They’re gettin’ juggy with it!
An international assembly of jug bands will roll into Red Hook’s Jalopy Theatre this month for a two-day festival of old-timey music. The first “Mid-Winter Jug Band Rendezvous” on Feb. 16 and 17 will celebrate bands that create music in part by blowing into an empty container of booze — an improvised instrument that can provide an amazing array of sounds, said one of the festival participants.
“When you see a good jug player, it’s unbelievable until you get past the fact that it’s someone blowing in a jug,” said Bill Howard, the jug player and guitarist for the Ever-Lovin’ Jug Band, who will travel from Ontario for the show. “It takes incredible talent and it’s also kind of funny.”
Blowing into a jug makes sounds similar to a brass instruments, but its low notes can also sound like a bass. Jug bands typically feature instruments like banjos, upright basses, fiddles, and guitars in addition to the jug, as well as other homemade instruments such as the washboard — a percussion instrument played by scraping and tapping the old cleaning device.
Jug music usually has elements of the blues and bluegrass, reminiscent of the genre’s origins in the early 20th century in the American South, but the bands playing at the Jalopy hail from Canada and New Jersey, in addition to several from Brooklyn, playing a variety of jug, blues, country, and jazz music.
Arminda Thomas, who plays jug and banjo for the all-female Brooklyn band the Queens of Everything, said that jug music might not have mainstream popularity, but there is there is a cult audience for the old-school genre, especially among young people.
“More and more our culture provides audiences for many types of music,” she said. “A lot of younger people are delving into the music of last century.”
Thomas, who hails from Memphis but now lives in Clinton Hill, said she got into jug music while exploring the music of her grandparents.
“The music had a lot to do with the lives my grandmothers lived,” she said. “I did a lot of exploring of the music of the ’20s and early ’30s.”
Jug music’s niche appeal creates a strong sense of community among its players. Bill Carney, the washboard player for his eponymous Prospect Heights band Bill Carney’s Jug Addicts, says the festival is a great chance to bring together fans of the genre from Brooklyn and beyond.
“We see our ourselves as a school of music, but people don’t really know who we are,” he said. “It’ll be nice to have a gathering of the jug tribe.”
“The Mid-Winter Jug Band Rendezvous” at Jalopy Theatre (315 Columbia St. between Woodhull Street and Hamilton Avenue in Red Hook, www.jalop