PORT TOWNSEND — Yo Rocker. You weren’t afraid to sing beautifully. Dug it every time I heard you. You must have memorized a thousand songs. Thanks for sparking this town. — Michael T.
It feels so wrong, so unjust to have lost you. I hope you had an inkling of how important you were to us, how well loved you were by us, and how much you did for us. Town will never be the same without you. I hope you are at peace. I love you. — Dan F.
The line to write in the guest book was long and quiet Saturday evening.
The memorial gathering for Jarrod Paul Bramson, held in a Jefferson County Fairgrounds building wallpapered with posters from Bramson’s performances near and far, drew hundreds from across and beyond the Pacific Northwest.
Many of the people knew one another; many smiled gently to those they didn’t know.
Bramson, a musician, songwriter, open mic host, father and husband, died March 27 of an apparent drug overdose at age 43. He is survived by a large family — this loud, all-ages crowd assembled at his memorial as they would at a raucous rock show. The gathering was to be at the Palindrome, a dance hall at the edge of town, but the RSVPs outgrew that place last week.
The fairgrounds’ Erickson Building and parking lot filled up with Bramson’s friends, fans and many-limbed family tree, all gathered for a potluck, structured program and finally a “house show for Jarrod,” a night of live music in remembrance.
“What this man could do was talk to you with his heart,” Bramson’s friend Paul Rice said at the start of the program.
He was “such a mashup of court jester and priest.”
Singers Jazmin Gifford and Aba Kiser stepped onstage to offer the first song of the evening. Soon the scores of people at the front were weeping and singing along: “Your sparrow is learning to fly …”
“I want to commend us all for our love, our strength, and our resilience,” began Bramson’s longtime friend Nigel O’Shea.
“Jarrod created family wherever he went … [he] wasn’t a saint, but that is precisely what made him so darn lovable.
“His mantra was ‘You can do it.’ He believed in open mic. He believed in karaoke,” and would say, “You can do it. And I’ll help you.”
The throng inside and outside the Erickson Building included babes in arms, toddlers, teenagers and at least one octogenarian, Bramson’s friend Gary Leavitt. Members of Port Townsend’s music, dance and arts community milled around, stopping to hold each other in long hugs. And because this was more like a punk-rock concert than a funeral, the people cheered, whistled and stomped for each of the speakers and musicians on stage. When Bramson’s grown daughters Ana Bramson, Aurora Bramson and Rosemary Carey sat down at the microphones, they too drew big applause. When the three faltered in their little-rehearsed song, the cheering came even louder.
Dominick Smith called Bramson’s death a “tragic waste of a beautiful man.” Yet the community can get through this and grow.
“Make sure you include everyone in this journey,” said Smith, “because we’re all in this one together.”
He also recalled the first time he heard Bramson play.
“He blew me away,” so Smith figured Bramson would soon catch a plane to New York City to seek his musical fortunes. Instead he stayed to become a do-it-yourself independent musician in Port Townsend, playing in numerous bands; he and his wife, violinist Emily Madden, formed his last band, Solvents. The pair played in pubs, halls and numerous fundraisers in and around Port Townsend, and were well-known for their music and their connection as kindred spirits. They traveled down the West Coast with their music, from the Sirens and Uptown pubs in Port Townsend all the way to Mexico. In 2010, they toured Europe, and it was in Belgium that Bramson proposed to Madden. They were married at Alexander’s Castle at Fort Worden State Park.
Those who knew Bramson well spoke not only of his music-making but also his devotion to his wife and their children. O’Shea described his and Madden’s household as hectic, fun and unruly: “the teenage zoo,” he said as laughter rose up from the crowd.
Alicia Munyer, the mother of Bramson’s twin daughters, spoke of his love for Aurora and Ana.
“Whatever happened between him and I, I chose the right man to procreate with,” she said.
“You will forever live on in our twins.”
Melinda Trenary held out her arms to Bramson’s mother Cindy Mangutz, who was seated on one of the couches near the lip of the stage. Trenary recalled how Mangutz befriended her many years ago.
Then she looked out at the crowd.
“What a testament of love,” Trenary said.
“We are connected for life. All of us.”