Charlottesville is one of my favorite cities to visit! It’s the perfect blend of a small town and a big city. It has the charm of a small town, and the people are very friendly. However, it also has all the culture – music, art, food, wine, beer – that you expect from a bigger city.
If you are a Dave Matthews Band fan, you can thank Charlottesville for bringing the band together. The band formed in Charlottesville over 25 years ago, and still has lots of strong connections to the city today.
Keep reading for my guide to visiting Charlottesville, including my tips on how to get the most out of your trip. If you are a DMB fan, you’ll want to check out my 9 places to make sure you visit while you’re in town.
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A LITTLE ABOUT CHARLOTTESVILLE
HISTORY OF THE CITY
Charlottesville is located in central Virginia. It’s about a 2 – 2 ½ hour drive from the Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia area. Also known as C’ville, just under 50,000 people live within the city limits, although if you include the population of the rest of Albermarle County, the population is closer to 150,000.
Tip #1: We drove to Charlottesville from the Philadelphia area. The trip is around 250 miles and takes about 4 hours. However, if you need to pass through the D.C./Northern Virginia area, be sure to plan accordingly and avoid rush hour. Hitting rush hour traffic in the D.C. metro area can easily add an hour or more to your trip.
Charlottesville is home to the University of Virginia, whose core campus was designed by Thomas Jefferson. It’s also home to Monticello, which was Jefferson’s mountain-top estate. Both are registered UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Charlottesville is also just outside of the Shenandoah National Park along a section of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Charlottesville and Dave Matthews Band
If you are a DMB fan, you know that Charlottesville is where the band formed. As the story goes, Matthews’ mom was living in Charlottesville and he followed her there. Dave started bartending at Miller’s in downtown Charlottesville, where he would watch the guys play that would eventually become part of his band.
Most of the band – including Carter Beauford (drums), Boyd Tinsley (violin), LeRoi Moore (saxophone) and Stefan Lessard (bass guitar) – were either born or spent most of their childhood growing up in Charlottesville. Dave also met Tim Reynolds (guitar) when Reynolds lived and performed in Charlottesville. The band played their first live performance at Trax on March 14, 1991.
Charlottesville was a big part of the band, and they have never forgotten their roots. Some of the guys still live in the area. The band also does a lot of work raising money and supporting organizations in the community. On May 7, 2016, DMB kicked off their summer tour with a special show at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville. All proceeds from that show benefited the band’s BAMA Works Fund, which distributed funds to local organizations. On September 24th of 2017, DMB headlined the “Concert for Charlottesville” after the tragic racial-related violence that occurred there in August of that year. Proceeds from that concert went to support families, first responders, and organizations devoted to the promotion of healing, unity and justice locally and nationwide.
PLANNING YOUR VISIT
WHERE SHOULD I STAY?
If you are looking to be within walking distance of the downtown mall area, you can’t beat the location of the Omni Hotel. However, convenience will cost you. Expect to pay rates of close to $200/night during the week and off-peak times. Weekends and peak times can cost you over $250/night.
If you are looking for something more reasonable and just slightly less convenient, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Monticello during our recent visit. The downtown mall area is only a 5-10 minute Uber ride (an Uber cost us about $8 per ride to downtown), and you are within 15 minutes of some of the local wineries that are just outside the city.
Tip #2: If you stay at the Holiday Inn Monticello, there is a Wegman’s just a block away. It’s a great place to pick up snacks, water, and local beer and wine. They have a “make your own 6-pack” section, where you can pick singles of lots of different local beers. The rooms have a mini-refrigerator in them, so be sure to stock up and save some money!
WHAT SHOULD I SEE?
THE TOP 9 DAVE MATTHEWS BAND MUST SEES!
When most Dave Matthews Band fans visit Charlottesville, they visit Miller’s and Dave’s winery – Blenheim Vineyards. While those are definite must do’s, there are several other places that you may or may not know about to add to your list.
DMB Must See #1 – Miller’s Downtown: As mentioned above, Miller’s is where it all started for DMB. The tiny stage where Carter, Tim, LeRoi and others all played is still there. You can sit at the bar and imagine Dave tending bar and listening to those guys play. What I like about Miller’s is that while it openly embraces its DMB history, it doesn’t commercialize it. You won’t find a bunch of pictures or t-shirts or souvenir mugs advertising its relationship with band. It’s still a place where locals hang out, have some drinks, and listen to amazing local musicians.
