A Final Encore for UVA Law's Unofficial Cover Band
Other bands might break up due to ego clashes, spats over publishing rights or any number of other sticking points filed under the category of "creative differences."
Not these guys. The members of Jefferson Clerkship, the unofficial cover band of the University of Virginia School of Law, broke up over the weekend as the best of friends. All but one of the band's lineup are members of the Class of 2017, with the graduates next preparing to take the bar and enter the legal market.
For their last show Saturday, on the eve of graduation, fans packed the Buddhist Biker Bar, Crozet Pizza's location at the Corner in Charlottesville. Many students brought their parents who were in town, and the crowd soon turned the deck into a dance floor. The law students performed rock and pop favorites, many of them from the 1990s.
"You sound beautiful!" lead singer Alex Starr told the crowd as it sang along to "Jesse's Girl," an early '80s exception in their set list.
Ryan Pavel, who played bass and also sang, was relieved the song landed.
"The best is any time that we play 'Jesse's Girl' correctly," Pavel said, half-joking, in off-stage comments. "I think we're one for 15."
Though UVA Law students have formed many bands over the years, the idea for the latest iteration came about three years ago after some Class of 2015 students who performed as pit musicians for the Libel Show, the annual staged send-up of Law School life, decided they wanted to continue to jam together. They branded themselves The Justice Jackson Five.
But with all of the students in the band graduating that year, then–second-year student Justin Thekkekara sought to put together his own band to keep the fun going.
"Justin Thekkekara bugged me until I agreed to try out for Libel, and then he bugged me until I agreed to play bass for Jefferson Clerkship in 2015," Pavel said. "I'm so glad he did that, because this has been an awesome experience."
The Clerkship became a fixture over the past two years, playing at other popular venues around town, including Rapture, The Biltmore and Boylan Heights.
Of course, they also played events specifically for law students — the most recent being the North Grounds Softball League's annual tournament.
And they played fraternity and sorority parties, where the revelers weren't shy about interacting with them on stage. But Alex Nemtzow, who played drums for the band, said that was about as wild as their bookings ever got.
"Most of our shows have been relatively uneventful by rock-star standards," Nemtzow said.
He said there was one personally harrowing moment, however.
"One of the worst moments on stage for me was during a song that used a lot of drum," Nemtzow said. "I was hitting the floor tom so hard that one of the legs came loose, and it collapsed with half of the song left. I spent the rest of the song holding it up with my leg so that I wouldn't train-wreck the song. I ended up with a huge bruise from the ordeal, but it was worth it."
Despite their part-time rock 'n' roll lifestyle, the band's grades — and their reputations — remained in good standing. The graduating band members will soon be headed to respected law firms in markets such as Boston and Chicago (as well as some cities that don't double as names of rock bands).
Ryan Caira, who came up with the band's name, a play on Jefferson Starship, said there were a few tricks to juggling music and class responsibilities.
"Learning songs was the most time-consuming thing, and we'd usually front-load it so we wouldn't be overburdened when schoolwork picked up mid- and late semester," said Caira, who played guitar, including bass. He said it also helped that they tried to book their shows for the end of the week.
Nemtzow said the band performed seven to 10 shows each semester, but agreed their classes were always the priority.
"I think the band did a good job putting law school first," Nemtzow said. "We were called for gigs during finals, but we always politely declined. I think it surprises some people for a band to say, 'Sorry, we can't play because we have to study.'"
Nemtzow was one of the original members of the Clerkship, along with Starr, Pavel and Caira, and 2016 grads Thekkekara and Jack Bisceglia. Guitarist Nate Risinger also joined for one show last year. Nemtzow's twin brother Zach, who played guitar, including bass, and the saxophone, joined the band this year when they had an opening, as did bassist Willard Younger, the lone second-year student.
"I don't think I would have had another opportunity to pick up the bass again if the guys hadn't reached out," said Younger, who previously played in high school bands.
The Law School band tradition is expected to continue — most likely under another cheeky, legal-themed name.
Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.