America’s Happiest Music: Right here in Louisville!

by Melissa Chipman

Jake Leg Stompers from Murfreesboro, Tn.

Jake Leg Stompers from Murfreesboro, Tn.

It’s one of the best-kept Louisville festival secrets, and it shouldn’t be.

The Jug Band Jubilee is in its ninth year at the Brown-Foreman Amphitheater at Waterfront Park and is truly one of the most fun music festivals in town.

They don’t call jug band music “America’s happiest music” for nothin’.

Crow Quil Night Owls

Crow Quill Night Owls- Port Townsend, WA

Aficionados of the music come from all over the country to attend the event, always the third Saturday in September. This year that means it’s on Saturday August 21 from noon until 11 p.m. at the Brown-Forman Amphitheater in Waterfront Park. The festival is free and is exceptionally family-friendly. In addition to the music, the festival also includes food vendors, a beer and wine booth, and a number of workshops for adults and children.

Jug music was born in Louisville. It’s a pre-jazz, late 19th century style that features traditional and homemade instruments made of repurposed objects, like a washboard or a washtub bass or a kazoo fashioned out of paper and a comb. The eponymous jug was called “the poor man’s tuba.” The form originated with African-Americans in Louisville, and when the music peaked in popularity in the 1930′s, it had made its way down the Ohio and the Mississippi Rivers to cities like Memphis and New Orleans.

Rod Wenz founded the Jubilee in 2004 and passed away in 2008. The festival is currently run by Heather Leoncini, the daughter of the late “Amazing Mr. Fish” who played with Louisville’s Juggernaut Jug Band for more than 40 years.

jugband posterThe 2013 line-up of the Jubilee includes:

· The Crow Quill Night Owls – Port Townsend, WA

· The Hokum High Rollers – New Orleans, LA

· Sanctified Grumblers – Chicago, IL

· The Cincinnati Dancing Pigs – Cincinnati, OH

· The Juggernaut Jug Band – Louisville, KY

· How Long Jug Band – Portland, OR

· The Jake Leg Stompers – Murfreesboro, TN

· Boo Bradley – Madison, WI

· Brotherhood of the Jug Band Blues – New York, NY

The day before the Jubilee many of the acts will visit area schools and give presentations on their art and the history of jug band music.

True story: Before I came to Insider Louisville (I know it’s hard to believe that there was life before IL), I was a high school teacher who taught American Lit to juniors. I always wanted to encourage them to get out and experience American culture first hand, so I gave them extra credit for events that I considered true “Americana.” The Jubilee was one of those.

One class decided, as a lark, check out the Jug Band Jubilee en masse. The event sounded  ”old and hillbilly” but they thought they could enjoy it as a goof if they all went together.

Come Monday morning classes, all I heard about was how much fun they all had at the Jug Band Jubilee. How great the music was. How nice the people were. How much fun they had dancing. How good the food was.

They showed me pictures and told all the kids who missed out that they had to go next year…

These were 16 year-olds, kids who probably were a-okay with Miley’s twerking at the VMA’s.

16 year-olds: otherwise known as “America’s toughest critics.”

That’s a heck of an endorsement, in my opinion.

“America’s happiest music” for sure

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