Dave Matthews Band reaches out to kids -- At a Charlottesville music resource center, the group touches the lives of youth

By Leah Greenblatt
May 23, 2005 at 04:00 AM EDT

Dave Matthews is slump-shouldered and bleary-eyed, blinking in the dust-moted Virginia sunlight like a man who hasn’t seen the soft side of a pillow for days. What with this week’s frequent-flier miles (and the early-bird proclivities of his 3-year-old twins, Stella and Grace), he hardly has. ”Please excuse me,” he offers with a lopsided grin. ”I’m feeling a little. . .salty.”

Forty-five minutes and a strong cup of coffee later, Matthews is, if not transformed, officially back in the land of the living. Standing in a darkened sound booth and surrounded by his bandmates, who all live nearby, the genially scruffy singer bobs his head to the joyful cacophony coming through the speakers. ”This is hot!” he grins. ”Kind of a real early XTC thing going on, you know?” And he’s right. But you won’t find it on the Dave Matthews Band’s recent album, Stand Up; nor does it belong to any artist on Matthews’ own label, ATO (which has nurtured the careers of David Gray and My Morning Jacket, among others). It’s the creation of four bashful teenagers: Ross, Wade, Colin, and Cooper, all 17 and all members of the Music Resource Center, the manifestation of an idea conceived by local musicians more than a decade ago.

What began as a fly-by-night enterprise in the band’s old practice space has now become a fully outfitted center, serving some 500 Charlottesville youth from a former Baptist Church near the heart of the city. ”Growing up,” says drummer Carter Beauford, ”it was such a release for me to be associated with music. You could be the greatest kid on earth, but trouble has a way of sucking you in. . . .By playing music, sports, whatever it is, you can keep out of it.”

Locally (and nationally as well), many of those so-called extracurricular activities have been the first to go when budget cuts come; the band sees the MRC as a logical way to fill the resulting gap. ”Where we come from, you just look out for people,” violinist Boyd Tinsley adds. ”And that’s one of the great things. That’s why we stay here — for a community like this.”

Not that they haven’t contributed outside city limits as well; a Central Park benefit performance in 2003 raised $2 million for both the MRC and New York’s public schools. And in less happy circumstances, the band donated some $300,000 earlier this year following a mishap in Chicago last summer when 800 pounds of septic-tank waste from one of the group’s buses was released onto the deck of a passing tour boat.

But today, they’re home, and it’s nearing afternoon at the center. As the school day ends, the building begins to fill. Once kids find out the band is on-site, they clamor to show what they’ve been working on. In one room, Marsh, 15, and Willie and Avery, both 13, whale through the Rolling Stones’ ”Beast of Burden” before moving on to an original composition; in another, Keicion, also 13, channels John Legend’s torchy R&B hit ”Ordinary People.” Ari, 15, and Quentin, 17, play beats they’ve programmed on state-of-the-art equipment. Matthews and the rest are cracking jokes and handing out generous compliments. ”Man, I need to go get more guitar lessons!” Matthews hoots after one particularly incendiary solo.