What started as a chance encounter at a San Francisco café and later morphed into a long-term professional relationship has become the latest story in the #MeToo movement. Following online musings and private legal action, a former colleague of Dave Matthews Band violinist Boyd Tinsley has made public accusations of sexual assault, harassment, and long-term grooming.
James Frost-Winn, a Seattle-based trumpet player who worked for Tinsley as a member of the band Crystal Garden from about 2015 through 2016, has accused the 54-year-old musician of making unwanted sexual advances and comments throughout the decade that the two knew each other. Frost-Winn, 28, tells Consequence of Sound that the two met in the fall of 2007 when he was homeless and struck up a friendship based on a mutual love of music and generosity the then-18-year-old had never experienced before.
“It did feel good to know that this very experienced, talented, and well-off in the industry musician actually believes in what I’m doing. It felt amazing; I felt validated,” Frost-Winn says, describing the beginnings of Crystal Garden. “As the years went by and I was in multiple bands and still trying to achieve a career in music … that’s when he started saying he wanted to start a band that was based around me.”
Although this seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become a successful, full-time, independent musician, the road to success came with several creepy bumps and an unprofessional fascination with Frost-Winn’s “sex appeal.” Frost-Winn filed a lawsuit on May 17th in Washington state, alleging that Tinsley created a “hostile work environment” where compliance with sex-based demands was tied to the band’s success. The suit seeks $9 million in damages.
Busking Down on Haight Street
Frost-Winn left his hometown of Las Vegas in 2007 and found himself enraptured with San Francisco. “When I found the Bay Area, I found people who were likeminded and experiences I hadn’t thought of before,” he explains. “I didn’t really consider myself a musician until I had moved there.”
The teen met Tinsley and his assistant by chance at the now-shuttered Peace Café, where they discussed music before Tinsley eventually bought Indian food and nice jackets for Frost-Winn and a fellow busker. They exchanged numbers and would meet up when Tinsley was in town, typically at his hotel room where they would catch up, watch movies, and smoke weed.
“Three times we hung out at his hotel. It was chill; he seemed like he was just a friend,” Frost-Winn recalls.
Tinsley was a very generous friend, buying dinner, car rides home, and several passes for Frost-Winn and his friends to the Outside Lands Music Festival in 2009, where Dave Matthews Band served as headliners. Tinsley texted Frost-Winn about hanging out after the event but said he didn’t feel comfortable with Frost-Winn’s friends coming along, so the trumpeter declined. Tinsley allegedly followed with a text calling Frost-Winn “sweet, tender, and innocent.
“It threw me off because he had just given me this nice gift of the passes. I immediately responded saying that I wanted to make sure that he knew that I wasn’t interested in him like that,” Frost-Winn says. “He responded that sometimes people do good things without expecting things in return … and that made me feel guilty, and I apologized. He said he wasn’t trying to hit on me.”
That message was the first missive from Tinsley, who Frost-Winn would come to find was a prolific, often sexual, texter. Tinsley did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story.
Creation of Crystal Garden
As the years went on, the two kept in contact. While Frost-Winn continued to play trumpet in various Bay Area groups and started doing concert production work for the Haight Street Festival, Tinsley would occasionally fly him out for concerts, booking seats for a show in Toronto. In fall 2014, Tinsley approached Frost-Winn about creating a band that would also be the subject of a documentary. Frost-Winn was curious and, after his mother died in July 2015, joined Crystal Garden in earnest.
“At that point, we had been friends for like eight years. We weren’t always hanging out, but when he would come into town, he’d treat me well,” Frost-Winn says. “It was cool. I knew this nice, down-to-earth celebrity guy; that’s pretty crazy. So when he mentioned this project, it was like, who wouldn’t want to do that?”
“I really wanted to create a young rock band – not a pop band – but a real rock band that had the same sensibility that rock from the 1960s and 1970s had to it. You know, something rocking from the heart and expressing something real,” Tinsley told Jam Base in 2016, adding that it took him several years to find the right musicians for his project. “[Frost-Winn] played me some stuff that he recorded some years back in the studio, and there was some stuff in there that I really dug, particularly in his approach to the music. So when I decided to do this band […] James became the first person.”
When Tinsley suggested Frost-Winn move from San Francisco, now his home for eight years, to Seattle to take Crystal Garden to the next level, “it wasn’t even much of a question. This is a golden-ticket opportunity,” he says. Frost-Winn moved in with his bandmates, and Tinsley paid for everything: rent, groceries, and travel.
