FEATURED STUDENT: ELLA

Hello! My name is Ella Eslamian I’m 14 years of age. I’ve been learning piano for 24 months. I love it because it is very rewarding to work on a piece of music and become very good at it My teacher's name is Erin. She’s so cool because she is very calm and encouraging. She pushes me to challenge myself. My favorite part about Kalabash is the warm and welcoming atmosphere One day I hope to learn enough piano to teach younger children I like the sound of Chopin I like the look of puppies and kittens I like the taste of mango ice cream mochi I like the feel of the warm sun on my face on a summer day If i could teleport anywhere in the world it’d be Maldives in the Indian Ocean because the ocean water looks like a swimming pool Advice to my fellow humans is “always, always, always believe in yourself, because if you don’t, then who will, sweetie?”

Congrats Ella! You're amazing! Here are some words from your teacher Erin Chan:

"Ella is inspiring! She is magnificently bright and a superbly sweet student. She comes into class with such a positive energy, motivated to learn as much as she can and has been able to pick up advanced techniques/ songs in such a short amount of time through diligent practicing, natural ability and adventurous learning spirit. We’re so lucky to have students like Ella shine at Kalabash!"

THE LITTLE PRINCE: A handmade theatre production!

A note from the Director:

The journey of the Little Prince has ignited a fire within each of us. I am giddy to the point of being speechless that this project came together as beautifully as it did. Before the project even started, Daniel, Natasha and I knew we had something special, but it wasn’t until seven beautifully creative souls walked through the doors of Kalabash that we understood how truly powerful this experience was going to be. It unveiled itself to all of us, week by week. The uninhibited ideas and excited hearts of each student began to form and blossom, while they themselves were coming out of their shells, and into their incredible ability to comprehend hard ideas, contribute passionate insight, listen to each other and build community. They did all this while taking on a huge amount of lines, blocking and physical forms that were strange and new to them. I am so proud of each of your children. I know that this, for many of them was their first experience on stage. I could not be more proud to be involved in fostering that experience for them. Our approach was nontraditional, because the students had their creative hands and imaginative minds on every single aspect of this show. It is truly their show. We just gave them the space to explore and create. I can’t take much more credit then that. It was their fierce and daring spirits that created the Little Prince.

The Little Prince is the story of a young boy trying to understand the purpose of life and growing up. Each of the planets he visits and grown ups he encounters represent a piece of ourselves that is lost in the transition from childhood into the “real world” as we begin to be burdened with “matters of consequence”. The Little Prince’s journey ultimately brings him back to what had always been most deeply important to him, his rose. The rose could manifest itself to mean many different things to each of us. At the end of his journey, the Fox tells the Little Prince; “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.” This is the moment when the Little Prince decides to make a huge sacrifice to return to what he most loves. I encourage you all to take time to listen and reflect with your own heart after watching this show. Your heart knows you better then anyone else, it has never left you; it has celebrated the best of moments with you, and carried you through your darkest days. It is only there, that we can see the world through the eyes of youth, and with the complete wisdom of the world. I hope you all enjoy taking this journey with us. It has been a complete blessing to spend this time creating meaningful work with your unique, wise, colorful, openhearted children.

Love,

Nancy Ross

 

All of these beautiful photographers were taken by Dorka Hegedus

IN THE ART ROOM: PRINTMAKING

This month in our Art Studio, we are exploring the magic of print making! On our inspiration board:  Spanish artist-illustrator Violeta Lópiz, aquatic life, Earth day and Nature because Nature is awesome on any day! We are in love with the jungly portraits and beautiful illustrations of Violeta Lópiz:  So COOL!

Work in Progress by our Bird Rock Kids after the first session:

Let’s dive under the sea and take a look at our Little Artists created in our aquatic-themed printmaking class!

INSPIRED WITH SAXOPHONIST PAUL BERTIN

Hey everybody meet Paul Bertin, the amazing french sax player you need to listen to right now! He was kind enough to answer a few questions from our awesome sax student Lucas, who found his music and playing so super inspiring. We think you will too!

1. What are your favorite inspirations?

Stan Getz, Paul Desmond, Chet Baker were a big inspirations from a very young age, because my Dad would always play those records. Some pieces of Sydney Bechet really stuck with me too, I love his style. Lately I've been very inspired by different musics from the world, Mulatu Astatke's Jazz from Ethiopia, Selim Sesler's Turkish clarinet, Hungarian folk tunes, Rajhastanis nomad songs, Romanian melodies.. the list is long, but I find traditional musics to be fascinating. I also love when artist like Avishai Cohen or Tigran Hamasyan can mix traditional roots with a modern Jazz sound.

