Dave Matthews on His Board Game & Feeling 'Guilty About Success'

ISSUE 9 2019 - DO NOT REUSE
Ronnie Dennis
Matthews (left) with Calhoun, who holds two books in the Chickapig franchise.

Before Dave Matthews went on to sell 36.8 million albums in the United States (according to Nielsen Music), he bartended and waited tables, delivered milk for his uncle and created illustrations in pamphlets for local doctors’ offices. “Sometimes I feel guilty about success, like I could have ended up on the side of the road with a cardboard sign,” he says now. “That’s still a possibility, if I play my cards right.” An unlikely one, though. Dave Matthews Band kicks off a North American summer tour on April 30, and offstage, Matthews, 52, is seeing through his investment in a board game called Chickapig that launched on Kickstarter in 2016 and just hit the shelves at 1,850 Target stores.

The chess-like game, which features pooping cows and chicken-pig hybrid game pieces, was dreamed up by Virginia-based luthier Brian Calhoun, a friend of Matthews’ who has made guitars for artists including Keith Urban. Though most board game manufacturers typically bring an idea to market in a matter of months, Chickapig started out “like a band,” says Calhoun, 39. “We’d get a core group of friends and fans together to play the game, and it grew from there.” Game nights with 100 people in Calhoun’s town of Charlottesville, Va., allowed him to organically gauge the strengths and weaknesses of the game, which was originally purchasable online. “By the time we started talking about bringing the game to a larger audience, we had four years of figuring out every detail,” he says, right down to the thickness of the wooden pieces.

Amazon orders packaged from Calhoun’s living room eventually caught the attention of Buffalo Games, a licensing company that has collaborated with Disney, Coca-Cola and Star Wars and is now instrumental in Chickapig’s growth. “The one place where I’ve come in handy,” says Matthews, “is encouraging Brian not to stand frozen in the doorway. That you have to take a couple of chances, maybe swallow a couple of unpaid credit card debts, in order to move something further down the road.” As the game morphs into a broader franchise that spans children’s books and stuffed animals, both Matthews and Calhoun are poised for a payback.    

This article originally appeared in the April 13 issue of Billboard.