by Gareth Middlebrook
I first met Justin President during a summer session before my last year at college, circa 2007. I was satisfying a math requirement I had dropped twice previously and, needless to say, was not very invested in the course. It was summer. All my close friends were off preparing for life. Or getting ready for a year of capstone credits, occasionally attending the one or two classes they were enrolled in. I remember the class being taught by a monotone, couldn’t-care-less professor – basically the epitome of boredom for anyone with a beating heart.
But I remember Prez distinctively. Big smile, giant fro – afro pick included – and a hearty laugh that always made his presence known. I kept to myself the first few classes, but couldn’t help joining in the conversations taking place at the front end of the classroom as Prez made hilarious observation after hilarious observation about the teacher’s lack of enthusiasm.
After class one day, about half way through the semester, Justin came up and introduced himself. We were outside the building, sunlight beating down on us, and I’ll admit I was a little tense. His goofy optimism was intimidating, and I just wanted to go home.
Prez: “Hey! Gareth, right?”
Prez: “I know this is kinda out of left-field, but are you 21?”
Me: “Uhhhhh. Sure. Why? What’s Up?”
Prez: “I’m trying to go hang out with some beers. Do you wanna grab some beers and go to my buddy’s house?”
A little reluctantly, I obliged. I’m not sure why. I wasn’t in the habit of buying younger kids beer, nor did I really feel like hanging at the time. Maybe it was the beautiful weather. Maybe I just wanted a beer. But it definitely had something to do with that aura Prez gave off. Anyone who has met him will know what I’m talking about. As goofy and unpredictable as he was, you just wanted to be around him.
We walked to where I had parked my Dad’s cranberry red Volvo station wagon, trying to identify any mutual friends we had (Facebook was still a baby back then). Lacking any of those, we clicked the seatbelts in at the very moment that The Disco Biscuits’ “M.E.M.P.H.I.S.” came on. Needless to say, we bonded that day.
Prez passed away last May, right before the beginning of the fifth Together Festival. It hit the community really hard, and I had a hard time coming to grips with the reality of the situation while trying to run a week-long Festival. It still doesn’t feel real. I feel like it was just yesterday that I got one of those long, loving hugs that he gave to everyone he knew.
His love for music was palpable, as evidenced by his skills at mixing Drum and Bass and his constant presence at Elements, Boston’s premiere DNB event. I know that if Justin were still with us, he’d be seeing the sunrises too. He will never be replaced, and I’d like to honor his memory by dedicating this year’s Festival to Justin President. We miss you, Prez. Lots.