The Local Legacy of DMB

The paper I’m going to present at the ASAs next week started from a small seed – whenever I would interview local musicians in Charlottesville they would always bring up Coran Capshaw, the manager of Dave Matthews and CEO of several music companies. Sometimes their assessments looked at both sides of the coin – Capshaw, by locating his companies here and operating numerous venues and restaurants, has made the local music scene vibrant, but at the same time has stifled competition and marginalized genres outside of the college rock demographic. Sometimes musicians were just bitter, depicting Capshaw as the epitome of what is wrong with the music industry as a whole – monopolostic, top-down, pitting business against creativity and ensuring business the win.

I wanted to figure out what it is about Capshaw’s presence in Charlottesville that creates this feeling among musicians. Does he really rob aspiring artists out of their life savings? Does he have mafia-like control over restaurant supply companies?

So I talked to workers, analyzed public company information, and gathered social histories of how his enterprise took shape. Without talking to the man himself, but talking to those affected by his companies, I came to this conclusion: Capshaw has not attempted to make Charlottesville into the next Austin, instead he uses the local space, particularly the consumer space of the downtown mall, as a testing ground for the national artists he promotes and sponsors. His workers, local musicians and listeners are consumers of his product, not producers. His product, ironically enough, is the desire to experience the dream of rock stardom and/or that special privilege of saying “I knew them when…”

In Charlottesville he’s found a market – plenty of us dream of playing on stages graced by the more famous artists that he brings through and plenty of us (secretly or vocally) hope to run into Dave Matthews in the flesh and there are aspiring bands and musicians filling the ranks of local wait staff. Unless you can’t stand DMB and college rock, you really can live the dream here.

Capshaw has created an incredible consumer base and infrastructure for music making in Charlottesville. DMB themselves, through their socially conscious foundation BamaWorks have contributed millions to youth and music education in their community. So where does this leave the grassroots local music scene? With people who participate in these organizations:

Rugged Soul Records
The Bridge PAI
Monkey Clause
Street Musicians
Twisted Branch
Tyrannosaurus Rock
Music Resource Center (Funded in part by DMB)
Outback Lodge
Nailgun Media
and many others…

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