The lines of fans—tens of thousands—wrapped around UVA’s Scott Stadium on a sunny September afternoon for the Concert for Charlottesville, spearheaded by local music star Dave Matthews.
The show featured top-selling international artists who offered messages of healing and hope after white supremacist groups descended on UVA’s Grounds and in Charlottesville on August 11–12, 2017. The concert was free; attendees (and those watching the live video stream) were encouraged to donate to the Concert for Charlottesville Fund.
The show started with Matthews, who gave a solo acoustic performance of “Mercy,” which he wrote in 2012: ‘I know you can see/All the world and the mess that we're making … But you see all the world is just as we've made it/And until we got a new world/I've got to say that love is not a whisper or a weakness/No love is strong/So we got to get together.’
During the show, he talked about his personal bonds to the city.
“Charlottesville is the place that took me in,” Matthews said. “It’s the place where I met my band. … It has a difficult history, but so does so much of the world. This place is such a good place, it is so full of love, and it is so full of hope.”
In late September, Matthews spoke on Charlie Rose about putting together the event.
“When that terrible day happened in Charlottesville, the immediate response is horror,” Matthews said in the televised interview. “But after that, you think what can we do?”
Matthews and his label started calling artists, including another Virginian—singer/songwriter and producer Pharrell Williams. Other artists called Matthews, including the Kentucky-based band Cage the Elephant, asking “How can we help?”
In one of the more emotional moments of the evening, Matthews welcomed to the stage Susan Bro, mother of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, who was killed August 12 when a car rammed through a crowd. At the concert, the audience members rose to their feet, clapping.
“Heather loved Charlottesville with an open heart and she loved humanity with an open heart,” Bro said. “As Heather said, ‘If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.’” Bro called on the crowd to continue Heather’s actions of fighting for justice for all people; for this night, Bro said, “I will be right here with Heather, singing.”
Following Cage the Elephant, Pharrell Williams introduced surprise guests from “across the pond.”
Fans cheered as Coldplay lead vocalist Chris Martin sat at the piano, alone. In his powerful tenor, Martin sang the band’s hit ‘The Scientist,’ as the crowd sang along.
Coldplay lead guitarist Jonny Buckland joined Martin next, and the two began their rendition of Chuck Berry’s classic “You Never Can Tell.”
“The point is to show up and show that you care,” Martin said.
Next, hip-hop group The Roots rocked out in collaboration with several artists, including singer-songwriter Bilal, who sang the soulful ballad “It Ain’t Fair” from the Detroit movie soundtrack.
Alabama Shakes lead singer Brittany Howard joined The Roots for several songs, electrifying the crowd with her powerful voice. Pharrell Williams then joined them, kicking off his set with the 2016 hit, “Get Lucky.”
“I think we as a country need to open our eyes,” Williams told Charlie Rose during the September taping. “There are people who say, ‘Why are you making such a big deal?’ If you’re not African-American, you don’t understand what it’s like to be African-American in this country. … When Dave’s camp reached out, I thought it was a great opportunity to turn on a light. … It’s bringing the culture together so we can talk and be realistic about these issues.”
Williams sang a song he wrote in 2015 focused on freedom, shouting the word repeatedly. He closed his set with “Happy,” as the crowd danced and sang along.
Country and blues crooner Chris Stapleton followed, and the crowd quieted during his five-song performance. As Stapleton strummed the guitar chords of “Broken Halo,” fans waved smartphone flashlights en masse, creating a constellation sky throughout the stadium.
Next came Ariana Grande. “This woman has had quite a year,” Matthews said, referring to the May terrorist bombing following one of her concerts in Manchester, U.K., which killed 22 people and injured several hundred more; weeks later, Grande returned and hosted a benefit concert that raised more than $13 million.
“I want to thank you guys for coming together,” Grande said. “I wanted to say how proud I am to be a part of a generation that is this passionate about creating change.”
After Grande, Justin Timberlake and his band performed an acoustic rendition of Sam Cooke’s civil rights anthem “Change is Gonna Come,” stilling the crowd.
“Virginia! We’re gonna have a good time tonight!” Timberlake yelled afterward, singing and dancing through many of his hit songs, including “Can’t Stop the Feeling” and “Cry Me a River.” “Love trumps hate!” he yelled before he ran off stage.
Then Matthews returned with his full band. After singing several of their most popular songs, Matthews introduced the biggest surprise of the night—25-time Grammy winner Stevie Wonder. Wonder joined DMB for three songs, including a powerful rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
“This is truly the example that love can win,” Wonder told the crowd. “Use your gift, your song, your musicianship, your voice to spread the never-ending cry for love.”
“I didn’t expect the concert to do that much, but there really was a sense that something special happened,” said Charlottesville High School science teacher Matt Shields (Engr ’98). “Walking in, I knew or recognized so many people from all walks of life, from diverse backgrounds. And it hit me that this is really Charlottesville coming together.”