Scott Stadium was the site of the Concert for Charlottesville Sunday, Sept. 24 — an event the magnitude of which the city had never experienced. Billed as a benefit concert to help Charlottesville heal after the events of Aug. 11 and 12, the “evening of music and unity” was organized by Charlottesville natives Dave Matthews Band and featured such names as Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams and Ariana Grande — not to mention the enigmatic “special guests.”
Needless to say, Scott Stadium was packed well before the concert’s slated 6 p.m. start time. The entire site was transformed, with the field covered in flooring to make standing room for the audience. Several towers made of speakers stood at various points in the stadium. One end of the field was covered by an enormous stage, flanked by video screens that projected the night’s acts to the crowd.
The event got off to a punctual 6 p.m. start, with Dave Matthews himself walking onstage to greet the audience.
“Thank you so much for coming and joining us,” Matthews said.
He started the music off with an acoustic version of his band’s “Mercy,” a fittingly poignant and somber beginning for the night.
After this performance, Matthews discussed the death of Heather Heyer and invited her mother, Susan Bro, onstage.
Bro received a standing ovation from the audience and spoke to Heyer’s passionate beliefs.
“She loved humanity with an open heart,” Bro said.
Bro also thanked every attendee of the concert for what they represented to her.
“You make [Heyer’s] death and her too-brief life matter even more.”
After Bro’s speech, Matthews introduced Cage the Elephant, the first act of the night.
Vocalist Matt Shultz began by reading an original poem to the audience that declared, “You can’t dethrone love.”
Shultz then led the band through some of their best-known songs, including “Trouble,” which he dedicated to “Heather and her family, and all others who have been persecuted across the world, for reasons that have no reason.”
After a brief set, Cage the Elephant left the stage and were soon replaced by Pharrell Williams, who received an enormous cheer from the crowd.
Williams said he wasn’t going to perform yet, but that he was introducing the first special guests of the night — “a couple of guys from across the pond.”
Chris Martin and Jonny Buckland — the core members of Coldplay — then took the stage, confirming rumors that had begun to circulate after the band posted a photo that morning on Twitter that was taken in Virginia.
Following the trend of starting their set on a somber note, Martin and Buckland gave a touching performance of “The Scientist,” followed by other crowd-pleasers such as “Adventure of a Lifetime” and “Viva La Vida.”
Though their time onstage was also short, the Coldplay members had time to share a few thoughts about the concert.
“It’s all about bringing people together,” Martin said.
Follow-up act The Roots took the stage as a video played instructing its watchers to “put division where it belongs — in the past.”
The hip-hop group played intense versions of some of their biggest hits. After a few songs they were joined onstage by Alabama Shakes vocalist Brittany Howard. Together, they performed stunning covers of classic protest songs “Ball of Confusion” and “Move On Up.”
After these brief but passionate performances, Howard left the stage and Williams returned, this time to perform himself. He also went through some of his most popular tracks, including the politically-charged “Freedom.”
Williams said that when he wrote the song in 2015, he was asked why he thought the fight for freedom was still relevant.
“Just two years later, you guys know what we need freedom for,” he said.
After Williams left the stage again, The Roots were soon to follow.
“Peace and love, liberty and justice and freedom y’all,” vocalist Black Thought said. “We love you.”
Williams briefly returned once more to introduce country star Chris Stapleton, describing him as a “powerful Southern voice.”
Stapleton took the stage and gave an emotional performance of some of his most well-known songs. His time onstage was mostly devoted to his musical performance, though he thanked the audience several times for having him.
As the night went on, the acts got larger and larger. Matthews took the stage again to introduce Ariana Grande.
“This next artist, she’s had a lot going on this year,” Matthews said. “She’s shown the world what kind of amazing person she is.”
Grande took the stage and gave passionate, animated performances of some of her biggest hits, among them “Side to Side” and “One Last Time.”
“I just wanted to say how proud I am to be part of a generation that’s so dedicated to making a change,” Grande said at one point between songs.
Then it was time for arguably the most anticipated act of the night — Justin Timberlake. The pop star began with an acoustic cover of “A Change is Gonna Come,” and then ran through some fan favorites like “Holy Grail” and “Cry Me a River.”
Midway through his set, he addressed the crowd.
“As you may or may not know, I’m a new dad,” he said.
Timberlake described how he had left his son in Nashville to come to Charlottesville, and speculated as to the legacy the concert would have.
“15, 20, 30 years from now, he’s going to see this somewhere and remember,” he said. “Give yourselves a round of applause for making history.”
“This is what unity does,” Timberlake added.
He proceeded to play more of his biggest hits, including “Rock Your Body,” “CAN’T STOP THE FEELING!” and “SexyBack.” Timberlake ended his set with an emotional performance of “Mirrors.”
Timberlake proved to be a very tough act to follow, so when Matthews finally took the stage with the rest of his band, there was an inevitable anticlimax. That being said, the group’s energy was still high and their performances were impressive.
“It’s amazing that in less than a month we could get this many people together,” Matthews said at one point, voicing a thought that was likely on nearly everyone’s minds.
Later in the set Matthews added, “I feel like tonight maybe moved the needle a little bit in a good direction.”
It was around 10:30 p.m. when Matthews revealed the last special guest of the night, instructing the audience to welcome “Mr. Stevie Wonder.”
Wonder walked onstage to massive cheers.
“This is truly an example that love can win,” he said.
Of all the musical acts of the night, Wonder had the most to say. He described the types of “sight” he had experienced in his life other than eyesight.
“I’ve seen people hating people,” he said. “And then they hate and tell the children who watch them to be good … I’ve seen hate marching down the street disguised as a cry for equality.”
“If I can see it, damn it, I know you can see it,” Wonder said.
Wonder continued by calling the audience to action. “The question is, what are we gonna do about it?” he said. “We must, all of us in the world, be the difference.”
At one point in his speech, Wonder took Matthews’ hand. “Now I take a knee for America,” he said as both Wonder and Matthews got on their knees.
“I love you all,” Wonder said. “I’ve given most of my life showing you how much I love you and I’ll never stop.”
Along with Dave Matthews Band, Wonder performed a beautiful cover of “Imagine,” followed by his classic “Love’s in Need of Love Today.”
The combination of musical talent ended the night with a high-energy version of Wonder’s most popular song, “Superstition.”
Near the end of this final performance Wonder shouted instructions to the audience of what they should “take a knee” for.
“Take a knee for justice! … Take a knee for love! … Take a knee for America!,” he said.
It was a beautiful and fitting way to end the night.
From the impressive lineup to the surprise inclusion of special guests, Charlottesville’s music scene has never seen anything like this event. Still, one night of music cannot erase the displays of hatred and violence the city saw just weeks ago.
2017 will be considered a historic year for Charlottesville, for reasons both positive and negative. The Concert for Charlottesville offered the city a positive memory as it continues to heal, come together as a community and see the compassion of others, from near and far, through music.
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