It’s impossible to think about the Charlottesville music scene without associating it with Dave Matthews Band (DMB). Founded in 1991, Virginians have come to think of DMB as their hometown band and credit them for putting the Charlottesville music scene on the map. On September 27, 1994, the mayor proclaimed it Dave Matthews Band Day at UVa’s McIntire Amphitheatre. In 1995, they earned a Grammy Award for “So Much to Say”. They are the biggest ticket seller worldwide of the past decade and recognized as one of the top 100 highest selling American bands of all times with CD and DVD sales surpassing 37 million. And at Tom Tom, our connection to DMB goes back to this little known fact: on May 11, 1991, they performed their very first concert atop the Pink Warehouse on South Street that has since become Tom Tom’s headquarters.
A distinct sound indelibly linked to Dave Matthews Band is the violin. Charlottesville native and classically trained violinist, Boyd Tinsley, joined DMB soon after its formation. He became a founder early in his teen years when he helped form the Charlottesville-Albemarle Youth Orchestra. He went on to study under the tutelage of Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s concertmaster, Isador Svalav. At 16, Svalav offered to move Tinsley to Baltimore. Tinsley declined, and departed from the classical genre to explore popular music. While attending UVa, Tinsley founded another group, The Boyd Tinsley Trio and after college, Dave Matthews asked him to record with his band on a demo. He stayed on and started making the music we love.
The undertold story of Dave Matthews Band is their charitable foundation. Founded in 1999, Bama Works is the band’s nonprofit fund administered by the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation. To date, it has raised $40 million and awarded more than 1,200 recipients. Though he has an active role in the organization, Boyd remains humbled, shocked and proud by what a difference the organization has made.
Bama Works was founded relatively early in the band’s career. How did it start?
I think that we all wanted to give back. I had talked to DMB Manager Coran Capshaw about giving back and others felt the same way. We had all expressed interest and Coran came up with the way to do it. He is brilliant at being a manager, and just sort of figuring out how things work. It’s hard to choose who to give money to. Sometimes you just want to give to everyone. The way it works is that we choose candidates that we feel are most in need and whose programs are run the best.When people have a good idea that can change people’s lives… we want to be a part of it.
Where did the name come from?
Bama is short for Alabama.There were two members of the band (I won’t mention their names) who were somewhere like New York, and someone yelled out, “Look at those two Bamas.” It just stuck. We embraced Bama. It’s a part of us.
Not many bands have raised over $40 million and granted awards to 1,200 recipients. Was it important to give back to your hometown?
Well, yeah. We’re from Charlottesville.
And what is it about Charlottesville?
Everybody gives here. There are so many organizations that give to different causes. I’ll go to banquets honoring people in different organizations and there are hundreds of people at these banquets, and they all care. They give. That happens for a lot of [Charlottesville] charities a lot of the time. We are born of Charlottesville. This is how we were raised. Of course we’re gonna give back.
It’s just a great community that is known for creativity–especially in schools. When I was a kid– I’m sure it’s the same way now—they lend you an instrument if you can’t afford it. What school does that?! A lot of schools don’t even have music programs, and if they do it’s not a big priority. But in Charlottesville, it’s always been a priority, and that’s one of the reasons why we have a world-renowned orchestra at CHS (Charlottesville High School).
Who were your mentors?
My mentors, I guess, were the members of the Wednesday Music Club (a charitable organization comprised of Charlottesville residents to support and encourage young musicians in Virginia). It was an important and a fundamental part of my development as a musician. It also just gave me a lot of confidence. There was one member in particular that really encouraged me and even took me to symphony concerts. That kind of stuff was huge. My first orchestra teacher that I had in middle school, was a mentor. He had me play at his church with his wife on the organ. There’s a whole list of people. When I was in 10th grade,a concert pianist came to CHS. Her husband was the concertmaster of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. And they actually selected me to play with her. She accompanied me on a song. Then she asked if I wanted to take lessons with her husband in Baltimore. I said yes and went up there, and instantly I was like part of the family. I was taking lessons, and developing, and they even wanted me to move to Baltimore permanently to go to the performing arts school there. It was something that I thought about, but for it wasn’t something that I was ready to do. They were mentors, and people who pushed me on. It meant so much just knowing that a concertmaster of a symphony is encouraging you to go on with your music, and that you have something, some kind of gift. That is huge.
Looking back, what were some of the defining moments that shaped who you are today?
When I was a kid here in Charlottesville, I entered a competition with the Wednesday Evening Music Club. I won and I received a scholarship for private violin lessons. That was huge for me. It was a gift from the community. It was just the beginning of what I was given from the people in this community. I just got to this point: “Yeah, obviously. It’s my turn to give back…That’s what it’s all about”.
Explain how you fused your work (making music) with philanthropy:
I started a program in Charlottesville schools to give scholarships for academic tutoring, music lessons and tennis. I love music and tennis and tutoring is just so beneficial for so many kids. Basically, I wanted a way for kids to realize their dreams…of going to college, of playing in a band, of whatever. So I set that up.
What were the first steps to creating the scholarship program?
I’m fairly impulsive. I came up with the idea and called the superintendent [Mary Reese]. She loved it. They already had the infrastructure: tennis courts, teachers and instruments. I contribute the resources for additional instruments, music lessons and tuition for camps. I get to give back the same opportunity that the Wednesday Evening Music Club gave me. It’s like saying, “I want to see you succeed. And I’m gonna give you the tools that you need.”
Is there someone you’ve looked up to?
I think about my uncle. When he wasn’t working, he just drove people that didn’t have their own transportation- to the grocery store, to the drug store, to wherever. He was always taking care of people. And there were others like him in the neighborhood and in my family, who are always taking care of people.
You’re a member of a band and you record your own music. What’s the difference in the creative process between making something as part of a group and making it on your own?
When we make music, we collaborate so it’s our music. But each of us has projects outside of the band. We get to explore different parts of ourselves musically that may not go into our band. We discover new music and expand the music that is in our heart and all of the styles that we play. We find that magic outside and bring it back to the band.
That’s really how the band has evolved. You can’t stop learning. If you think you already know everything, you’ll never learn anything. The late LeRoi Moore (Dave Matthews saxophonist) used to say, “Assume you know nothing.”
Is there any young person in Charlottesville specifically that’s doing something that you think is big?
Marvin Brown is a CHS graduate and celloist. He was a BAMA recipient and an absolute virtuoso. He couldn’t afford transportation, music lessons or camp. The scholarship helped him get all of that. He’s brilliant. He attended Julliard and took lessons from Yo-Yo Ma. He is an inspiration. And he grew up in the Projects. Marvin shows us that just because you’re poor, it doesn’t mean you don’t have talent. You just have to work harder.
Do you think of yourself as a founder?
I don’t really think of myself as this philanthropist or this person that’s founding something. I’m just Boyd. I’m just me. And I want to give back. I do it from my heart. My friends, my family, anything that they ask for, I give them. Because look at all that I was given growing up. It’s natural.
But I’m also very honored for the awards and the recognition that people have given me. When I get those, I just think, “Wow. I must have done something.” But I don’t think about myself in any other way than just me helping out.
What have you learned through the process of making music that might help someone who is interested in founding something?
When you’re making music you just have to work hard. But you also have to be inspired. To make music, you really have to come from the heart. Starting something means making sure that your heart is full of love and that everything that you do is directed towards love.