Jediah Finds Radiance
story by Amy Palumbo-LeClaire
This story first appeared in The Yankee Xpress.
When Jediah Jarvais of the former band “Jediah” tells his story, dates and events blur and waver like the flame of a candle held beneath a darkened sky. The singer-songwriter is an utter talent, a big name with a history that’s both messy and magnificent. Sober since January of 2019, he struggles to best convey the broken pieces of a musical life scored by a drug and alcohol addiction that nearly cost him his life, and claimed that of his sister, Niomi.
“I started drinking around the age of twelve. By the time I was fourteen, I was drinking all weekend long, and playing at local coffee shops,” he said. “No one had to pressure me to drink or use. I did it all on my own. It was just part of my life back then. I was part of a musical family.”
According to Jediah, his father, Richard Jarvais, also a jazz icon, had a positive influence on his musical life. “I grew up in a musical family, gospel and jazz. My grandfather owned one of the first electric banjos ever made. We were always into music. A friend of the family gave us a Gibson acoustic guitar. I picked it up and starting playing and writing my own songs by ear at the age of 14.”
Unsurprisingly, music became Jediah’s primary focus throughout his high school years. Voted “Most Musical” at Shepherd Hill Regional High School, Jediah claims to have been more concerned with partying and “getting messed up” than he was with academics. He played diligently at local coffee shops yet always under the influence. It was all he knew. It was what he did. Thereafter, he recorded a live album (circa 2005) called Jediah Live in 2005, followed by the album “Flight” at Longview Recordings Studios, North Brookfield. Jediah’s raw talent, along with a band now disassembled, had found an audience, along with more than a few venues to play at.
Everyone came to watch the super star play Elvis, Johnny Cash, U2, Dave Matthews and original love songs such as “Butterfly” at local venues, numerous Boston clubs, Six Flags, and at Mohegan Sun Casino (as a solo artist). His musical presence - deep, emotive, and toned with the rare quality of a performer noted to possess the “it” factor – was making a mark on the music industry. His songs were passing through the hearts and minds of audiences who couldn’t help but fall in-love with Jediah.
He received numerous awards in the Worcester area, such as Best Male Vocalist, Best Solo Act, Best Original Songwriter and Best Rock Band. His songs and soundtracks were snagged for movies. Across the timorous lines of cocaine, booze, and jam-packed shows, Jediah was traveling uphill.
The only problem was - as Jediah’s fame rose - so did the intensity of his addiction. Moments of incoherence, blackouts, shakes, torment, withdrawal, anxiety and depression darkened his nights and stole his days while hospitalized for detoxification. A doctor’s Christmas day (2018) warning that his medical levels were a fraction from leaving him in a coma marked an awakening.
“I lost the band. I was a mess. I ended up getting a three-piece band and that went down, too. Drugs turned me into a completely different person. I didn’t care who I was. I crawled to the toilet. I couldn’t hold down water and had pancreatitis. I was taken to Washburn Rehab Center in Worcester. My sister was in critical condition. I kept seeing the sick image that I was about to be in the same boat.”
On December 26, 2018, Jediah’s loving sister, Niomi, was not able to dodge addiction’s bullet. She died of liver and kidney failure. “She was the one who showed me my first chords on the guitar.” The death of his sister hit hard. “I wouldn’t look in the mirror. I didn’t want to face the person looking back at me.”
With the support of his parents, Manager Bruce Warila, loyal friends who have stuck by him, and the charitable Grammy foundation, MusicCares (who funded his recovery), Jediah is now able to look at himself in the mirror and, incidentally, he likes the person he sees looking back at him. The musician is immensely grateful to be alive, and to have found his rhythm again.
“I wake up at the break of day and I have a routine. It’s working. My faith is back. My parents are proud of me right now. My Dad was a minister. I grew up with a Christian upbringing. I was so messed up that I forgot to believe in something. Now I have a foundation to be there for people. I try to make a difference by talking to people at AdCare and to people in rehab.”
Aside from his desire to pay forward all that he’s learned, Jediah also writes and sings about all that he’s overcome via heartfelt (and ironic) songs such as the recently performed original, “It Drinks Me” (sung at Point Breeze, Webster, June 22). In light of prominent dark years, he’s learned to take things one day at a time and use his spared life to help others. He has found joy and purpose working at his family’s florist in Southbridge, Town and Country Flowers, where he takes solace in the careful discipline that comes with cutting, arranging, and delivering bouquets of flowers to brighten others’ days amid the spiritual presence of his sister. He has reaffirmed his faith in God and, most definitely, has returned to that which he does best— making music.
“I was living off of borrowed time, one point from death. Now things have fallen into place. I envisioned playing again. I don’t make any promises to make things up to people. I am doing it with my actions by showing people I care about that I’m not just that fallen, uncaring kid. I have my friends back. I have a fellowship. I am alive. I want to make every little bit count. I had no idea what happiness was. I thought it was getting drunk and high.”
Happiness, for Jediah Jarvais, has begun to take shape within the walls of the flower shop that his sister used to run, and where he practices playing. The singer-songwriter, now sober, wears no facade.
“It’s just me and my music out there. I can’t hide behind a substance anymore. It’s awkward because my whole life (in music) has been played under the influence. I never knew what it was like to play sober. But I know it’s about progression, not perfection. One day at a time is what I have.”
As honest as he is talented, Jediah does not wish to give false hopes about what fans can expect from him at an upcoming performance.
“I’m going to sing and play the best that I can. That’s all I can do. I’m just going to be me."
Story by Amy Palumbo-LeClaire
This story first appeared in The Yankee Xpress.