Besides music I get very inspired from observing nature: places like the forest, mountain tops and seasides fill me up with good creative energy. Watching stars as well, and I've got obsessed with sci-fi books that talk of space travel.

2. What made you want to be a sax player?

When I was 6 years old my parents asked what instruments I'd like to play, I replied saxophone, trumpet and cello (the way the music school worked, you had to pick 3 and be auditioned on each one). The cello teacher was not available that day and I couldn't make a sound out of the trumpet mouthpiece, but somehow the sax mouthpiece worked for me ! And so I kept studying classical saxophone in that school for the next 12 years.

What decided me to be a professional musician however was a visit to New Orleans in 2009 : I didn't know anyone there but I was very fortunate to meet wonderful people through music and play every night. To me it was a confirmation that I had something to offer and that I could make a career out of it.

3. What's your favorite thing about the alto?

I love the bittersweet sound of the alto, the tone cuts straight through to the heart. It is very expressive and versatile.
 

4. If you could play any other instrument what would you play?

Piano ! I wish I could play it well,  that would make me a much better musician overall. It really is the key to understanding western harmony, and a great tool for composition. I also love the Bass, I learned to play it as a teenager but never was great.

5. What's your favorite type of cheese?

You know how french people feel about cheese… we love it ! I am particularly fan of a cheese called Mont d'Or, it comes from the region of Besançon where I am from; it is a runny raw milk cheese that comes in a pinewood box. You dig a little hole in the cheese, pour some wine in it, and put the box in the oven; when it comes out, you have the most delicious warm liquid cheese with a golden crust, and you can dip bread in it or pour it over potatoes. It's amazing ! Unfortunately it's impossible to find in the US.

6. How do I play as fast as you?

Eat more cheese! Just kidding.. For the 12 years I spent learning saxophone, my teacher would have me play scales and arpeggios in every key. I didn't like it all that much, but that helped a lot for agility and fluidity. For some of the Romanian melodies I've learned lately (Romanians are notorious for playing extremely fast) I had to start very slow, not even half of the actual speed, and work my way up gradually. Some pieces have taken me weeks, even months, to master.

Articulation is very important : fingers can move quite fast but it's a precise tonguing that will make the note come out. When learning a new piece I always start by finding my articulation points : once that's set it's a lot easier to bring up the speed.

7. I'm very interested in this Balkan music. Do you recommend any pieces for a novice like me?

Here's a very famous tune by Macedonian saxophonist Ferus Mustafov called Dada Sali.

You will notice that there are a lot of ornamentations around the notes; I'd recommend to start by focusing on the melody even if you have to simplify it. Once when you're comfortable with the shape of the melody, you can add more detailed ornaments.

Here is a beautiful piece by Turkish clarinet player Selim Sesler called Gözyaşı (teardrops)

The melody is long but quite simple, feel free to simplify the ornaments when you learn it! A last one for now, by Selim Sesler again, called Kasap Havası (the song of the butcher)

This one is a little bit more advanced, but if you start veeeery slow and work your way up it's not so hard. And I'm sure your awesome teacher Stefanie at Kalabash can help you with that!

FEATURED STUDENT: KAELIN

Hello! My name is Kaelin MacDonald I’m seven years of age. I’ve been learning art for six months. I love it because I like to draw and paint My teacher's name is Laurie. She’s so cool because she is the best at teaching art. My favorite part about Kalabash is art One day i hope to become a famous artist I like the sound of the music in the other room I like the look of the Art and Music rooms I like the taste of spaghetti I like the feel of my 4 dogs Megan, Cora, Frank and Cali If i could teleport anywhere in the world it’d be Alaska because I like all the snow places Advice to my fellow humans is be the best you can!

Words from her teacher:

"Kaelin’s is a natural! Her inquisitive mind and endless imagination always contributes to turning our exploration of the visual arts into a wild adventure! She always surprises me with her great sense of artistic composition and ability to think outside the box.
Not only is Kaelin a talented artist, she is also a kind one: her compassion and care for others shows through her art. Kaelin, you rock and it is a pleasure to be your teacher! Keep inspiring us!"