Frost-Winn would perform with Crystal Garden in Charlottesville, Virginia, New York City, San Francisco, Providence, Rhode Island, and outside of Indianapolis.
Getting More Aggressive
Throughout this time of intense musical creation, touring, and success for Frost-Winn, the trumpeter says Tinsley started exhibiting strange behavior. During a stop-over in New York in 2015, after spending three tour dates with DMB, Frost-Winn casually mentioned that he and some friends were going to watch the New England Patriots-New York Giants game at a bar. Tinsley, as Frost-Winn explains, “immediately got five tickets. When he did it, he said: ‘You better suck my dick or something.’ I thought maybe that was a funny joke or something, but it wasn’t also 100% joking.”
During Frost-Winn’s stint with DMB, he says Tinsley made a strange request before going on stage: he wanted a pair of socks. “I went to grab a clean pair, but he said, ‘No, I want the ones you’re wearing.’ So I gave them to him,” Frost-Winn says, adding that other musicians had confided that Tinsley had made the same request to them.
“A couple things like that had thrown me off, but he hadn’t done anything aggressive. So I thought maybe he’s a weird guy. It was definitely like that’s not normal … but I didn’t feel uncomfortable around him.”
During a recording session at Tinsley’s Virginia country house studio, Frost-Winn says Tinsley “revealed a very dark side of himself that I hadn’t seen.” Seemingly out of nowhere, Tinsley became frustrated when then-drummer Joel Jacobs (who did not comment on this story) wasn’t doing what Tinsley had asked. Tinsley “freaked out in seconds, grabbed this beautiful vintage guitar from the ’50s or ‘60s and smashed it to pieces. He threw stuff. It was frightening,” Frost-Winn says. Tinsley accused the band of not taking the process seriously.
Bassist Charlie Csontos (who did not respond to a request for comment on this story) and Frost-Winn eventually calmed Tinsley down, and the recording session continued into the wee hours of the morning. As Frost-Winn fell asleep on the couch in the studio, Tinsley allegedly touched his legs, rubbed his back, and put his feet on his buttocks. “It not only creeped me out, but I thought it was really annoying because I was trying to sleep,” he recalls.
Frost-Winn eventually dozed off. “I don’t know how long I was asleep, but when I came to, he was masturbating next to me while I was sleeping, and he had his hand on my ass,” he says. “He was climaxing.” Frost-Winn freaked out and ran to another part of the house while Tinsley followed after him; he eventually came back to the studio.
“I sat there for hours; I was so freaked out,” he explains. “I felt assaulted. It was something I didn’t expect from him. I was contemplating how to stay in the project — it’s such a big opportunity, but my trust had been affected.”
Tinsley blamed the incident on “a pill mix-up” and said he wasn’t in his right mind.
“I believed him. I knew he was on a few kinds of meds. I forgave him but said it would take a while to begin trusting him again.”
Tinsley has not confirmed to Consequence of Sound that this incident occurred.
The Cycle Continues
After the alleged masturbation incident, Frost-Winn and Tinsley slowly became friends again, and the violinist would shower him with gifts including a new iPhone. Yet when the strange behavior continued, including asking for band members’ socks, Frost-Winn felt powerless, like he had to shrug it off. Tinsley, after all, was his boss.
“It all just kinda got chalked up to Boyd’s just a weirdo, very much just a Stockholm Syndrome thing; you kinda feel bad for him. He has this deceiving niceness about him,” Frost-Winn says. “He’s doing all these things for us, for the band. So I think everybody just kind of wanted to ignore it because of this opportunity we had.”
Although Frost-Winn had previously received late-night texts about coming to hang out at Tinsley’s hotel, he says Tinsley began to harass him with explicit messages. Detailing a forthcoming photoshoot, Tinsley messaged Frost-Winn the following on March 18th, 2016:
“I just tried to do something to laugh it off. I couldn’t straight-up ignore him because he’s our boss. I wasn’t the only person he was hitting on in this group, but he would make it like ‘you’re the most sexy person in the band,’ ‘there’s just something about you,’” Frost-Winn says.
In August 2016, around the time Frost-Winn decided to leave the band, he and Csontos were in Boyd’s living room when Tinsley “out of nowhere started talking about the time he had masturbated while I was sleeping. This time he spoke about it in full clarity; he said, ‘The way you looked while you were sleeping, I couldn’t control myself,’” Frost-Winn recalls. “At that moment, I knew he had lied about not being in the right state of mind … coupled with all the things that had happened in between, I immediately realized I couldn’t trust him.”
