Boyd Tinsley has Left the Band

The last time I saw Boyd, he looked tired. Not sleepy or sleep-deprived, but the kind of tired that leaves you feeling hollow and broken. It was after a show in Columbus, Ohio, where his project – Crystal Garden – had played a show and he wandered around the audience giving hugs and accepting pats on the back. When he got to me, he looked different and didn’t seem to recognize me.

I’d grown a little beard and it was late, but over the previous five years, we’d spent hours and hours talking – on his bus, his front porch, back stage and on Facetime – about his life and his passion for the forces that have guided it. He’d called me in the middle of the night and we’d exchanged text messages. He’d told me about his childhood, about his family, about the highs and lows of being in one of the biggest bands on the planet – the darkness and the light. He’d called me a friend and welcomed me to the family. So I knew he must have been exhausted to not recognize my face.

And who could blame him? Exhausting enough was keeping up with the demands of being in the Dave Matthews Band. But over the preceding few years, he’d done much more than that. He’d made a film – Faces in the Mirror – and started a band – Crystal Garden –  recording an album and taking on three massive grassroots tours. He’d reconnected with family, been through personal losses and struggles and done all of it while trying to focus on the creativity and love that have guided his entire life.

I guess I wasn’t surprised when I read his tweet the other day and saw that he was going to be taking time off from the upcoming DMB tour. Maybe it had all been too much. Maybe it had all taken its toll. Maybe he had simply earned a bit of time off.

Maybe he was just exhausted. I know I would be. You would be too.

He was the first one to show up after the Charlottesville tragedy, to stand in the park where white supremacists had gathered to offer hugs and an understanding ear, comfort in a tragic and confusing time. Over the years I’d spent orbiting Boyd’s life, I’d witnessed him give that same comfort to hundreds if not thousands of fans dealing with their own personal tragedy. He’d done so without being asked, without being prompted or with any of the cynical, PR-influenced motivations you might expect. He’d done so out of a simple belief that the world needs more love than it ever has before and that it is the person who recognizes that need’s job to be the one to fulfill it.

But ask anyone who has tried to give comfort and love to even one person in need and they’ll tell you it’s exhausting. Imagine night after night for years on end.

It’s easy to assume that the people we see on stage, the people we look to as gods are something other than people – that they are somehow higher beings capable of more than mere mortals. But I had an opportunity to witness the most human parts of Boyd’s outsized life and I know that, despite his outsized talent, his outsized achievements and fame, he is, in the end, a person like the rest of us; a person who has seen more life – more highs and lows, more tragedy and triumph – than most of us can imagine and handled himself with relative grace and dignity, compassion and perseverance than he will ever get credit for.

It seems that it all may have caught up with him and now he needs a break. Doesn’t he deserve one?

I had a once-in-a-lifetime, front row, back stage opportunity to get to know Boyd. He hired me as a ghost writer for a book than will probably never be released and in that role, I got to know the intensely personal side of his life. There were moments of unimaginable intimacy, inconceivable adventure and unforgettable memory that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I feel like I got to understand him as a musician, as a person, as a friend, a partner, a husband, a father and a son. I got to see him as an artist in a way that not even the most hard-core fan may ever get to experience. And in that time, I learned about what it means to be truly creative, what it means to truly dedicate your life and love in service of a higher purpose. I’ll never say that he is a perfect person – far from it, just like me – but I will say that in the time I spent with him, I came to admire his dogged dedication to make the world a more beautiful and loving place. I learned how he turned tragedy into beauty and isolation into love.

There were times when the process was maddening and frustrating and others when it was pure magic. And I’ll never forget any of them. Because being with Boyd was more than just an Almost Famous fantasy, but a true opportunity to grow and learn as a person, as a writer, as an artist. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

Boyd Kindle Cover.001

I never did finish Boyd’s book, but I did write one of my own about the experience. It’s called Finding Boyd Tinsley: An Artist In Search of Love & Creativity in a Mad World. I hope that you’ll read it — not just because I want to sell books, which, frankly I do – but because my time with Boyd represented some of the most formative moments in my life and an opportunity not many of us will ever have the change to experience. I saw first hand the exhausting pace Boyd has kept up for so many years – the constant movement and distance, the isolation and sacrifice. I saw him for the person that he is and I came out better for it and I think you will too.

While I may not see Boyd on stage this summer, I’ll never be able to remove my experience with him from my head or my heart. So, rest easy BT, you deserve it.


1 Comment +

  1. Beautifully written. As a lifelong musician as well, I can completely relate to this. It’s completely exhausting to give so much of yourself. I haven’t even been through what Boyd has and I get that completely. I have so much compassion for him.

    I thought you would appreciate this song. I wrote it literally after I saw Stevie Wonder take a knee, on th stage with DMB at the Concert for Charlottesville. I felt deeply inspired to make a statement. My college friend’s son was injured in the accident that killed Heather Heyer. He was lucky to survive with minor abrasions. So damn lucky.

    I admire anyone who speaks out for love and social justice. My heart goes out to Boyd.

    Victor Johnson

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