Laura Blythman Inspired Landscape Collage

Our little artists have been exploring the colorful world of Melbourne based contemporary artist Laura Blythman and they are big fans! We love her patterns, her dreamy sky collages and her colorful landscapes!  Laura was so kind to agree to do a little interview and answer our Little Artists questions, thank you for inspiring us!

Barrett: Why do you use black dots on top of the mountains?

Little black dots are one of my favourite textures and pattern. And in my imagination there should always be dotty mountains.

Barrett: What do you eat for breakfast?

I eat 2 Weetbix with milk and a cup of tea. Do you have Weetbix in America?

Ella: Why do you paint clouds pink?

I love pink clouds! the sky look magical when the sun sets or rises and the clouds turn pink.

Barrett: Why are there many mountains in your paintings?

I just really love mountains. I love to go to the mountains and I love to look at mountains.

Ella: Your clouds look like cotton candy. Do you like cotton candy?

Oh! I LOVE cotton candy. It is so sweet and fun. Once I tried Cotton Candy that had sparkles and sprinkles in it. They called it Unicorn Poop!

Ella: When did you start making beautiful art?

I started when I was your age. *Look at the photos I have attached :)

Barrett: Why did you grow up to be an artist?

Because it makes me so happy and it is important to do whatever makes you happy in life.

To realize this project we created and painted a variety of black and white patterns (dots, hearts, stripes, zigzags etc) along with two watercolor wash. We cut out mountain shapes in our painted sheets of paper and assembled all the pieces and glued them on a black paper background to create our landscape collage! Et voila!

FEATURED STUDENT: BOB

We are thrilled to introduce you to our student of the month, Bob! It is always a pleasure to have him walk through our studio doors, always smiling, always making us smile. Here at Kalabash we welcome students of all ages to learn and get creative with us because it's never too early or late to learn something new and follow your dreams! We asked Bob to fill out a little questionnaire so we can introduce you to this awesome human being! Congrats Bob, keep playing that blues and shinning bright!

Hello! My name is Bob I am 80 years of age. My favorite animal is a Golden Retriever and I love the color Blue. If I could teleport anywhere in the world It’d be Indonesia (Bali). I came to Kalabash to learn how to play the piano and some of my goals are to play St Louis Blues (My mother’s favorite song + one of mine) and at least five other blues.

I can’t stop listening to all of Eric Clapton + Dave Brubeck - Take Five. I like the sound of many instruments (piano, guitar, sax, drums). I like the look of the ocean (ever changing). I like the taste of complex entrees. I like the feel of cotton + silk and if there is one more thing i’d like you to know about me it’s I’m adventurous! I’ve visited 41 countries and 38 states in USA so far!

FEATURED STUDENT: CAITLIN

Hello! My name is Caitlin I’m ten years of age. I’ve been learning singing and guitar for one year. i love it because I can learn and focus on singing or guitar when im feeling down or just for fun My teacher's name is Lexi. She’s so cool because she is encouraging and helpful and just sweet. My favorite part about Kalabash is that I can learn music and have fun One day i hope to become a famous singer and guitar player I like the sound of my voice and the guitar as they meet I like the look of lyrics and the guitar body itself I like the taste of the air going in and out of my mouth I like the feel of finishing a hard project especially if it is really really hard If i could teleport anywhere in the world it’d be a tropical island because I would just have fun there Advice to my fellow humans follow your heart and find your dream hobbie and it might come true

We are happy to announce Caitlin as our student of December! Here's what her teacher Lexi has to say about her:

Caitlin’s broad range of musical pursuits keeps our lessons fresh and dynamic. She always surprises me with her interests, from the high-intensity rhythmic raps of Nicki Minaj to the sweet, melodies of Taylor Swift. Just a few months ago, Caitlin took on the challenge of learning guitar, and she is currently working toward a performance at her school’s talent show where she will be playing and singing! It’s a pleasure to assist her musical expansion and support such a passionate musician.

 

FEATURED STUDENT: JACOB

Hello! My name is Jacob Cravatt. I’m nine years of age. I’ve been learning piano for 14 months. I love it because I love it because it’s fun to make many cool sounds. My teacher's name is Erin. She’s so cool because she’s awesome at teaching and a great piano player. My favorite part about Kalabash is their music is challenging but fun. One day i hope to become a professional piano player. I like the sound of music. I like the look of patterns. I like the taste of mac and cheese. I like the feel of my dog’s fur. If i could teleport anywhere in the world it’d be Paris because they have great art. Advice to my fellow humans is: Erin is awesome.

