By Connie Morrison —
Globetrotting DJ and Eastern Shore native Grushon Wilson might live in Richmond, Va., now, but his roots pull him back to the Eastern Shore every Tuesday night for the biggest virtual party around, #ESVATuesdays.
Wilson, whose stage name is Crush Groovey, said a couple of things motivated him to start the weekly online gatherings.
“I go to Facebook to look at everything going on ESVA. I keep seeing RIP this person or that person,” Wilson said, referring to three Eastern Shore murders and one attempted murder between March 25 and 27. He wanted to do something online “being that everyone had to be in the house” and his own work engagements were canceled because of the global COVID-19 pandemic. He thought, “Instead of doing it for Richmond, let me do it for ESVA.”
And the Eastern Shore of Virginia responded. His virtual house parties clock 8,000-14,000 views each week from 7-9 p.m., with almost as many comments from those tuned in.
With music by the likes of Jay-Z, RunDMC, other ’90s artists as a baseline, Wilson runs a constant commentary, reminding viewers to invite others into the party and to let others know they are tuning in.
‘It’s an old-school situation’
Eastern Shore nostalgia is the oil that keeps the motor running every week. At 42 years old, Wilson came of age during the ’90s, a time when he was hosting house parties with his cousin, Latia Matthews on Hall Street in Onancock.
“It’s an old-school situation,” he said. “I used to know all the girls through my cousin. All the dudes would come to my street to see the girls. I was probably a DJ back then, I just didn’t know it.”
His hustle was washing cars. “Everybody knew me from that,” he said. When he was finished washing a car, “I used to drive from the car wash to Four Corners, just to be seen driving.”
Tuesday nights transport Wilson and those who tune in back to ’90s on the Shore. “I don’t play any new music. I play the ’70s through early 2000s because of the age group.
Everybody I went to high school with is going to be tuning in,” he said. “I think about the 2000s, when I would come home, the clubs people would go.”
As comments flow in, listeners remember past parties at the VFW in Pocomoke City, Md., middle-school dances at Mary N. Smith school, and adult dances at the Armory in Onancock.
Just as a club might call out the names of regulars as they walk in, Wilson recognizes virtual clubgoers as they sign in with comments.
“Everybody wants to be a celebrity,” he said. “One gift I have is talking on the microphone; making people feel special.”
He throws out a question: What school bus did you ride? What was the bus number? The responses rush in, with the bus drivers’ names: Bus number 4, Mr. Harrel; Bus #3, Mrs. Rowley; Bus 2, Frank Savage; 65 Mr. Skinner.
The first black barber in Old Town Manassas
Wilson had trouble with the law back in the late 1990s with a pair of arrests. When he finished serving his time, he decided he needed to leave the Shore to build a better future.
“I didn’t want to work in the chicken houses, I didn’t want to keep washing cars,” he said. “I wanted something different.”
As a young man, Wilson had learned to cut hair from Addison Matthews who lived across from him on Hall Street. Matthews attended a barbering college in Norfolk, Va., before entering the Merchant Marines.
“He and my son would be over to my house every day,” said Matthews. “I tried to help him with different things, tried to keep him in line. He looked up to us” — Matthews and his wife, Florence — “like we were his parents, too.” Addison and Florence Matthews still live in the same house on Hall Street.
Wilson parlayed that skill into a business, becoming the first black barber in Old Town Manassas, Va.
Unlike many downtown businesses that close early, he kept his shop open until 3 a.m. “You can get a haircut before the club or after the club,” he said.
The time he was barbering coincided with the city’s launch of its “First Fridays” program when businesses stay open late the first Friday of every month with special activities to entice shoppers to shop and linger. It was also the time when Wilson was learning to DJ.
He started putting his speaker outside and noticed the positive reaction from the crowds. “There’s a dude that paints. I said ‘Set your table up, I’m going to DJ and you’re going to sell your paintings,’” Wilson said. Before long, “I had changed the culture down there a little bit and I didn’t know it.”
Working Globally, Grounded Locally
From there, he started playing in the clubs. “That’s when things really started to take off,” he said. The foundation of his DJ success? “I took my knowledge of music I had from Eastern Shore.”
He soon found himself explaining the Eastern Shore of Virginia to celebrities like well-known hip-hop artists Migos, Cardi B, JIM Jones, Jay-Z and Beyonce, 2 Chainz, and Lil Baby, to name a few, who he has encountered or worked with in his travels to “East Coast, West Coast, and overseas.” He also appeared twice on the BET hip-hop show “106 & Park” with rapper Bow Wow.
They ask, “Where you from?” he said, and to “every single one I have to explain where the Eastern Shore is.”
After the pandemic is over, he and long-term girlfriend Tasha Foster are planning an ESVA Community Day to reconnect everyone. He wants to “give the children some positivity” and “show the community we can have fun without violence.”
But for now, every Tuesday night, after he winds things up, he thinks, “I hope I made someone happy tonight.” And he hopes he helped them forget the state is under stay-at-home orders and he can bring some temporary release from their troubles. And maybe, after a night of reliving their glory days, they go away thinking, “Man, this was the best night ever.”