Tuesday, August 21, 2018
August 21, 2018: Contextualizing Cville: Dave Matthews
[Last week my sons and I returned to my hometown of Charlottesville, pretty much exactly a year after the white supremacist/neo-nazi rallies there last August (which took place on the day we arrived in town last summer, because apparently that’s just life as an AmericanStudier these days). So this week I wanted to AmericanStudy a few contexts for this exemplary American city’s unfolding histories, leading up to a special weekend post reflecting on where we are in August 2018.]
On two different ways to AmericanStudy a local and global legend.
Before he was the leader of the most successful North American touring band of the 1990s, Dave Matthews was a Charlottesville story through and through. Having moved to town in 1986, at the age of 19, to join his mother, Matthews spent the next five years meeting and performing with local musicians and artists, including his first public performances, first paid performance, and even his first band, the speed metal group Devastator. In 1991 he formed the Dave Matthews Band with a group of fellow local musicians, and they performed publicly for the first time on March 14th at Trax, probably Charlottesville’s most prominent club and venue. It took another two years for the band to release its first album, Remember Two Things (1993)—but the rest, again, is history, and some of the most prominent musical history of the subsequent two decades.
One interesting way to AmericanStudy Matthews and his Band, then, is to consider the complex relationships between place and art. There seems to be no question that Matthews is the artistic and creative leader of the group, and by the time he moved to Cville his identity had been forged from a variety of places and influences, including his native South Africa, upstate New York, and even England. So did Charlottesville simply offer Matthews opportunities to hone and then share his work and talents, and would any other blossoming music scene have done the same? If we tell the story that way, we seem to be leaving out not only the many local artists who influenced Matthews over his first five years in town, but also and most importantly the group of musicians—many native Charlottesvillians, and all more fully local than Matthews—with whom he formed the Band. So perhaps it’s most accurate to say that Matthews’ story reflects what happens when an individual talent finds himself in a community full of talent, when one story intersects with a place full of them, and the art that follows from those encounters and intersections.
On a broader level, Matthews’ Cville story can help us recognize one of the most striking ways in which the city has evolved from the 1970s (when my parents moved there) to its 21st century identity: diversification, and more exactly globalization. As I noted in this article, race and race relations had been a part of Charlottesville for centuries, but mostly in a binary black-white context; the city was provincial enough, in the 1970s, that my Mom was stopped on the street and asked if she was a gypsy (she had long black hair, and slightly darker than pale skin). But over the next few decades, and thanks to a variety of factors—the increasing diversification of the university at both the student and faculty levels, general trends in late 20th century immigration and migration from Latin America and Asia and so on, a global refugee program housed in neighboring Albemarle County—the city and region became a truly and strikingly multi-national place. One in which, that is, a kid from South Africa forming a mixed-race band and playing their first gig in support of the Middle East Children’s Alliance isn’t an anomaly so much as an illustration.
Next Cville contexts tomorrow,
PS. What do you think?