We are happy to announce Jacob as our student of November! Here's what his teacher Erin has to say about him:

"Jacob’s enthusiasm, humor and fearless nature make him an absolute pleasure to teach. He is excited to progress and take on more difficult songs week after week, and continuously shows growth when we work on music theory, improvisation, and ear training as well. I never have to remind him to practice - as he is happy to! Everyone at Kalabash - especially his teacher loves having his smiling face come in every week for lessons”

Reykjavik: A Golden Travel Guide

Our very own Natasha Kozaily of NATULA recently went on a global fundraising tour of house concerts for her golden 30th year. Along the way she played living room shows in cities around the world and raised over $10,000 for the International Rescue Committee! This month she shares her favorite thoughts and spots from the city of Reykjavik, Iceland. 

First Impressions

It was April and the city of Reykjavik was small, sunny, snowy, wild and full of color. I landed at night on the surface of the moon. Or so it felt. The airport was small and the bus had wifi. It was a quiet drive to the city and even though I was the furthest north I had ever been I felt more connected to the world than I expected. On my first day I began my mission through the tiny streets of Reykjavik looking for an adapter for my keyboard. It was a Sunday and I walked into Lucky Records where the owner kindly gave me a ride to the only electronic store that was open. It was cold outside but the people were warm. On my walk back to town I stopped at the Kjarvalsstaðir Art Museum and fell in love with the work of Kjarval. That was the first time I saw the hidden faces in the mountains and it began to snow. When I stepped outside the quiet stillness I discovered earlier that day was no more. I wrapped my arms tightly around my denim clad body in a hopeless effort to keep warm and headed back to the city to find myself one of those Icelandic wool sweaters I heard about. The icy wind pushed against me violently and I found shelter in a second hand thrift shop where I left a little broker and a little warmer.  

Pillow Talk

I stayed at the Kex Hostel which felt more like a hip local spot then a tourist enclave. There was a tasty restaurant and bar on the ground floor which served up a truly gourmet selection of eats and hosted live music throughout the week. The decor was on fleek with so many Instagram worthy corners everywhere and a stunning view of the mountains and sea. Throughout the day and night locals and visitors alike came through to hang out and I met so many interesting and creative people. 

Rotten Shark Bites

Iceland is known for it's unusual culinary traditions like rotten shark and sour ram's testicles. I didn't find the courage to give any of these a try but I did find some rave worthy food. My most memorable meal was at Snaps and if I'm honest I won't be able to tell you what I had because I don't actually remember! All that remains in my head was the feeling of pure satisfaction and bliss, the look of that cute waiter when he told me they don't tip in Iceland, and the sunlight that fell through the large glass windows all around. 

Fire + Ice + Magic

The day after my gig with Sofar Sounds Reykjavik, I made a point to try and see a little bit of the countryside. I booked a tour through the Golden Circle which turned out to be the perfect day trip for such a short stay in Reykjavik. In a small group, guided by a local Icelandic artist named Peter we discovered the volcanic landscape of Nesjavellir, walked along the edge of Gullfoss waterfall, photographed explosions of boiling hot water out of the icy ground and bathed in an old natural lagoon before heading back to the city. Halfway through the tour during a lunch stop on the road, my guide Peter offered to by me a coffee and tell me about his country. It was there between the fire and the ice that I listened to my first stories of Iceland's hidden people and the magic that I had already felt so strongly in that place. 

Beside Beloved Bjork

For a population of just over 300,000,  Iceland has one of the highest concentrations of artists, painters, writers and musicians in the world. Beside my beloved Bjork, or Sigur Ros there are so many more amazing artists to listen to like Ólafur Arnalds and Soley, to name a few.

A Recommended Read

Names for the Sea by Sarah Moss

Natasha Kozaily is the artist behind NATULA and co-owner of Kalabash School of Music + the Arts. She enjoys collecting zines and plants, teaching kids how to write songs, eating ice cream, visiting museums and falling asleep under coconuts trees. 

