Interview With Peter Griesar

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In August of 1990, Miller's closed up a week for repairs and cleaning, as they've done most every year. Griesar continued to work there every day, assigned the task of re-tiling the floor. Dave Matthews, Leroi Moore, Carter Beauford, and Stefan Lessard, needing a place to practice, used the tiny Miller's stage while Griesar worked. Before long, he'd stopped getting much work done, and was playing with them. A band was born.

The story is well-known from here. The Dave Matthews Band (briefly named "Dumela") picked up violinist Boyd Tinsley before long, started playing frat parties and gigs around Central Virginia. The band, and those around them, immediately had a very good feeling about their music.

"Carter and Leroi and Boyd and Stefan and Dave each brought me joy. I loved being in the middle of all that talent. There was so much communication and I was so happy to be doing it every day. I really do love those guys and think they are some of the greatest musicians I have ever heard, much less played with."

One thing that became clear quickly was that their music was work, not fun and games. They played nine shows in one particularly difficult week. The hours were bad, the money worse. All of them had left their day jobs (impossible to keep given their performance schedule, anyhow), but still had bills to pay. It was stressful, often thankless, work.

Charles Newman, their manager, managed to get them gigs here and there, but it was rough going. Early on, Newman had the idea to set up weekly shows at Trax, Charlottesville's major music venue. Though this proved very successful for the band, it didn't do so well for Newman. Coran Capshaw, the owner of Trax, liked DMB so much that he took them under his wing, eventually taking over the role of manager.

Trax's proximity to the University of Virginia was immensely helpful. A couple of hundred UVa kids came out to every show in early 1992. But when classes began in fall of 1992, things really took off. Thanks to word-of-mouth among students, attendance rocketed up to around 800 people at each show.

The band started making plans to release an album. They were playing bigger shows outside of Charlottesville: North Carolina, South Carolina, New York, Colorado. The press was starting to talk, and the reviews were good.

So it came as a surprise to many fans when, on March 23, 1993, Peter Griesar played his last show with Dave Matthews Band. There's that nagging question again: Why?

Griesar pauses, assembling his thoughts. He looks tired, far away, as if he's preparing himself for a great effort. With a deep breath, and a bit of sadness, he haltingly explains.

"I was...I was tired. My mom was sick. I was...there was...I felt, like, a breakdown in communication between me and David. Personally and...I have very little patience for that because I'm a personal person. And so I decided...and I wasn't having any fun, and so I decided to stop. And do something else. I wanted what was happening to stop. So I made it stop. I needed it to stop. I had to stop for my own health, for my own sake of well-being. That's all. I left because I needed to grow. That I was my deficit. I needed to grow. I considered that to be my need.

"I was young, I had been through a lot of experiences, this was a really great experience. I had a great time doing it up to that point, and I knew that the joy that I found in it, the joy that I derived from what I was doing was dwindling. It was turning into something else, from my perspective. In this day and age, if it had been another time, a year later, a year before, a week before, a week later, things might have been different. But at the time, I was in the moment, and I thought 'If I don't stop doing this, I'm not going to grow anymore.'

"I'm a good sideman. I know how to make someone look good. I think that's what I did to Dave. I made his guitar playing sound better by mirroring it on the keyboards. And I made Boyd sound better by helping him learn melodic lines and training him into them. By the time I left the band, David learned how to play rhythm guitar and Boyd had learned all the melodic lines and Carter had learned all the backup harmonies. So all of the three jobs that I had were useless. They really were. If there was any intellectual reason that I left, it was that. My time was done, I had done my job. And that's the best job anyone can do.

"[I knew that] the band was much larger than me. That what we were doing was much more important than me, and I knew that, and that my leaving would go almost unnoticed, in a way, in the sense that I would leave on a Tuesday and they would be playing on a Wednesday. And I knew that at the time, I was expecting that. I didn't expect the world to stop. I wasn't quitting the band to make a statement. I wasn't doing it to make a stand. I was doing it to, literally, simply, to duck out. I didn't want to continue under the circumstances because I needed to grow. I'm not much of a regretful person."

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