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How Dave Matthews gives back to his hometown of Charlottesville

January 14, 2019

The Dave Matthews Band is among the world’s most successful groups in popular music. Their first new album in six years, “Come Tomorrow,” was released last June. It was a record-setting seventh in a row to debut at #1. But for all its fame, The Dave Matthews Band hasn’t forgotten the city of Charlottesville, Virginia, where it all began.

No matter how loudly the crowd cheers wherever the band performs, there is something about playing in Charlottesville that keeps frontman Dave Matthews grounded: “It’s always harder to play at home. It’s a weird thing. It always is a homecoming. It’s always joyful, but you always want to do better.”

Dave Matthews.  CBS NEWS

Though he now lives out West, Matthews says his roots remain here, where his eponymous band began its ascent to the top of the Billboard charts in the early 1990s.  

“I wrote a lot of my songs in that pink warehouse,” he said while visiting with “CBS This Morning” co-host John Dickerson. “I couldn’t have begged to have a greater experience than play in this band, in my life, really. I want some other experiences, but I don’t feel like I’m entitled to them because, Jesus, how can this happen to one person?” 

Blessed with fame, but also generosity, The Dave Matthews Band has made a habit of sharing its good fortune. They’ve given away more than $40 million. 

The band recently committed $5 million to re-imagine public housing in Charlottesville, beginning with a compete renovation of a residential apartment building downtown. 

“Things are falling apart, elevators don’t work,” Matthews said. “It’s amazing that you can be in the middle of everything and still be this neglected.”

Musician Dave Matthews is paying to renovate the Crescent Halls public housing block in Charlottesville, Va., located just two blocks from where Matthews used to live and work.   CBS NEWS

“You talked about feeling roots in Charlottesville. You bounced around a lot before that.”

“My father and mother are South African,” Matthews said. “My dad was a physicist and he did research at UVA. He passed away when I was kid. And then we went back to South Africa for the support of family that was there.”

Matthews went to high school there while the segregationist apartheid law was still in place. 

“And then when I finished high school, I got my call-up papers to join the military there. And I thought, that’s not something I’m desperate to do. And so I moved back to the States. 

“But when I came back to America, everywhere I looked there was racism. And it was sort of amazing, but it hit me in the face all the time.” 

Dickerson said. “Charlottesville itself was hit in the face in August of 2017 with the white supremacists. How did that make you feel, as somebody who put down roots in Charlottesville?”

“I don’t know if it’s an irony, but I was in South Africa and I was with family there. And my friend Brian phoned me and said, ‘I think I’ve just witnessed a murder. I think I’ve just witnessed a hate crime.’ It’s very hard when you look at what happened in this town, the destruction of a beautiful possibility.”

A woman places flowers at a memorial for 32-year-old Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 13, 2017. CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY

“And it just broke my heart to see it happen. But I do think that maybe we can make some beautiful progress out of that.”

For Matthews, that progress started with “A Concert for Charlottesville” in 2017, which featured performances from Justin Timberlake, Pharrell and Arianna Grande. “And then the cherry on top of all cherries, Stevie Wonder showed up,” Matthews said. 

“It was the most amazing concert. And we said, ‘What are we gonna do?’ ‘Well, let’s do something real.'”

For the band, that meant expanding opportunity. In addition to repairing the apartment building, they plan to replace every public housing unit in the city of Charlottesville – all 376 of them.  

“We are hoping that it is going to jazz people!” said Joy Johnson. It is a transformative effort she and fellow resident Audrey Oliver have been pushing for for nearly 20 years. They showed Dickerson the first soon-to-be site of new public housing in a generation.

“This is the turning point,” said Oliver. 

“But to have someone come in and say, ‘What can we do to help?'” said Johnson.

Matthews said, “The inequities and the lack of access that some people experience, like in this town, like every town, seems like it should be remedied. And we are fortunate enough to be able to at least push it in the right direction.” 

Dickerson asked, “So when the buildings are built here, and people are living here, and the grand opening day, what’s that party gonna look like?”

“Oh, I’m gonna dance like hell,” laughed Johnson. 

“Hell, yeah. We gonna celebrate,” added Oliver. 

Site of a future public housing project made possible by The Dave Matthews Band.  CBS NEWS

And because they will need musical accompaniment, Dickerson booked Matthews a gig. “Oh good. That’s good,” he smiled. 

Of course, getting a date won’t be easy. Loyal fans have kept The Dave Mathews Band on the road pretty much since their first gig in Charlottesville nearly three decades ago. 

Dickerson asked, “Are you gonna be touring until they take your boots off?”

“I don’t know. I have no idea,” Matthews replied. “I dream about going and living in a hut in Kenya and growing my facial hair. But I feel very grateful for being able to make a noise with people that want to make a noise, because it’s a beautiful opportunity.” © 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.