its 12 year history. Haynes also guested on the next song, "Jimi Thing," which was the climax of the concert, featuring 16 minutes of singing, jamming, improvised scatting from Matthews and an interpolation of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" that had the whole crowd joining in to sing, "Stop, baby, what's that sound? Everybody look what's going down."

The night was enjoyable for both casual fans and more ardent followers; the set included such familiar radio hits as "Crush," "What Would You Say" and "Where Are You Going?" as well as less widely known fan favorites such as "Help Myself," "Granny" and "Warehouse." The band closed out the set with a rousing, energetic cover of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," then continued to please with a rare three-song encore, ending with the upbeat sing-along "Stay." As Matthews belted out the words to his final song: "from a good day into the moonlight, now a night so fine makes us wanna stay for while," most in Central Park agreed; indeed it did.
(Source: Laura Boyle, Princetonian Contributor)