Dave Waters still forgets things. He still searches for certain words when he’s speaking. But considering that Waters, the owner of Golden Strip School of Music, suffered a traumatic brain injury back in 2012, he’s pretty happy with the condition he’s in today.
“What I have is called Chiari malformation,” Waters says. “Basically, the back of my brain tried to escape out of my skull.”
The condition is congenital, but Waters had a snowboarding accident in 2012 that exacerbated his symptoms, which led to a surgical procedure in early 2013.
“I suffered severe headaches,” he says. “I walked like I was drunk; I would forget what I was talking about. There’s no cure for it, but they do brain surgery for it, which is what they did for me in February of 2013. It alleviated the pain, I’m able to feel my left side again,” and, he adds with a laugh, “I no longer walk like the town drunk.”
Unfortunately, Waters didn’t get everything back. A lifelong music lover and musician, Waters had spent years playing guitar, and he was particularly fond of playing heavy metal. After his surgery, though, that was no longer possible.
“After the brain surgery, when I came out, I had difficulty playing,” he says. “I thought about taking lessons again, but it was just very frustrating for me. I grabbed the guitars and put them in the cases and ignored them because it hurt too much to look at them.”
Luckily, Waters decided not to give up on music, and the Upstate is all the better for it.
Instead, he got to work on a plan that he’d been thinking about for years: creating a music school, but not just any music school. Waters wanted nothing less than the best, and he wanted to expand the standard concept beyond a place where people learn to play musical instruments.
“After not being able to play, I thought, what else can I do to continue my love of music? And it was with the best teachers I could find and finding a way to make sure that I could retain the best teachers.”
Working with his friends and instructors Kevin Heuer (drums) and Shawn Allen (guitar), Waters set about making his dream come true, eventually finding the perfect spot for the Golden Strip School of Music, a 6,000-square-foot space on Garlington Road in Greenville.
“It’s been years in the making,” he says, “including multiple business plans to see what I could make work. A lot of thought went into this. So the search began for a proper building, which took forever. But we lucked out with this building, and we got a great deal on it.”
And Waters has a lot to be proud of. In addition to the 11 instructors teaching drums, guitar, keyboards, voice and more, Golden Strip School of Music has a performance stage, studios for podcasts and YouTube videos, a recording studio with Grammy-nominated engineer Joel McCreight behind the boards, a showcase program that pairs up different students for band performances, and a first-class lounge for the family or friends of the students to hang out in during the lessons. They’re even adding a music therapy specialist, Megan Danelz, to the staff in mid-January.
“This all came about because of the experience I had, and that my children had, taking music lessons,” Waters says. “Music lessons are often an afterthought because they are attached to retail instrument stores whose job is to sell instruments. I wanted someplace better than that with no retail to worry about. I paid a designer to come in here and design the lounge, because when you walk in, I want you to know that we’re not taking any shortcuts here.”
And that approach includes providing musical instruments.
“I want this to be a place where the teachers are all happy,” Waters says. “I want them to have a stake in this with me. I love happy teachers, and I want to make sure they have everything they need to do their job, and if they don’t, they can come to me and get it, whether it’s amplifiers or a piano — whatever it is they need, I’ll do my best to get it for them.”
Waters, a New York native who moved to the Upstate in 2015, says that he’d like Golden Strip School of Music, which officially opened last March, to become an important part of the local arts community.
“I want this school to become the music center of the Greenville area,” he says. “I’d love for it to become the music center of the state. But I didn’t want it to just be about music; I wanted it to be about the people in our area. Some people in our area don’t play music, but they can come here to our YouTube studio or our podcast studio and make something. This is a building and a business for everyone. This is a welcoming place where everyone is accepted, and you’re all here to make music or create stuff.”
- Since Golden Strip School of Music opened in March 2020, “right in the heat of the pandemic,” Waters says with a laugh, masks and social distancing are required, and the school’s website has a full breakdown of their daily cleaning procedures.
- Waters says even after his traumatic brain injury and subsequent surgery, he knew music would still be a part of his life. “I knew I couldn’t play anymore, but there was never a question about being involved with music,” he says.
- For more information, visit the school’s website at goldenstripmusicschool.com.