Find out more about her Golden 30 tour at www.thegolden30.com or say hello on social media @natulamusic 

TOUR DIARY: CLINTON DAVIS

In the G Burns Jug Band, I perform a mix of blues, hillbilly, and early jazz music from the 1920s and 1930s. It’s a collection that some would refer to as “pre-war music” (referring to World War II). This is a particularly special era for lovers of folk and traditional music because it was a time in which record companies first began scouting for talented musicians in rural and lower-class parts of the country. Before this, recording companies relied on the talents of trained urban musicians in cities like New York, and they catered to the tastes of the upper classes: classical music or tin pan alley songs written out by professional composers. When recording technology advanced enough to be portable, scouts began venturing into Southern cities and remote rural regions. They recorded local musicians playing in styles unique to their own regions, and as a result, a lot of “unusual” music was recorded. Instead of operatic singers performing the works of Puccini, or slick crooners singing cute numbers about falling in love, companies were recording mountain musicians that had built their own banjos from kitchen pots and the hides of family pets, and used them to sing centuries-old ballads about murdering your lover. They also recorded, to provide another example, jug bands.

I’m guessing a good many of the folks reading this have never heard a jug band, or even heard of a jug band. In the broadest sense, a jug band can be any band which uses a ceramic jug as a bass instrument. Technically, the jug is a wind instrument because the player buzzes their lips and blows into the jug, using it as a resonator. By adjusting their embouchure, or the tenseness of their lips, the player creates a musical tone resembling an upright bass being bowed with a weedwacker. In the pre-war era, the instrument was most popular in Southern African American string bands, where it was combined with guitars, mandolins, banjos, and fiddles, and even clarinets, saxophones, cornets, and tubas.

In September of this year, the G Burns Jug Band was invited to Louisville, Kentucky to perform at the National Jug Band Jubilee (yes, it’s a thing). It was a special invitation because of Louisville’s historic importance to jug band history, which I’ll describe later, but also because I am a 5th generation Kentuckian. All of my family is there, and Louisville played an important role in shaping my early musical life. The band decided to book a few dates before the Jubilee and visit a few other towns. What follows is a town-by-town report that I wrote for our band newsletter, detailing the trip.

JOURNEY TO THE MOTHERLAND

We have returned from our journey through the South, and it was revelatory. On a personal level, and in terms of the band’s career, the trip felt transformative, refreshing, and emboldening. It’s not something I could measure or describe so much in terms of fees commanded or CDs sold. It was something I sensed in the the people around us, and in the experience of moving through the landscapes that created the music that we play: swamps, piney forests, rolling hills, the endless panoramas of lush green (we’re based in the southern California desert, mind you). But also those storied man-made places, the legendary rows of dive bar venues, the meandering country roads tracing the contours of creeks to the top of a ridge, the bridges and barges whose routes have moved people and music around the country for generations. Everywhere we went, there was some vivid quality of connectedness. The music we play was connected to those landscapes and those places, it was connected to the weather, it was connected to the food, it was connected to the language and the accents. The music connected families, it connected friends. That’s what the transformation was about: connection.

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

Flying over the bayou country of Louisiana. There's probably more water in this picture than in all of Southern California

Flying over the bayou country of Louisiana. There's probably more water in this picture than in all of Southern California

Meghann Welsh - our tenor banjo-ist, vocalist, and Kalabash teacher - and I began our journey by leaving the driest place in the country and flying straight to the wettest: New Orleans. Originally I had hoped to bring the band here, but alas, budgets and schedules couldn't handle it, so the two of us went for a 48-hour vacation

New Orleans is of course one of the great cities of American music and American music history. In the early 20th century, it was a crucible of African-American musical innovation and, equally important, it was a river town. At the end of the Mississippi River, New Orleans music and musicians had access to relatively rapid travel throughout the country. Most of the historic jug bands that recorded were formed near the shores of the Mississippi River or the Ohio River which feeds into it: The Memphis Jug Band, Clifford’s Louisville Jug Band, The Cincinnati Jug Band. The influence of New Orleans jazz and ragtime music in many of them, particularly the Louisville bands, and the role of the rivers is undeniable.

The Natchez on the Mississippi River in New Orleans

The Natchez on the Mississippi River in New Orleans

Meghann and I solicited advice about venues and bands from our well-traveled friends, who steered us in the right direction. The city is so densely packed with quality music that, over and over again, we found ourselves stumbling upon their highly-recommended spots without even trying. Our favorite - and the favorite of most of our friends - was The Spotted Cat, where we snapped this short video.

BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA

 

After all the etouffee and sazeracs, we drove to Birmingham and picked up Jonathan, Batya, and Tim for our first concert - a house concert at the home of the Stouts. Regular attendees of our monthly Barn Dance shows at the Black Cat Bar might remember Rebecca Stout, the amazing flatfoot dancer who performed at our April 2016 show. Rebecca calls Los Angeles home now but grew up in Birmingham, and has devoted her life to studying and sharing the folk culture of the South and supporting others who do the same. When we asked her for advice about places to play in Birmingham, she quickly enlisted the help of her siblings there to set up a house concert.

Rebecca was even able to join us in Birmingham for the show, which then became something of a minor family reunion, and danced with us once more. After her family put us up for the evening, we were treated to a favorite Stout family breakfast of grits (no sugar, thank you very much!), eggs, and bacon, complete with chicory coffee from New Orleans. In case you ever doubted: southern hospitality is real, y'all.

FRANKLIN, TENNESSEE

 

Our Tennessee show was at Kimbro's Legendary Pickin' Parlor in the town of Franklin, just far enough outside of Nashville to avoid the calamity of Music Row while still drawing on its immense reserve of talent. I mean, there's a sign out front, sadly dated now, that says "Haggard Plays Here". Inside, the walls were papered with old Kimbro's showbills from modern troubadours like Pokey LaFarge who still come to play in a place that feels refreshingly casual - neither a dive bar nor a craft gastropub.

Live at Kimbro's Legendary Pickin Parlor. Thanks for the photo, Ashley!

Live at Kimbro's Legendary Pickin Parlor. Thanks for the photo, Ashley!

The show was lightly attended, as shows sometimes are, yet it brought out just the right people. We were delighted to be reunited with San Diegan friends who had moved to Nashville last year, and make new friends in the group Route 40, a progressive Bluegrass trio that was as indebted to Yes or King Crimson as it was Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers. We even managed to sneak ourselves into an article of The Tennessean newspaper, ensuring we will live on forever in the Volunteer State. Our stay was all too short, and the next morning we left for the Bluegrass state.

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY

 

Louisville is a special place to me. It has always been a town I knew and explored primarily through music. I grew up an hour outside of it and went there often. My dad is a musician and brought me to to the city see his favorite performers and songwriters whenever venues allowed. Included in these trips was an annual visit to the Kentucky State Fair in Louisville. We'd tour the horses and livestock, talk to Freddy Farm Bureau, eat fried food, and Dad would take us to see the Juggernaut Jug Band, a folk revival group that formed in the 70s and played the fair every year. It was always a fun memory of being a kid but also my introduction to the idea of "jug band music" and its connection to the place in which we lived.

Stu Helm of the Juggernaut Jug Band, and co-founder of the National Jug Band Jubilee

Stu Helm of the Juggernaut Jug Band, and co-founder of the National Jug Band Jubilee

Jug bands and folk music generally didn't become a big part of my life for years to come, but Louisville remained my source for music. By the time I was in high school and old enough to drive, I was going there at least once a week. I searched for records at Ear-X-Tacy. I bought my first acoustic guitar at Guitar Emporium (we used it on our tour). I went to all-ages shows at the Keswick Democratic Club and had my first experiences of being part of a music scene: of having bands that I saw often, whose merch I bought religiously, and with whom I occasionally shared a word.

Aside from my personal experience, Louisville is a special place for the music we play because it was home to the first bands with jug-blowers to record. In the 1920s, black bandleaders like Earl McDonald and Clifford Hayes used jugs in bands inspired by the jazz music they heard coming out of New Orleans, and vaudeville blues vocalist Sarah Martin used the jug in her recordings. Their work would inspire bands in other cities across the South to expand the idea of "jug band music" to incorporate virtually all of black musical culture in America at the time. Depending on the band or even the tune, the recordings of jug bands can span jazz, ragtime, vaudeville, blues, and even gospel.

Earl McDonald's Dixieland Jug Blowers c.1926

Earl McDonald's Dixieland Jug Blowers c.1926

In other words, "jug band music" as a style is hard to pin down or define. It seems to exist in between prevailing categories of American music that are more familiar to most. It's sometimes too jazzy to be blues, sometimes too bluesy to be jazz. For blues-lovers, even the bluesy jug bands seem to fall between the cracks. When it comes to iconic blues imagery, we either imagine the southern country bluesman playing acoustic guitar solo on the porch, or we imagine the electrified bands of northern cities like Chicago. By comparison, there’s very little love given to the blues mandolin players or blues fiddlers of jug bands from southern cities. All of this in-betweenness is even mirrored in the geography of the old jug bands, and their connection to the Mississippi River, which sits in between the South and the American West, and the Ohio River, which sits in between the South and the North.

