What: 30th Annual Battle of the Jug Bands
When: Feb. 11-12
Where: Feb. 11: Nomad World Pub, 501 Cedar Ave.
Feb. 12: The Cabooze, 917 Cedar Ave.
Just a few weeks removed from the Janis Joplin tribute show, the Cabooze will host another performance fueled by love and nostalgia for music of a previous era. This time, at the 30th Annual Battle of the Jug Bands, it is nostalgia for something much older and a style much more foreign to music of today.
All it really takes to be a jug band is an empty jug and a person to blow into it, though other homemade instruments like washboard, kazoo and washtub bass are also commonplace in jug bands.
“It’s a really fun music to play. You can just have a guy hitting a stick on something in your band if you want,” said Al Haug, an organizer of the event and member of the Fat Chance Jugband. “You can’t do that if you’re in Led Zeppelin.”
But if a jug band is going to compete with one of the 30 groups from around the Midwest that will gather for this two-day event, it will probably take a little more effort and talent than that.
“It’s a kind of music that can be played by people who can barely play, which is part of the fun,” Haug said. “But it is also played by incredibly talented people. A lot of the bands that will be here have members that have played on ‘A Prairie Home Companion‘ or in bands that tour nationally.”
The performances, evaluated by a panel of expert judges, are taken seriously, but the weekend overall is a casual occurrence.
“A lot of the people come back year after year,” Haug said. “It’s just a fun, loose way to get together with people who love this music and compete for the Waffle Iron.”
The coveted Waffle Iron trophy is given to the best out of the bands that perform on Sunday, known as the Waffle League. Saturday performers compete in what’s called Pancake League.
“They win bragging rights and they get to keep the Waffle Iron all year and make waffles with it,” Haug said. “We started engraving winners’ names into it a few years ago.”
Last year’s winners, Sasquatch Wristwatch and Barehand Jug Band will return this weekend to defend their titles.
But the first battle did not have such clear cut rules and prizes.
It began in 1979, when Will Donicht of the jug band Mama’s Home Cookin’ challenged Judy Larson of the Sorry Muthas to a live face-off. The number of bands, fans and size of the venue have all grown steadily since. It has been held at the Cabooze since 1997, when it attracted a crowd of more than 500.
The battle is a signifier of a movement that hearkens back to traditional music that has picked up in recent years.
“By now, there are a number of other jug band battles,” Haug said. “There’s one in Chicago and Duluth. They’re talking about one in Oregon. When ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’ came out there was a big rise of interest in this kind of music. There’s the California Jug Band Association which started up around that time.”
The Minneapolis battle came first, though.
“We started long before any of these other things started,” Haug said. “There wasn’t a lot of interest in jug bands back then. It was a little niche thing.”
Even though there are other jug band events, they aren’t imbued with the combative spirit that the Waffle Iron trophy brings out in the participants on the West Bank.
“They started a festival in California too. Not a battle though, they thought that was too competitive,” Haug said. “You know how California people are.”
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