Jackson Cavalier, a ‘Gems in the Rough’ finalist, eyes national spotlight 

click to enlarge Jackson Cavalier. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Jackson Cavalier.
Americana musician Jackson Cavalier is well known to Rochester-area music fans as a regular live performer with more than a decade of experience, but national attention has eluded him

The singer-songwriter hopes his luck changes this year with the competition “Gems in the Rough,” an annual talent competition held by the Nashville-based digital media channel Gems on VHS, which champions video performances by folk and Americana artists.

“I've never been very optimistic entering large competitions like this,” Cavalier said. “If I'm being honest, I've never had much luck with it.

The singer-songwriter cut his teeth by busking as a one-man-band at the Rochester Public Market and fronting the band Jackson Cavalier and the Fevertones (of which this writer was a member for several years). he became a regular performer on the upstate New York craft brewery circuit.

Cavalier, whose given name is John Luczak, auditioned for the TV show “America’s Got Talent” several years ago but he wasn’t selected to advance in the contest.”


Gems on VHS boasts more than 200,000 YouTube subscribers and 86,000 Instagram followers. The channel started in 2011 and is run by musicologist and documentarian Anthony Simpkins.

Cavalier, who competed with over 1,000 other applicants before making the Top 10, is now one of three finalists for the 2023 Gems in the Rough Contest. The winner, determined by public vote, will get a trip to Nashville to be featured on the Gems YouTube channel. The voting for the competition closes Friday, April 7, at 11:55 p.m. central time.

While Cavalier acknowledges that a win could bring him national recognition and an instantaneous new group of fans, he’s also excited for the additional attention it could bring to Rochester. He cites nationally known acts such as Danielle Ponder, Joywave, and Mikaela Davis as important ambassadors of the local music scene.

“The world is starting to take notice,” Cavalier said. “So I want to add to that crack in the dam and say, you know, Rochester should be considered a major market, it should be considered a major pool of talent. And we shouldn't have to struggle or accept things the way that they are right now, because as soon as our potential is realized, there's no going back. I mean, Rochester is a city of the music and arts, and to deny that, you'd have to be crazy.”

Cavalier initially submitted his song “The Devil’s Blood Red Moon” for the Gems contest. The murder ballad has a dark sensibility and employs horror-inducing fiction in the vein of the writer Edar Allan Poe. The song showcases Cavalier’s ability to sing while simultaneously playing guitar and a drum machine. The performance is polished, but the sound itself — from the crunch of the acoustic guitar to Cavalier’s emotive vocals and wailing harmonica — is full of raw emotion bubbling under the surface.



Cavalier performed the song “Spinning Gold Out of Twine” for the final round of the competition.

For more information about Gems on VHS, and to vote for the winner of the 2023 Gems in the Rough Contest, go to gemsonvhs.com.

Daniel J. Kushner is CITY's arts editor. He can be reached at [email protected].

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