The Harrisburg music scene today is mourning the passing of Michael “Jersey Mike” Van Jura, a tireless advocate for live music and arts in the Central Pennsylvania region who died of an apparent heart attack Sunday at age 36.
Van Jura booked concerts at the Abbey Bar at the Appalachian Brewing Company, but he was more than a promoter. He shared his views and commentary on civic issues, pop culture and the music industry on JerseyMike.org, but he was more than a blogger. Van Jura had a bigger vision for what he did – call him a cultural catalyst, a community activist – a guy who put his energies toward making the world around him a better place. This meant everything from giving Central Pa.’s music fans an avenue to see touring acts like Hoots and Hellmouth and The Hold Steady to fighting entertainment taxes on his fellow promoters and speaking out against development projects that he felt did more harm than good to Harrisburg’s residents.
As one commenter on Van Jura’s obituary in the Harrisburg Patriot-News summed it up, “Instead of sitting on the sidelines and complaining, like so many of us do, he actively tried to make things better. He believed in the potential of this region, despite all the reasons to believe otherwise.”
His passion was reflected in his drive to connect the local social media community through monthly Tweet-up events at The Abbey. It could be felt in the way he worked with the acts he brought on to The Abbey’s stage. Ken Mueller met Van Jura during his time coordinating marketing for WXPN in Central Pa., and wrote on his Inking Media blog about his friend’s musicians-first approach to promoting:
You see, what set Mike apart from many of the other music industry folks in the Harrisburg area is that he cared about good music, and he cared about the musicians. He wanted them to succeed. He wasn’t merely using them to make a buck. He wasn’t sleazy. There were days it took all I had in me to go to a meeting with some of the local music promoters. Not Mike. I always looked forward to our meetings. He was never just working some kind of angle. He was legit. A “what you see is what you get” kinda guy. He never put on airs.
This morning The Hold Steady shared their condolences on Twitter – “Crushed by news of @jerseymike . Mike Van Jura was one of the very good ones. Thoughts to all his family and friends. Mike, we miss you.”
Van Jura leaves behind two children – his daughter Kaiya and his son Lennon. A group of about 100 mourners gathered last night at the Appalachian Brewing Company, which just hours before had hosted a Toys for Tots benefit Van Jura organized with Martini Brothers and The Badlees. Van Jura’s final tweet was about the event – “Biggest Toys for Tots event yet. Over 400 thru the doors,” with “hi fives” all the musicians involved.