Tip #3: If you can make it work with your schedule, visit Miller’s on Thursday night. Every Thursday night, John D’earth still plays at Miller’s. D’earth is a local musician and Director of Jazz Performance at the University of Virginia. LeRoi Moore often played with the John D’earth Quintet at Miller’s. D’earth also led Stefan Lessard to DMB. Lessard was D’earth’s student, and he recommended him to the band when Lessard was just 15 years old.
DMB Must See #2 – Music Resource Center (MRC): In 1992, John Hornsby and some other local musicians began exploring the idea of setting up a place in the community where teens could come after school and work with music. The MRC originally set up shop above Trax, in a space DMB used to practice in. In 2004, they moved to their current location in the historical Mt. Zion Baptist Church building with the financial support of the band.
Today, the MRC provides a place for hundreds of local teens to explore their creativity through music. The space has everything from rehearsal studios to recording rooms to dance studios. The equipment and instruments in these spaces are of a professional level, and allow the students to gain real-world knowledge and experience in the music industry. For no more than a $150 per year membership, local teens have access to the space, equipment and staff to help them explore music. Last year with additional support and funding, 68% of students paid less than $10 for their membership.
Thanks to Executive Director Alice Fox and her staff, we were able to take a behind-the-scenes tour of this amazing place.
While DMB has provided a lot of financial support throughout the years and still participates on the Advisory Council, they do NOT provide all of the funding needed to run the organization. The MRC still relies on funding and donations. The MRC has had a huge impact on so many young people. In fact, one of our Uber drivers (Anthony) told us how he attended at age 13 when it first opened. He still makes music to this day. So DMB fans – stop by and check out the MRC and find out how you can help to support music education in the Charlottesville area! Click below for more information.
Tip #4: If you visit the MRC, be sure to check out the pictures hanging just inside the front entrance. Also, be sure to check out the LeRoi Moore Performance Hall, which is the old sanctuary of the church.
DMB Must See #3 – Intersection of Rose Hill Drive & Henry Avenue: Why would you want to visit an intersection? Well, it’s not the intersection, but the neighborhood you should visit. This is the neighborhood that Carter, LeRoi and Boyd all grew up in. While this isn’t really a “place” to visit, it’s worth a drive to get a feel for where the guys grew up, and what made them what they are today.
Tip #5: Before you drive through the neighborhood, stop in for breakfast or lunch at Ace Biscuit & Barbecue. It’s a great local spot with friendly service and great food. If you want to eat there, order up at the counter and then take your food to your seat. Be sure to check their Facebook page, as they run out of certain things on a regular basis, and sometimes close early if they are out of food.
DMB Must See #4 – Booker T. Washington Park: While you are in the neighborhood, take a quick drive by the park. The new playground and picnic shelter were given to the park by the band. It’s one of the most heavily used parks in Charlottesville.
DMB Must See #5 – Trax: While Trax is no longer there, you can still visit where it was located (the building was demolished in 2002) along 11th Street SW in Charlottesville. As mentioned above, Trax was a nightclub, and the band played there regularly during the early parts of their career. It was operated by Coran Capshaw, who left to manage the band full-time once they gained national success.
DMB Must See #6 – The Warehouse: While the first known gig DMB played was at Trax, the first “official” show was on May 11, 1991 at a private party on the rooftop of the pink warehouse located on South Street in downtown Charlottesville. The warehouse still stands, so be sure to walk or drive by the building that inspired one of DMB’s most popular songs.
DMB Must See #7 – Blenheim Vineyards: While many DMB fans are familiar with Dreaming Tree wine, not as many may be familiar with Blenheim Vineyards. Located a few miles outside of Charlottesville, Blenheim Vineyards is owned by Dave Matthews. In fact, when we visited it the first time about 10 years ago, the winery only did private tastings. As we were chatting with the tasting manager who was giving us our tasting that day, I happened to look at her business card – Jane Matthews (yes, the same Jane of “The Song That Jane Likes” aka Dave’s sister).
