Dispatch: The Road Well-Traveled
Bonnaroo 2012 photo by John Patrick Gatta
Even by grassroots standards, Dispatch had a unique career arc. Chad Stokes, Pete Francis and Brad Corrigan formed One Fell Swoop as undergrads at Vermont’s Middlebury College in the mid ‘90s, around the time when the last wave of alternative rock kissed the jam, acoustic folk and ska sounds that ruled independent rock during the second half of the decade.
Initially, One Fell Swoop was largely an acoustic outfit but after an early reviewer referred to them as the Indio Boys, the members of the band quickly plugged in. Though they were all guitarists, Corrigan learned drums to fill out their electric sound and the group made a conscious effort to switch up their instruments as well as their styles between songs. From the beginning, each member of the band was a distinct individual and capable frontman, which worked in their favor when they were getting along—and sped up their demise when they weren’t.
“Pete has always been a poet at heart and driven by lyrical imagery,” Stokes says. “Chad was at the other end of the spectrum,” Corrigan adds. “He’s got this wild imagination and wrote from rock to reggae to folk to blues to Latin music.”
Eventually renaming themselves Dispatch, the trio made their name playing sweaty, beer-soaked shows at Northeast colleges and prep schools as well as jam-friendly clubs like New York’s Wetlands Preserve. After a few years of grassroots success, they exploded around the new millennium as Napster and other early social media and file-sharing sites started to rule college campuses.
Without a record label or support of a major management team, Dispatch became something of a generational unifier from coast-to-coast while they were still largely playing small clubs around the Northeast.
“In the beginning, it was so un-self-conscious,” Stokes reminisces of the band’s early days. “You have no idea what you are doing, but you are doing it because you love it. I don’t think we had a collective vision.”
But just as the band started graduating from 500-1,000 person clubs, various fissures began to fracture the band’s foundation: Corrigan was frustrated about being regulated to the drums; the band faced increased pressure to sign a major label deal; all three musicians wanted to record more of their own songs; the members’ individual writing styles were moving in vastly different directions; years of club gigs were wearing on the band’s friendship; and the only thing they could all agree on is that the music had stalled.
“That the amount of touring and being attached at the hip makes you pretty close and then there was a pivot point,” Stokes says. “Things were coming to a head right on our last tour in 2001. It felt like our hearts weren’t in it anymore.”
Corrigan concurs: “You go through so many highs and lows together that you figure out how to cope, but at a point, the tension is unhealthy if you’re just so freakin’ exhausted that you don’t know how to deal with it. You don’t know how to face it head on.”
After playing their biggest headlining show to that point—a gig at Denver, Colo.’s City Lights Pavillion that drew 10,000 people—and making their national TV debut, the band went on indefinite hiatus in mid-2002. They reconvened for one final blowout in 2004: an intimate warm-up show for a massive free event at Boston’s Hatch Shell that reportedly drew more than 100,000 people and closed the Storrow Drive cross-town expressway.
“It would have been really nice—honestly—to make some money back in the early days, but we would’ve been prostituting ourselves because we were frickin’ miserable,” Corrigan admits.
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