When white supremacists swarmed Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 for a Unite the Right rally, resulting in the murder of counterprotester Heather Heyer and heightening racial tensions in the progressive college town, Red Light Management founder Coran Capshaw; his first-ever signing, Dave Matthews Band; and the group’s frontman resolved to help unify the city that played a formative role in their growth and success. One year later, that commitment has evolved into a project to renovate or replace all of the city’s public housing and build low-income homes for underserved residents.
Capshaw and Matthews’ ties to the city are strong. Red Light, which represents close to 300 acts, has offices there; Capshaw lives nearby; for Matthews, Charlottesville is where his band came together. “I feel a responsibility to all of the world,” says Matthews. “But Charlottesville is the place that has had the greatest impact on me.”
Six weeks after the riots, Dave Matthews Band and Capshaw produced A Concert for Charlottesville, which featured performances by Pharrell, The Roots, Ariana Grande and Justin Timberlake and raised $1.4 million for victims of the violence.
They didn’t stop there. Matthews, Capshaw and DMB, through its Bama Works fund, are donating $5 million to the housing project. Construction is anticipated to begin in late 2019 or early 2020, and phase one will include renovating Crescent Halls, a complex for elderly and disabled low-income residents.
The commitment amounts to more than money. Capshaw’s real estate development firm, Riverbend, and its partners will provide development and construction expertise on a volunteer basis.
Ann Kingston, DMB’s day-to-day manager who oversees the group’s charitable work, says the plan calls for the renovation or replacement of at least 376 public housing units, plus additional low-income housing.
The work required will cost much more than $5 million — the first phase will run about $35 million — and Capshaw says the initial donation “is meant to be a catalyzing gift. We’re seeking support from the community and other philanthropic groups, alongside Low Income Housing Tax credits,” he explains. “Collectively, we can accomplish a lot.”
Audrey Oliver, who sits on the board of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority and is a resident of the South First Street housing development, which will be renovated in phase two of the project, says of DMB and Red Light, “It’s a great thing that they’re doing. It’s about giving back to our community and to the poor people who live in this town.”
The housing project is just one facet of DMB’s charitable output. For every concert ticket the band sells — including the final two shows of its fall tour that are taking place at C’ville’s John Paul Jones Arena on Dec. 14 and 15 — $2 goes to its donor-advised fund Bama Works, which Kingston estimates has raised $55 million total for local, national and international causes and gives out over $1 million annually to Charlottesville causes.
“We’ve given away a lot,” says Matthews, “but I don’t think of it in those terms. We’re trying to encourage others to join us in this effort to fix some old problems. There’s an opportunity for Charlottesville to be an example to the rest of the country.”
Over the last 10 or so years, DMB and Red Light have built a strong connection with a lot of the city’s underserved residents, helping to fund, for instance, an after-school program and a medical clinic. Matthews says he sees the housing project as a “concrete response to the hate-filled, destructive dialogue that was imposed on Charlottesville by the neo-Nazis and white supremacists coming to town pretending to have some sort of heritage they’re defending.” That heritage, he adds, “is indefensible because what they’re claiming is heritage is an attempt to destroy the country.”