During the same conversation, Frost-Winn alleges that Tinsley referred to a 2016 incident in New York where the trumpeter “wanted something to happen.” Frost-Winn was blackout drunk after playing a recently opened speakeasy. “I don’t think getting blackout drunk makes you gay,” he says. “I especially can’t trust this guy because it’s a night I don’t remember at all, and he’s trying to convince me that I was making moves on him.”
Frost-Winn quit Crystal Gardens disenchanted, suicidal, and with writer’s block. He temporarily moved back to the Bay Area, where he worked over 60 hours a week to avoid being alone with his thoughts.
Looking Back and Moving Forward
“In retrospect, he was absolutely grooming me,” Frost-Winn says. “I considered him like a brother, my family, especially after my mother passed — he was one of the positive role models in my life. I invested a lot into a relationship that was ultimately very bad for me. I first met him being homeless and 18 and new to experiencing the world. I felt very betrayed at the end of this.”
Frost-Winn decided to seek legal counsel and has attempted to settle his assault and harassment claims against Tinsley out of court, first issuing a demand letter on February 2, 2018 – the same day Tinsley announced that he would be taking a break from Dave Matthews Band. Tinsley’s representatives replied asking for an extension and additional documentation and claimed that Frost-Winn was not Tinsley’s employee but rather a “session musician.”
I need to take a break from the band & touring 2 focus on my family & my health 4 a while. I will miss you guys & my brothers in the band but I’m somewhat worn out & need 2 spend more time with my family & 2 bring more balance to my life. Thanks 4 ur Love. #peaceandLoVE
— Boyd Tinsley (@bt_dmb) February 3, 2018
This is not the first time legal action has been brought against Tinsley. The musician’s former financial advisor and long-time friend Andrew Rothenberg filed suit in Virginia in 2015, accusing Tinsley of interfering with his financial management business and damaging his psychological wellbeing, Stereogum reported. The suit alluded to Tinsley’s “dark side,” which he had “gone to great lengths to hide.”
“Those of particular interest to Tinsley are treated to gifts, jobs, and access to other celebrities. Tinsley does all of this to gain leverage of the people in his world … Tinsley does all of this so he may be a sexual predator,” the suit states. “Tinsley has victimized an unknown number of starry-eyed fans.”
In 2014, Rothenberg was convicted of embezzling millions from Tinsley. His 2015 suit was thrown out.
“The details [of Rothenberg’s suit] say very similar things about grooming young men at the University of Virginia. He would bring people to his tennis court, shower them with weed and booze, and make predatory advances,” Frost-Winn argues. “He likes fit guys who are younger looking.” An engineer who worked with Boyd allegedly told Frost-Winn that Boyd used to hit on him all the time, and that’s why he gained weight and grew a beard.
Tinsley is not publicly out as gay or bisexual and is married with two children. Frost-Winn says he believes Tinsley is afraid to come out and, instead, has had private consensual and non-consensual relationships.
“I know I’m not the first person, but I hope to be the last,” he says, adding that the #MeToo movement has given him strength. “The only reason I’m going public is because [my lawyers and I] feel like these are very serious matters, and we want justice. I want to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.
“In our culture, it’s not as acceptable to be emasculated like that – our society views that as weakness, and I didn‘t want to be viewed as a weak person. Once I did speak … it gave me more encouragement and made me feel more in control of my situation.”
This week, Dave Matthews addressed Boyd’s departure from the band for the first time in an interview with Vulture. “I have a deep love for Boyd, and he has to deal with his stuff. In many ways, I’m sure it would’ve been a lot easier for him to just say, ‘I’m good. Let’s go play.’ But you can’t just throw yourself away, your wellness away, because you play violin in a band. It doesn’t make any sense to do that.
“I can’t say, ‘I can’t wait till he comes back,’ because I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Matthews added. “But right now being away is better for him. Nobody is happy about this situation. Except that we’re happy he can figure some stuff out. I hope he does. But I’m going to miss having that whirling-dervish Adonis-Muppet over there on my right. I know the audience is, too. But we can’t serve that desire.”
Reached for comment in response to this story, a representative for Dave Matthews Band shared a similarly worded statement: “Boyd has been a member of the family since the band began and we want him to focus on his health and get better. We support his decision to do this and we’re sending positive thoughts his way.”
Update – May 17th, 10:00 p.m. CT: In a new statement released Thursday night, Dave Matthews Band distanced itself from Tinsley, who they said was “no longer a member of the band.” DMB added that they were “shocked by these disturbing allegations and we were not previously aware of them.”