Could Indecision have been DMB? Could the names Evans and Ibbeken have been synonymous with the C’ville music scene, instead of Dave Matthews? Could “Take It All In” have been “Ants Marching”?
Probably not, admits Indecision’s David Ibbeken. But the band, which made its debut in Charlottesville in 1984, was by most accounts a stroke of luck away from being every bit as popular as the handful of jam band staples that rose to prominence in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. The six C’ville natives, Aaron Evans (guitar and vocals), Craig Dougald (drums and vocals), Shawn McCrystal (bass), Doug Wanamaker (keys and vocals), and Chris White (acoustic guitar and vocals), in addition to Ibbeken (guitar and vocals), shared stages with the likes of Phish, Widespread Panic, and Blues Traveler, and played to houses packed with upwards of 1,000 fans.
“We were close, but we couldn’t quite get over the hump,” Ibbeken said. “We just couldn’t get some record A&R guy to put his name on us.”
Scott Johnston, the band’s manager at the time, said the near miss with national stardom was in part the band’s decision. “We had some interest, but we could never work out a deal that would help us enough financially,” he said. “It costs a fortune to stay on the road like we were.”
Getting that close to blowing up has led to a unique arrangement for the members of Indecision. Since they stopped touring full-time in 1993, they’ve managed to stick together to play a handful of shows every year. Now, they’re celebrating 30 years as a band. Ibbeken said that when Indecision takes the stage at Fridays After Five on June 27, the band will be as tight as it’s ever been.
“The music has evolved and is better now than it was 20 years ago,” he said. “We are better musicians, and we listen to more music.”
It’s been a gradual process to getting to where they are now, playing eight to 10 shows a year and practicing a couple of times a week. The band gave it up entirely for a year after the break in ’93. But a year later, Indecision played a show or two, and the next year, the fellas got together to play four or five gigs.
It’s taboo for bands to talk about making it big—or even making it at all, if “it” means anything money-related—but Ibbeken and Johnston agreed they would be lying if they said they didn’t think about what might have been.
“We definitely looked at the bands that got the big breaks, and also the bands that got smaller deals,” Johnston said. “We never quite took off, and that’s why we were out there, to get in front of people and sell millions of records.”
Ibbeken wonders if Indecision would have had a better shot if they were more inclined to write pop songs than jams, and he laments that maybe they gave things up just a bit too early, a few years before jam bands seemed to have their heyday in the mid-’90s.
These days, it’s hard not to see the jam scene as in a period of decline. Most of the biggest names out on tour have grown older, and the genre seems to absorb aging rockers better than it does new talent.
Ibbeken, who’s now senior counsel for SNL Financial’s legal department, said Indecision is happy with its place in the scene. The sextet is still writing the occasional original tune, and scoring gigs at the likes of Bonnaroo and Lockn’ gives the band something to work toward.
“We still have a good core following,” Ibbeken said. “We’re not playing as large of venues, but we still get several hundred people at every show, and with social media we are able to keep up with the old fans.” And who knows, maybe the jam scene has another good run in it. Ibbeken said he’s encouraged by the enthusiasm for bands at festivals “doing the same sort of stuff we do.”
As for the upcoming show at the nTelos Wireless Pavilion, Ibbeken said Indecision will deliver a good mix of originals and covers for the old diehards and the younger folks that make their way to Fridays After Five. Johnston said it’s an event that has a special place in the band’s heart.
“Those guys have been in C’ville for more than 40 years,” he said. “They were pretty much one of the first national bands to come out of the city. No matter where they went out and hit the road, C’ville is where they’re from.”
No, Indecision didn’t make it big. And the band isn’t playing to crowds anywhere near 1,000 anymore. The six members have day jobs, mortgages, and kids, and they’ve had to hold rehearsals partially online since McCrystal moved away to Atlanta for a medical sales job. But the band has no plans to stop what it’s doing anytime soon.
“We’re still all good friends,” Ibbeken said. “I don’t think any of us have any regrets.”
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