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Emmet Swimming formed in 1991 while students at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. Emmet Swimming is Todd Watts on vocals and guitar, Luke Michel on bass, Erik Wenberg on guitars and vocals, and drummer Derrick Decker, who replaced original drummer Tamer Eid. The band named themselves after a young black boy, Emmet Till, who was shot in a small Mississippi town for whistling at a white woman and became one of the many martyrs of the American civil rights movement. "The idea of the name was basically that a 14-year-old boy should be swimming in the river, not dying in it," Watts recalled. Emmet Swimming comes from a similar collegiate culture as fellow mid-Atlantic roots rocking jam bands as Hootie and the Blowfish, Everything, and Dave Matthews Band. Like many in the genre, Emmet Swimming built their following through years of touring, especially in Washington, D.C. The band also played the H.O.R.D.E. Festival during the summer of 1998.
Emmet Swimming released their indie debut, Dark When the Snow Falls, in 1993, which was deemed Debut Album of the Year by the Washington Area Music Association. Songs from the album were featured in the films Gabriel's Dream (with R.E.M., Peter Gabriel, and They Might Be Giants) and Crimson Lights. Epic signed the group after their follow-up, Wake, sold 8,000 copies with limited distribution. It became their first major-label LP in 1996. Arlington to Boston was also released in 1996, which was followed by Big Night Without You in 1998 and the LP Earplugs 50¢ in 1999. Emmet Swimming was popular, especially with college students, for their intense live shows and their seemingly contradictory mix of upbeat music and somber lyrics. Singer Todd Watts once commented that "We've tried really hard to make the live shows kind of an emotional roller coaster, and I think that's true of the album(s) as well."
The band began a long hiatus in late 1999 and has not disbanded.