‘All We Ever Have’: New music video puts local twist on supporting each other in the pandemic

  • Laurie Sanders, co-director of Historic Northampton, and Valley musician Jim Armenti, in front of Historic Northampton on Monday. The two have collaborated on a new video that features a song written and performed by Armenti, “All We Ever Have.” The performance features Armenti and numerous other people from the Valley, with still images shot by Gazette photographers and other contributors. The video focuses on how the pandemic has challenged everyone, and how people within their communities can support one another. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Edgar Cancel and Henry Seney of Valley Bike are pictured In this image included in the video “All We Ever Have.” SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • In this image in the video “All We Ever Have,” Jim Armenti, Helen Boston and Sylvia Johnson, to the right of the fence, talk with neighbors Deanna, Ryan and Ed O’Connor. This part of the video was shot in Florence. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • In this image in the video “All We Ever Have,” Dave Newland of Northampton Open Media films Jim Armenti on Graves Avenue. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • In this image in the video “All We Ever Have,” Dave Newland of Northampton Open Media films Jim Armenti in front of Downtown Sounds on Pleasant Street. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/27/2020 11:55:18 AM

The pandemic has challenged everyone, not just individually but in how people within their communities can support one another.

In Northampton, a new video featuring longtime Valley musician Jim Armenti celebrates that spirit, and the video itself marks a collaboration between Armenti, Historic Northampton, Northampton Open Media (NOM) and other organizations.

“All We Ever Have,” a song written and performed by Armenti, a multi-instrumentalist known in particular for his guitar playing and songwriting, can now be seen on NOM’s YouTube channel, in a video that features Armenti and numerous other people from the Valley, along with still images shot by Gazette photographers and other contributors who have chronicled the COVID-19 era.

It’s a project initiated by Laurie Sanders, co-director of Historic Northampton, who was inspired by seeing a video in the spring put together by Robbie Robertson, Ringo Starr and other musicians around the world, a virtual performance of Robertson’s seminal song “The Weight.” The video was actually made last fall, but it’s been heavily viewed since the pandemic hit, given its theme of bringing people together through music.

“I thought ‘We can totally do something like that here,’” said Sanders. She reached out to some musicians she knew, including Armenti, and asked if they had a song that could be part of a community-minded video. Armenti responded with “All We Ever Have,” a country-folk tune he composed in late April.

“I like to write songs with a narrative, with a storyline, and I just started writing about all the things we were experiencing when everything came down in early spring,” he said.

The song’s lyrics touch on all the weirdness of the time we’re in: “Don’t get close keep a little bit of distance / Smile with your eyes, there’s a lot to a quick glance … People in face masks living alone / pandemic landscape outside of home / Nobody down at the taco place / everybody gone without a trace.”

But the chorus offers hope, with a plea that we maintain our community bonds: “Greet your friends with a wave and a prayer / Don’t be wondering if it is or ain’t fair / Cause I got yours and you got mine / That’s all we ever have most of the time.”

Armenti recorded the tune in his home studio on electric and acoustic guitars; he does all the singing and has overdubbed a harmony vocal on the chorus and in a few other places. With a laugh, he says he took out his original “crummy drums” on the track and swapped in some percussion performed by his nephew, Michael Reilly, who added his part digitally from his home in the New York City area.

The video features a mix of photos, including images Gazette photo editor Carol Lollis has been sharing with Historic Northampton since the pandemic arrived as a record for the museum of this time: volunteers delivering pre-packaged meals to area households, people taking Zoom-based exercise classes, friends talking at a safe distance and wearing masks, and more.

Armenti can also be seen strolling through a few parts of downtown Northampton with his acoustic guitar, while others from the community, such as staff members of the International Language Institute, dance to the song’s gentle rhythm. The video was made by Dave Newland of Northampton Open Media.

“When I reached out to Northampton Open Media about this, they said ‘We’re in,’” said Sanders. “And Dave has done such a great job putting it all together…. We also have images of all these different groups in the area that have been doing so much to help out others. It really does feel like a wonderful celebration of our community.”

Armenti says he’s happy to have played his part in the project. Like musicians everywhere, his live gigs have mostly disappeared since the spring, though he’s still teaching 20-plus students through Downtown Sounds — he just does it via Zoom. He’s also continued to rehearse remotely with the Young@Heart Chorus, as he’s been part of the group’s backing band for years.

Yet in some ways, he says, he’s found life calmer and easier since the pandemic started. “It seems weird to say that, because so many people around the world are really hurting, but there are a lot of things I don’t like to do that I don’t have to do right now, like drive and fight traffic.”

That said, he adds, the separation from people other than immediate family and some neighbors is tough. He’s had some of his students out a few times to rehearse and jam in the yard of his Westhampton home, and he also played with his band Lonesome Brothers in August for the virtual version of this year’s Transperformance concert, which was live-streamed from the Northampton Community Arts Trust building.

But otherwise, he noted, “I’m missing contact with people just like everyone.”

But Sanders, for one, takes heart from the lyrics of “All We Ever Have,” saying that Armenti’s song “doesn’t shy away from the problems we’re dealing with, but it also reinforces the idea that we can stick together, that we can draw strength from that and be a caring community.”

The video can be viewed at youtube.com/watch?v=NPNbE6W7N2o

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

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