Ben Alper has been a solo musician gigging around town for years. But about four years ago, he hit on a new idea, after putting together a Dave Matthews Band tribute for a show with local musician Gene Stovall's one-off Earth, Wind and Fire tribute.
"I want to say we had at least 200 people at Hard Rock Café for that show," Alper says. "And I'm looking around, thinking, 'This is how you get people out [to shows]!'"
One Sweet Burgh, the band Alper formed, had some lineup changes after that initial show, but in the past year has begun to develop a more permanent roster. (Violinist Anton Smirnov, for one, came on late and didn't know any Dave Matthews when he auditioned. Now, Alper says, he keeps in touch with DMB violinist Boyd Tinsley.)
This weekend, the group celebrates the 20th anniversary of Under the Table and Dreaming, DMB's ticket to the big-time. One Sweet Burgh will play the album in its entirety, in order, at its show Friday night at Mr. Small's.
"Twenty years ago, I was a freshman in high school, catching rides to JV soccer practice from the upperclassmen," Alper recalls. "My buddy pops in this CD and I hear 'What Would You Say,' and until that point, I'd never heard an acoustic guitar played that way."
"Teaching myself how to play [Matthews'] songs," he adds, "it's kind of like what they say about New York City: If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. If you can play a Dave Matthews riff and sing over top of it, you can pretty much play and sing anything."
As for those who have a distaste for the sometimes divisive artist?
"I find that most times, it's not about the music as much as who's listening to the music," he explains. "You hear, 'Oh, a Dave Matthews concert, it's all frat boys.' If you go to a concert to people-watch, fine, but I go for the music. For me, the music is always entertaining; it always makes me feel good to listen to and take part in."