Remembering Exit 17’s James “Lunchbox” Giunta

Take a trip around the Hudson Valley and you are sure to see a sticker that reads “Exit 17” posted up on a street sign, parking meter, in a bar, on a guitar case or a flyer for their next show. 

Even if you have never heard Exit 17’s music, you are well aware of them. That’s credit to lead singer James Giunta, who tragically died Sept. 26 at 30 years old. 

“He had the old school mentality of promoting shows by hitting the streets, flyering towns, passing out hand bills at other shows. He actually cared,” said Mike Terry, guitarist and vocalist of punk band The Jukebox Romantics. “He was a character that was larger than life. I’ll miss his smile and work ethic.”

Exit 17 formed in March 2013 when Giunta began taking guitar seriously and wrote songs on his acoustic. According to his bandmates, he would wake up, take his guitar outside and scream his songs at the top of his lungs.

Drummer Phil Bartsch reminisced of Giunta’s “sweaty bear hugs,” when talking about the mind behind Exit 17. 

“It’s so hard because he had his hand in so many pots,” Bartsch said, referring to his presence in the community. “There were so many versions of him. His mind worked faster than his guitar.”

When the news of Giunta’s death broke, sympathies on Facebook poured out, with heartfelt posts and pictures that reflected his life. His work ethic and friendly demeanor were a testament to how people remembered him. 

Eli Frank, who plays in the band Top Nachos and has a solo project, Winnebago Vacation, among other endeavors, said that while he wasn’t the closest to Giunta, his presence meant everything to the music community in the Hudson Valley. 

“I only just recently moved up here, but every time I’d run into him he’d be so psyched to see me and was just a very enthusiastic person,” Frank said. “He loved music with a passion. He would throw a ton of benefit shows and would support everyone around him as much as he could.”

Appropriately, members of the community, including Frank, have set up a tribute show for Giunta on Oct. 15 called “BoxFest” at Snug Harbor Bar and Grill, an homage to Giunta’s nickname of Lunchbox. 

“I wanted to help put this benefit together because I know it’s something ‘Box’ would have done for me,” Frank said.

The show will feature many local artists, including Exit 17 and Top Nachos, as well as It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Multiple Bird Strikes and Frances Dean among others. The proceeds from the event will be put towards a memorial bench in front of Snugs to commemorate Giunta as well as donating the rest to Serenity Scene in Rifton. Serenity Scene is an addiction recovery home for women. 

The band will also be giving out free Narcan at the benefit show, which treats narcotic overdose in an emergency situation.