What Would Jersey Do? – MVJ RIP
I’m very lucky. I have always had a music friend in my life. That is a friend who is constantly feeding me great music I might have missed on my own. If you have a friend like this, you know how lucky this is. Surely more than half the music I own, I owe to these people. I always think of them when I hear that music on the stereo or at a show. The music helps me relive those moments.
I came to Lancaster to visit an Army buddy and stayed because of Rich Ruoff and his Chameleon Club. I never had to wonder what to do on the weekend anymore. Every Friday and Saturday night meant two or three bands for five dollars. I went crazy for bands like The Daves, Ocean Blue, Urban Blight and Burning Bus. At least once a month some national act like the Ramones, Los Lobos or Dickey Betts would roll through. Every February we celebrated our shared birthday with Chameleon’s Blues Festival. It was music-lovers heaven! I discovered dozens of bands and made many music friends.
This brings me to Jersey Mike Van Jura. I met Mike two years ago and became a huge fan of his taste in music and the bands he brought to the Abbey Bar at Appalachian Brewing Company in Harrisburg. When Mike said, “You need to hear this band,” that was all I needed to know. He was always right. When he offered season passes to Greenbelt Events shows, I plunked down the $100 in a blink. It was my best investment in 2012. He was one of the coolest, funniest, liveliest guys I have ever met. He died of a sudden heart attack on November 18, just hours after staging a benefit for Toys for Tots. He left behind two young children of his own.
The news of Mike’s passing shattered me. I knew I would never feel the same when I heard bands he introduced me to or went to shows at Abbey Bar. I knew I’d never again see his smiling face or hear his witty, no-holds-barred commentary on the music scene and society in general. I knew I had felt this before: when John Lennon was murdered.
It was late November of my senior year in high school. It had been ten years since Lennon’s Imagine album and Double Fantasy had just been released. Both were getting plenty of airplay on WDVE in Pittsburgh as were the Beatles. To celebrate these high times, I asked Lisa Silvestri to join me for a new show that was touring nationally, “Beatlemania.” She said yes, I bought the tickets, and we hoped it would be a fun, sing-along kind of night. Who knew, maybe it would be a prelude to a Lennon tour in the summer or even a Beatles reunion!
December 9 was a day of mourning at my school. Ms. Kennedy, my Economics teacher, just played Beatles records in a darkened classroom. We knew that music and the world had been changed forever by Lennon’s death just as it had by his life. I saw Lisa at lunch and we wondered whether the show would go on or if we even wanted to go anymore.
The show went on and after much debate, we decided to go. The crowd was pretty somber. It was obvious we all were feeling the loss, feeling uncertain, as these four guys performed remarkable renditions of favorite songs. They really looked and sounded like the Beatles, with vintage instruments and costumes, as their sets progressed from the early jackets and ties through the Sgt. Peppers uniforms. Applause was polite but there was little cheering or chatter between songs.
As the curtain opened on the third set (Abbey Road-Let it Be), the young man playing Lennon came onstage alone, a guitar slung over his shoulder, his hair long, his glasses round. He was almost to his amp when a girl in the crowd shouted, “Lennon lives!” He raised his left hand in a peace sign and wave just as the other guys came onstage. The catharsis had come. The crowd came alive in a wave of relief, knowing that somehow everything was going to be alright. The band struck up “Come Together.”
No lie, I had to stop typing to cry just now. It’s been over thirty years since that night and it feels like last month. Last month Jersey Mike lost his life to a hidden killer and I know I will feel it a long time too. He left behind scores of friends and fans of his work. Who knows what Greenbelt Events might have brought to us all? The success of this summer’s Kipona Fest showed what Mike could accomplish on a grand scale.
On December 27, a tribute concert for Mike is being performed at Stage on Herr, HMAC, featuring some of the jam bands he cut his teeth with in Harrisburg. Proceeds from the show will be donated to the K&L Foundation, a trust set up for his children, Kaiya and Lennon. Here’s the link to the Facebook event: http://www.facebook.com/events/448399775203926/ There is also a memorial night gathering and concert at Abbey Bar December 29. Here’s that link: http://www.facebook.com/events/291934330909926/
I will be going to the Jam for Jersey 12/27. I bought my season pass for Greenbelt Events 2013 this week. I’m sure it will be another great investment because Mike’s vision lives on. And we will come together, let it be, stay positive and hold steady. It’s what Jersey would do.