Today, Jane no longer works at the winery and it’s open to the public, so you won’t get the same experience we did during that first visit many years ago. However, there is still plenty of “Dave stuff” around. Dave does all of the sketches for the artwork on the labels, and you can buy shirts, posters and hats showcasing the artwork. Dave’s mom designed the tasting room building based on sketches originally done by Dave as well.
I won’t go into detail on any of the wines in this article (stay tuned for another article soon covering all the wineries – including Blenheim Vineyards – that we visited during our trip). I recommend buying a bottle and sitting out on the deck to enjoy it. The views are breathtaking!
Tip #6: Be sure to look for (or ask about) the photo album that they have laying around. It has lots of pictures from the early days of the tasting room being built. If you look closely, you can pick out Dave in several of the pictures.
DMB Must See #8 – John Paul Jones Arena: While John Paul Jones Arena is primarily home for the UVA Cavaliers basketball team, DMB has a long history with the venue. In fact, the very first concerts ever played in the arena were two DMB shows on September 22nd & 23rd in 2006. Since then, the band has played shows there multiple times including in 2009, 2010, 2012, and of course the 25th anniversary tour kick-off in 2016. Even if you aren’t able to catch a DMB show there, be sure to stop by the arena and check out the memorial to LeRoi Moore. It’s located in the large round flower bed near the entrance. If you are facing the building, it will be on the left side. You have to look closely, as the sign is slightly covered by the flowers.
DMB Must See #9 – Holly Memorial Gardens: If you are coming into Charlottesville from the north, be sure to make a stop at Holly Memorial Gardens on your way in or out of town. This is the final resting place of LeRoi Moore. We stop every time we come to town to visit our old friend. We remember the person, his talent, and the impact he had on our favorite band.
OTHER NON-DMB SIGHTS TO SEE
Of course, Charlottesville has plenty to offer people who are not DMB fans. While I am not going to cover them in-depth in this article, I’ll briefly mention a few.
The Downtown Mall Area: This is the heart of Charlottesville. Filled with restaurants, shops, and bars, this is a must-see in the area. It reminds me a lot of city squares in Europe, as the pedestrian-only main strip is filled with outdoor seating, musicians playing, and artists displaying their work.
Tip #7: Parking can be tough in the area. If you are staying at a hotel nearby and can walk, that’s the way to go. Otherwise, I would recommend taking an Uber so that you don’t have to deal with parking.
Tip #8: If you are looking for a great place to grab something to eat, hit Citizen Burger. They have amazing burgers and a great beer list as well. The burgers are huge, so make sure you are hungry! Also, I highly recommend the truffle fries as your side item.
Tip #9: If you are in Charlottesville on a Friday during the summer months, be sure to check out Fridays After Five, which is a free concert series held every week between April and September at the Sprint Pavilion at the end of the downtown mall. We were lucky enough to catch a great reggae band performing the night we were there. Each week, volunteers work the concession stands and help raise money for a variety of local charities.
University of Virginia Campus: Located in the heart of Charlottesville, the campus is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. It’s worth taking a walk around and checking out the beautiful buildings. The area around campus is great as well, with lots of cafés and shops.
Tip #10: Stop for breakfast at The Pigeon Hole, which is located in the campus area. All of the food is fresh and delicious. You can eat outside, or grab a table inside the historic building. There is a parking garage right across the street. Be sure to pay at the machine and place the receipt inside your dashboard. The spaces are a bit tight, and beware of the poles (we saw someone back right into one during our last visit).
Monticello: Located just outside the city of Charlottesville, Monticello is somewhere every American history buff must visit. There are plenty of options for visiting, so be sure to check out their website for more information. You can also buy tickets for your visit on-line in advance. We did the tour when we visited several years ago, and it was well worth it. Click here for more information.
Wineries, Breweries and Cideries: If you are into wine, beer or cider, you can spend several days just visiting the wineries, breweries and cideries in the Charlottesville area. We only had time to visit a few during our last visit. Check back soon for a separate post on the wineries and cideries we visited during our last stay.
So, now you are all set to visit Charlottesville! The city has so much to offer – I’ve just hit the surface. If you are a Dave Matthews Band fan, be sure to check out the other sights in addition to Miller’s. And please consider supporting some of the local community organizations, including the Music Resource Center!
Planning to visit Charlottesville? Have you been there and have other suggestions that I didn’t cover? Please comment below or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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