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Versus at Sierra Grille: A Tribute to Northampton’s Jamie Lavo

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Musician Jamie Lavo Remembered at Versus in Northampton

Sierra Grille’s Monthly Music Competition

Jamie LavoEvery last Thursday of the month Sierra Grille holds Versus, a good-natured competition in which bands are formed from a scattered assortment of musicians. The musicians are chosen ahead of time, composing a collection of young local artists. The musicians are then sorted into two different bands, each assigned a band name. On the Thursday that I attended, the bands names were Trials and Tribulations. Trials and Tribulations was a rock band led by Jamie Lavo, a Northampton guitarist and songwriter who committed suicide in July, leaving the other 5-15 other band members without a great friend.

Wanting to carry on with the project that Trials and Tribulations had begun, Versus night was a fundraiser for their CD titled Providence. Some time had passed since his death, giving the crowd a chance to breathe and enjoy the night of improvisational mayhem. A veritable occasion for spontaneous creation, what came out was as usual, strange, sometimes failing, but mostly incredibly entertaining. The magic of being able to suddenly hit a groove with no more guidance than a song name was astounding. The theme for the song name’s was court cases. One of the song’s was titled “Badgering the Witness”, and the singers were up to the challenge, using the ridiculousness of the cues to invent sheer random fun.

The bands were arranged by normal means. One band could have three guitarists or two bassists, adding to the challenge of the musical performance. But both teams rose to the occasion, ensuring that even the awkward ones were at least humorous. In between songs the host Scott Alden would go up on stage and evoke from the crowd a round of applause to gauge that group’s score. As the night went on and on his antics grew wilder and wilder as he screamed into the mic, riling the crowd by providing a recap of the song’s embellishment on the song title. The scoring was based on the crowd’s loudness and generally the clapping would get louder based on what Scott was saying, making it seem a little bit misguided, but that was also part of the fun.

The CD had been in the works for years, but Jamie had, before leaving this Earth, decided to scrap the project. Having passed away, the band mates decided to finish it despite his absence, in honor of him, and to the remaining memories of his musical presence in town. Jamie was a regular at Versus, a well-known local. During a cigarette break for both bands, the club aired a documentary about Versus produced by Tom Friedman and Scott Whitney, which features several interviews with Jamie and some clips of him performing. He had been a part of the Versus crew and would have been heavily in the documentary even if he hadn’t ended his life early, a big presence in Northampton.

And then the bands returned, having had a meeting to decide on what song to cover for the final round, their choices being “Satisfaction,” or “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” Whoever won the final round won the whole competition, which ended up being Versus. All in all the night was a symbol of Northampton’s ability to cope with tragedy, and unite in the name of art, and for the recently deceased Jamie Lavo. Anyone who considers himself a member of Northampton townie scene, comprised of musicians, hipsters, and a fresh generation of talent at least knew of him. Now, thanks to the three dollar contributions for entry, and for his friend’s dedication for not letting him pass in vain, his music will be heard.

In the video below, one can observe the gangly troublemaker’s uniquely puzzling version of “You Are My Sunshine,” a song which was on of his favorites to cover. In it, he exhibits the reckless desire for breaking boundaries that some find interesting, that some hate, and some love. Regardless of your opinion on the song, he was a cherished member of Northampton who will be missed for those who were his closest of friends during his time of trouble.

Rest in peace James Lavo.

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Ezra Prior is a Contributor to The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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