Performing for the University of Virginia’s Class of 2020 during Saturday’s virtual celebration – on what was to have been …
Performing for the University of Virginia’s Class of 2020 during Saturday’s virtual celebration – on what was to have been their graduation weekend – Dave Matthews did not fall back on one of his longtime hits. Instead, he turned to a new song, “Singing from the Windows,” written during this strange time of quarantine.
As Matthews sang and played his acoustic guitar, it was hard to imagine a song more perfectly and poignantly fitted for its moment – and it certainly struck a chord. Since it was shared Saturday on UVA’s Facebook page, the video of Matthews’ performance has reached more than 1.4 million people.
As Matthews sang, photos of graduating students at their own windows scrolled by, taken by University photographer Sanjay Suchak.
The song concludes:
This is how we keep holding on
All the days, all day long
But sometimes things just fall apart
No matter how we try, they can’t stop
Singing from the windows
Voices outside and no one knows
Singing from the windows
We’ll get going again
When the war is over
Monica Ajay Jinsi tosses her graduation cap from her window in Charlottesville.
Matthews’ performance, along with a guest appearance by famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma and a special student performance, helped to honor the Class of 2020 at the end of a tumultuous academic year, creating a moment of reflection even as UVA plans in-person Final Exercises for when it is safe to gather again.
It was far from the first time Matthews has used his talents to uplift the UVA and Charlottesville communities. The Dave Matthews Band got its start playing in downtown Charlottesville in the 1990s and all of the band’s founding members trace their roots to Charlottesville.
Many UVA alumni of the era recall seeing the band perform around Grounds or meeting Matthews at local hotspots like Miller’s on the Downtown Mall, where he worked as a bartender. It was at Miller’s that Matthews met John D’Earth, the director of UVA’s jazz performance program and one of Matthews’ mentors.
The band, of course, hit it big and has now sold more than 30 million records worldwide. Matthews, though, has remained dedicated to helping the Charlottesville community.
In 1999, the band established the Bama Works Fund with the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation. Since then, the band has donated a portion of every ticket sold at every concert to that fund, raising more than $52 million for more than 2,000 grants supporting charitable programs in the Charlottesville area. A 2016 benefit concert at John Paul Jones Arena, celebrating the Dave Matthews Band’s silver anniversary, raised more than $1 million for the fund in a single night.
In the wake of the violent white supremacist demonstrations on Aug. 11-12, 2017, Matthews hosted A Concert for Charlottesville, raising money for a fund at the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation supporting victims of the violence, first responders and organizations dedicated to promoting equality and tolerance. The performers – many recruited by Matthews – included Pharrell Williams, Justin Timberlake, Ariana Grande, Chris Stapleton, Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes, The Roots, Cage the Elephant, Coldplay and surprise megastar guest Stevie Wonder.
Then, in 2018, Matthews and the band donated $5 million to support the renovation and redevelopment of public housing in Charlottesville, as well as the construction of additional affordable housing.
Winston Tang, who earned his degree Saturday from the College of Arts & Sciences, quarantined in Charlottesville to avoid putting his elderly grandparents at risk.
Addressing the Class of 2020 Saturday, Matthews – after noting that he wore a tie for the occasion – encouraged graduates to find their own ways to make a difference in the world.
“What a great occasion, and I am sure you will agree it is a strange version of this occasion,” he said. “And so, I wish you all the best, in the future, and it is now your small opportunity to make the world a better place, as you see fit. … Thank you.”
On UVA’s Facebook page, more than 700 commenters thanked Matthews for the performance.
One, Kevin Gonsoulin, echoed many viewers’ sentiments when he congratulated the grads and simply said, “Thanks Dave, for caring about people so much. Beautiful song.”
Jane Jenner-Mckeon, noting both the song and the photos, said, “Beautiful. All those young people, smiling through a pandemic, surely uncertain of their future, but holding onto hope.”