Local jug band puts fun first – Entertainment & Life – capecodtimes.co…


“When you’re opening a concert with kazoos, you’re kind of announcing where you’re coming from.”

The kazoos are a giveaway.

The All Worn Out Jug Band opens every concert, and its new CD, with a Johnny Cash song (“Ring of Fire” on the CD). But guitarist/vocalist John Kilroy thought of replacing Cash’s brass introductions with the musicians playing kazoos.

“When you’re opening a concert with kazoos, you’re kind of announcing where you’re coming from,” says ukulele player/vocalist Gregory Baird, explaining the band’s appeal to both audiences and members. “It’s about having fun, for sure, and I think the songs we play are fun and the arrangements we give them are fun.”

The 20-year-old band, a staple at First Night Chatham and summer music strolls, will lead a release party Friday night at Wellfleet Preservation Hall for its second CD, which is coming out 12 years after its first. “Still Kickin’” reflects the sound that Kevin Howard, the only original member still in the band, says has evolved over the past four years as the group has settled into its current five-member lineup.

The CD was made last year with Jay Sheehan of Night Owl Recordings at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod’s studio in South Yarmouth. The 15 tracks, also available on Pandora and Spotify, represent the core of All Worn Out’s repertoire and style. “It’s a record of where we are now,” Baird says.

The band is a Cape Cod branch of what members say is a worldwide postmodern movement dedicated to the jug-band mix of largely folk and country music that became popular in the 1920s-’30s South using household items. The style enjoyed a revival in the ‘60s, and musicians as well known as John Sebastian, the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan – as well as the Beatles and Rolling Stones playing “skiffle” in England – started out playing what was essentially jug-band music, Howard says.

“It’s simple, it’s funky, it’s easy to play,” Kilroy says.

While watching Ken Burns’ recent documentary “Country Music,” Howard says, he was struck by how the All Worn Out set list reflects early jug-band recordings by the likes of Maybelle Carter, Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams.

While the Cape group’s instruments include the more mainstream fiddle, banjo, mandolin and harmonica, some songs call for the traditional jug, a slide whistle or the washboard Baird inherited from co-founder Denis Meacham that’s decked out with bells and other items.

“Bells and whistles for us is a very literal term,” Baird says with a laugh. “And we tell jokes. … When you think of making music with odds and ends, there’s already a humorous aspect to it.”

Humor has been a staple since band’s start, playing to raise funds for the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House of Chatham. Meacham was a solo folk artist in the ’60s who studied with singer Dave Van Ronk, and was part of a Greenwich Village music scene that included Jim Kweskin, Geoff Muldaur and other jug-band musicians, Howard says. In Chatham, “Meacham and his wife used to be the entertainers at every single church event, and he said ‘I’ve got to come up with some other concept here.’ So he grabbed a bunch of us and put us together and had these jug-band songs and really worked on the arrangements.”

Shows have been reminiscent of longtime TV show “Hee Haw,” Howard says, with jokes, banter and music. The group’s size was once as large as 11 musicians, and Howard counts 20 different members over the years, some who have since died or become too ill to play. Past members have included an elderly female performer with a big Minnie Pearl-style hat, a high-school tuba player, and Howard’s daughter (now a graduate student in opera), singing with the band at age 9.

Howard’s jobs have been in the nonprofit/business world, including president-CEO of the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod and executive director of the Cape Cod Conservatory of Music and Arts. Until the past few years, most colleagues didn’t know he played music. He has enjoyed the band – which generally performs every month or two, more in the summer – as a creative outlet beyond the stress of his jobs.

“We’ve always had this ethos of having fun, and having our eye on the prize of ‘What are we really doing this for?’ We want to make people happy and ourselves happy while we’re doing it,” he says.

Kilroy, retired CIO at Cape Cod Hospital who had often previously played at open mics, was a fan of All Worn Out before members asked him to join. Freelance writer Baird lived in New York City when he “fell in love” with the band after stumbling upon a concert while vacationing with his future wife. They asked the band to play at their wedding, then when the couple moved here years later, he became friendly with band members and joined in.

Howard jokes that when the Rev. Edmund Robinson arrived in 2008, he was just as enthusiastic about joining the jug band as becoming minister of the Chatham church. Robinson now plays banjo, fiddle, concertina, harmonica, bongos and jug. The newest member is bass player Mary Loebig, department chair for alternative learning at Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School, who also performs in the local No Priors band.

All five members are also vocalists in an egalitarian style that Kilroy says makes the band more of a revue. “We’re a succession of individual artists with people who play music around us,” he says. “We don’t act like a band, like here’s the lead singer, here’s the two harmony vocalists. … We all (sing) and change instruments.”

The CD tracks range from “Dark as a Dungeon,” which Dylan sang, to “Your Cheatin’ Heart” (made famous by Hank Williams) and “Jug Band Blues,” which Baird wrote about the group. “Every song has its own personality,” Howard says, “and one of the things that I think makes the band great is that everybody brings … besides their musical talent, also a vocal style.”

The band’s repertoire for concerts ranges from the 1870s to the 1970s, Baird says, with a couple of his original tunes in the mix. While All Worn Out’s style may seem like a rare nod to tunes of the past, and a way to bring the music to new generations, members have discovered more jug-band fans over the years than even they expected.

Kilroy mentions the CD’s “Cigarettes, Whiskey (and Wild, Wild Women)” tune, which he says is a relatively obscure song he learned in the 1970s. But he remembers a concert when they played it and “all these people were singing the song. … It constantly surprises me that people know the music.”

 

 



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