On May 11, 1991, the Dave Matthews Band played its first official gig at a warehouse on South Street in downtown Charlottesville.
On May 7, the band, which has sold more than 30 million records worldwide in the quarter-century since that first show, will celebrate its silver anniversary in a much larger venue just a few miles away, with a special benefit concert at the John Paul Jones Arena at the University of Virginia.
Tickets for the benefit concert go on sale Friday. All net proceeds, expected to total more than $1 million, will be donated to Charlottesville-area charities through the band’s Bama Works Fund, established in 1999 in partnership with the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation. Since then, the band has donated a portion of every ticket sold at every concert, providing more than 1,300 grants and $40 million to area organizations.
All of the band’s founding members trace their roots back to Charlottesville, whether they grew up in the area or played at local music venues. When asked on Facebook when they first saw the band play, many UVA alumni recalled seeing performances around Grounds or encountering singer-songwriter Dave Matthews at local hotspots like Miller’s on the Downtown Mall, where Matthews worked as a bartender before starting the band.
It was at Miller’s that John D’earth, the director of UVA’s jazz performance program and a longtime fixture on the Charlottesville music scene, first met Matthews, who tended bar during many of D’earth’s performances. The two became friends and, after dinner one evening, D’earth and his wife, fellow musician Dawn Thompson, finally heard Matthews sing.
“I got goosebumps, frankly,” D’earth said. “I thought it was great.”
That night, D’earth told Matthews that he should start a band. In the months that followed, that’s exactly what Matthews did.
Founding members of Dave Matthews Band include violinist Boyd Tinsley, who studied American history at UVA; drummer and vocalist Carter Beauford; bassist Stefan Lessard; and the late saxonphonist LeRoi Moore.
D’earth knew these musicians from their performances around Charlottesville. Matthews and Beauford had collaborated with D’earth and his wife on songs for the couple’s band, Cosmology. Lessard was 16 and a student in D’earth’s music class at the Tandem Friends School when he joined the band.
The band gained fame around Charlottesville in the early 1990s, giving concerts for various student organizations at UVA and during regular nights at local music venues like Trax, a now-defunct nightclub on West Main Street. Their popularity grew exponentially, among UVA students, Charlottesville locals and, increasingly, fans around the U.S.
That popularity has translated into eight studio albums that have garnered numerous award nominations and a 1997 Grammy win, as well as more than 2,500 live shows around the country and around the world.
Today, D’earth remains as impressed with the band’s music as he was when he first heard Matthews sing 25 years ago.
“Dave Matthews Band is really a phenomenon, in that it has had such a long life and avoided musical boredom,” D’earth said. “That longevity, with spirit, is a huge achievement.”
Even while traveling the world, Dave Matthews Band has maintained its presence in Charlottesville. The band regularly returns to the area for concerts, and individual members are often active in local projects. Current members also include saxophonist Jeff Coffin, trumpeter Rashawn Ross and guitarist Tim Reynolds.
Tinsley returned to UVA to speak at Valedictory Exercises in 2007, more than 20 years after his own graduation in 1986. He was also honored with a Founding Cville award during last year’s Tom Tom Festival, a festival held in partnership with UVA to celebrate music, arts and innovation in Charlottesville. Tinsley will return to participate in a concert at this year’s festival, taking place April 11 through 17.
May’s benefit concert will kick off the band’s summer tour, which will take them to 36 cities across the U.S. General admission tickets for the concert will go on sale Friday at 10 a.m. in person at the John Paul Jones Arena box office, by phone at 1-888-JPJ-TIXS and online at www.ticketmaster.com.