Full circle: Music Resource Center launches careers, collaboration

It's a Thursday afternoon, and Music Resource Center Outreach Coordinator Damani Harrison is in the Center's state of the art sound studio with a group of high school boys recording a radio show.

"How 'bout we call this segment, 'Local News Out of the Closet,'" suggests one, as the rest of the group cracks up and Harrison gives the nod, laughing along even as he expertly steers the conversation–– which has suddenly and inexplicably veered onto the relative pros and cons of body hair–– back on track, coaxing the three hosts to introduce themselves to their listeners.

The group are students taking a music industry class through CaTech for high school credit, and Harrison says it's just one of the ways the MRC reaches out to local teens who have an interest in performing or working in the music industry. The MRC has a half-million dollar annual budget, the vast majority of it raised by donations and grants from sources other than the Dave Matthews Band.

"DMB and Bamaworks have been wonderful in helping us get off the ground, and they've done amazing things to ensure we stay in operation," says Harrison, citing the purchase of the building. "But operating stuff and day-to-day expenses are not supported by the Dave Matthews Band," he says. "It's our responsibility to keep the doors open year round and the responsibility of the community to provide us with means to serve their kids."

Joint programs with other teen-focused nonprofits, including the Boys and Girls Club, means that even students who don't come in for the MRC's after school program can benefit from the Center's programming.

"We probably reach 600 kids a year," says Harrison, 35, who's been with the MRC for a decade and says the rewards of the job just keep coming.

"I love the songs," says Harrison, a well-known musician and founder of the hip-hop group The Beatniks. "There's something pure about the creative energy of teenagers," he says, "and harnessing that and turning it into something other people would enjoy is the reward."

Seeing what happens both musically and personally to his one-time students in the years after the MRC is also a thrill.

"I've seen kids going from being so raw and unpolished– some terrible, actually– to four years down the road, advancing to a level beyond where I can even help them, not just as musicians but as people," says Harrison.

Some former MRC-ers have launched careers in other cities– Harrison cites an Atlanta-based artist management firm called Nation Hits, founded by former MRC members. "They do really stellar media videos, flyers, banners, and everything," he says.

But many of the Center's graduates stick around Charlottesville, and Harrison's own new group, AudioState, which had its premiere act on April 13 as part of the Tom Tom Founders Festival, is proof of that. Two of Harrison's AudioState bandmates are rappers that got their start under Harrison at the MRC.

That performance– and the success of Tom Tom, where multi-genre performances from rap to electronica to jazz– brought widely diverse audiences together, fill Harrison with hope for Charlottesville's music future.

"There's a hunger and a desire from the public in Charlottesville to embrace the new," he says. "I think it's really important not only that we cultivate traditional sounds of this area and continue to embrace those but to also help cultivate new sounds."