Charlottesville — once one of the recently the site of fatal white nationalist rallies and now the go-to talking point for broader arguments about race relations and radicalized politics in America. The city has gone through enormous changes in less than a year, and with these changes the community has been tried and tested to the extreme. Rather than simmer down as time passes, stress levels of Charlottesville residents and University students threaten to boil over.
This is the aftermath of cataclysm — when all that can be done has been done, but wounds are still too fresh to heal. The rallies have ended, for the time being. Though more certainly could have been done to prevent or lessen their effects, that is an argument that does not belong in this article or even this section of the newspaper. When the dust from a horrible event has settled but the memories of the event are still all too present, some sort of release is needed. That release — as has been indicated in and has been practiced in countless generations — is art.
Charlottesville has always had a praise-worthy artistic presence, with a respectable array of museums, concert venues and theaters. The city might historically not have the ability of hosting big-name musical acts, unlike its northern and southern neighbors D.C. and Richmond. However, it nonetheless boasts a thriving, if slightly more underground, live music presence.
This fact, then, makes the Concert for Charlottesville all the more incredible and hard to believe. The lineup — featuring names such as Justin Timberlake, Ariana Grande, Pharrell Williams and concert organizers Dave Matthews Band — seems more appropriate for Firefly or Bonnaroo than an impromptu, not to mention free concert at the University’s own Scott Stadium. For once, Charlottesville is the musical envy of all its neighboring cities.
“Impromptu” almost seems insufficient to describe this event — it is truly unlike anything Charlottesville has ever seen. Its imminent existence is hard for many to grasp, and it is possible that even when these musical giants are onstage in Scott Stadium, performing for University students and Charlottesville residents alike, there will still be a sense of unreality about the entire thing.
Plans for the concert were announced Sept. 6 by the Dave Matthews Band, not even a full month after the rallies. The event itself will take place this Sunday.
From this perspective, it is truly amazing to witness the speed and ability with which some of the country’s most well-known musical talents can assemble their forces to create the event. It is also heartwarming that they are willing to do so. It would be so easy for those not associated with Charlottesville to turn away from and ignore the tragic events, unrest and overall controversy that is plaguing the city — and many have chosen this route. Conversely, those who choose to approach the community during this time of need — armed with music and all of its healing powers — should be unanimously welcomed and praised.
Despite all the buzz surrounding the concert, much of its details are still unknown and will likely remain that way. How much stage time will each act have? Will any of the musicians combine forces onstage? What’s to be made of the mysterious “special guests”?
In the same vein, it is unclear what — if any — message the Concert for Charlottesville wants to express to its attendees. The musical acts are safe choices, ranging from moderate to gleefully apolitical. Of the acts, not one is overtly partisan. This is especially true of the Dave Matthews Band itself, who abandons the political in favor of the universal with songs that focus on such themes as love, life and death.
One of art’s most important qualities is its ability to serve as an escape from such reality-grounded issues as race relations and freedom of speech. This is not to say that such issues are not incredibly important to the community, or any community — Charlottesville is mired in a political turmoil that must be remedied — and it is also not to say that art and politics are mutually exclusive. Spike Lee’s is an excellent example of how art can and should intermingle with politics.
However, art can be at its most powerful in its most timeless moments. There is a good reason why music has been a constant throughout human existence — an incredible amount of emotion can be contained in the most simple melody. This sort of emotion is particularly profound because it has different meaning for each listener. The power of a good song lies in its ability to make an impact, whatever that impact may be, on everyone that hears it. It can mean something different for everyone, maybe something entirely unlike what the artist intended, but it still produces the desired effect — all listeners are connected through the common thread of emotion.
The Concert for Charlottesville is billed as “an evening of music and unity.” These two concepts — “music and unity” — go hand in hand, and the combination will undoubtedly move Charlottesville one step closer to being healed.