Musicians memorialize fallen comrade in song

February 09, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

Many people pay their respects to a recently deceased friend at a quiet viewing ceremony.

But the surviving members of Rudy and the Bluefish and other members of the Hagerstown blues music scene paid homage to the late John "Jason" Chalfant the best way they knew how - they plugged into their amplifiers, turned up the volume and rocked.

Chalfant's family, friends and fans jammed into a packed New Del-Mar Inn and Lounge on National Pike Sunday for the show. It was supposed to run from 3 to 8 p.m., but was extended to 11 p.m. as fans and local musicians with instruments continued to file in after dark.

More than 100 people were in attendance during the first hour of the event, with more filtering in throughout the day.


"Jason was the kind of guy that pulled people together; this really shows that," said Tom Borum, singer/guitarist for the local blues scene staple Rudy and the Bluefish.

Chalfant, guitarist for Rudy and the Bluefish, was traveling north on Md. 64 near the intersection with Bradbury Road on Jan. 18 at 12:46 p.m. when his 2000 Chrysler hit an icy patch and left the road, Maryland State Police said. His car struck a guardrail, overturned and landed in a creek bed, police said.

He was pronounced dead on Jan. 24, a Washington County Hospital spokeswoman said.

The Memorial Jam started off with a set by Rudy and the Bluefish. Joined by temporary guitarist Denny Mickley, the band burned through a set of fan favorites, including a 10-plus-minute rendition of "The Midnight Train" and an emotionally charged version of "The Sky is Cryin'," which was Chalfant's signature song.

Several in the audience fought unsuccessfully to keep a dry eye during the latter.

"You had me goin'," Jimmy Chalfant, Jason's brother and former Kix drummer, said to Mike Holtzman following the set. Holtzman, Rudy and the Bluefish's drummer, sang the song Sunday.

"That's only the second time I've sang that song; that's Jason's song," Holtzman said. "I tried to pour my heart into it. It was hard."

During the song, Mickley played Chalfant's Stratocaster guitar at the request of the Chalfant family.

"It was humbling and an honor," Mickley said.

He said Sunday's audience was the best crowd he has played to at the New Del-Mar Inn.

Musicians from several other area blues and rock acts, including The Rhythm Kings and Five Dollar Fine, came out to pay respects to Chalfant by getting on stage Sunday.

"I had a lot of respect for the guy. He was an incredible person and musician," Five Dollar Fine frontman Rich Hannon III said. "The least I could do was be here to celebrate it all.

"It's cool because we've all played here."

Michael Clark, who played harmonica in the band Tribal Stew with Chalfant, said he was happy to see so many people at the venue.

"A lot of us are finding it hard to grasp that he's gone because he was always around, always playing," Clark said. "It'll be a long time before I can hear songs without thinking about Jason. He'll be missed."

Jimmy Chalfant said he plans to make the Memorial Jam an annual event. He said all of the money donated Sunday will go to the Transplant Resource Center in Baltimore, one of his brother's favorite charities.

"Jason was an organ donor, and they've saved three lives already because of him," Chalfant said. "It's amazing what they can do now."

"Jason will be spread out all around America, brother," Holtzman said.

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