This history, and more specifically the neglect of this history in the grand narratives of American music, was the impetus for the formation of the National Jug Band Jubilee. Members of the Juggernaut Jug Band, their families, and roots music lovers of Louisville launched the festival in 2005 to bring renewed attention and appreciation to this music through live performance, educational outreach, and historical preservation.

Historical marker commemorating jug band leader Earl McDonald, dedicated to the founder of the Jubilee and placed directly behind the Jubilee stage at the Brown-Forman Amphitheater.

Historical marker commemorating jug band leader Earl McDonald, dedicated to the founder of the Jubilee and placed directly behind the Jubilee stage at the Brown-Forman Amphitheater.

It was a great honor to be invited to the Jubilee, and though I looked forward to it a great deal, I had not anticipated the feeling I experienced as my own personal nostalgia began to overlap with this history which had always felt a little more distant or abstract, as fascinating, wonderful, and fun as it was.  Our stay in Louisville began with an afternoon assembly performance at Lincoln Performing Arts School, a cutting-edge publicly funded elementary school with an arts-centric charter. We have played many shows in which I've said my few words about the history of jug band music, but at this show, I couldn't help but remember being the age of those students and hearing that very story myself in that very city.

Sharing the story of jug band music with Louisville elementary school students

Sharing the story of jug band music with Louisville elementary school students

The Jubilee itself was a beautiful event at the Brown-Forman Amphitheater on the banks of the Ohio River with a great deal of my extended family in attendance. Our set fell between the wonderful Ever-Lovin Jug Band, with whom we formed a superband with Jim Kweskin last January, and the Juggernaut Jug Band themselves. After the Juggernaut's set, I found bandleader Stu Helm backstage. We shook hands and he immediately began sharing stories of seeking out and learning from the last of the city's black jug blowers in the early days of his band.

On the Big Four Bridge, a pedestrian bridge spanning the Ohio River and connecting Kentucky to Indiana.

On the Big Four Bridge, a pedestrian bridge spanning the Ohio River and connecting Kentucky to Indiana.

The following morning, Meghann and I visited Louisville Cemetery, the oldest African-American cemetery in the city and final resting place of many Louisville's jug band musicians. It is smaller and more modest than other's in the city. As charming as the relatively shaggy, partly unmowed grounds were, its condition seemed to reinforce the necessity of the Jubilee. Until recently, many important black Louisville musicians, jug band or otherwise, had no marker on their burial site. The Jubilee and the Kentuckiana Blues Society have worked together in recent years to correct this by commissioning headstones commemorating the contributions of these individuals to American music.

Louisville Cemetery at the grave of Sara Martin, the vocalist whose Jug Band Blues we recorded on our second album, The Southern Pacific and The Santa Fe. Her previously unmarked grave received this marker in 2014 through joint efforts of the Jubilee and the Kentuckiana Blues Society.

Louisville Cemetery at the grave of Sara Martin, the vocalist whose Jug Band Blues we recorded on our second album, The Southern Pacific and The Santa Fe. Her previously unmarked grave received this marker in 2014 through joint efforts of the Jubilee and the Kentuckiana Blues Society.

From there, Meghann and I travelled an hour outside of Louisville to see my family and my hometown. While we were there, spending the last day of our amazing trip, we went to the same place I always go every time I visit home: a lookout point my great-grandfather helped build during the Great Depression for the WPA. From it, you can see all of the town and the massive Ohio River. I sat there a while and let my mind wander a little after a week of constant motion.

I watched the barges float down the river more or less as they have for over a century. I thought about all of that water working its way back to New Orleans where we had started our trip. I thought about all the roustabouts that had spread their songs through the river valleys while working on those boats. I thought about the Old Darling Distillery which produced bourbon in town in the late 19th century, and wondered if the old musicians ever got their hands on some of their product (where'd you think all those jugs came from?).

There was an all-too-brief sense of clarity and, again, connection between our music, my past, and the history of a place which will always be, in some sense, home. In the middle of my daydreaming, a lyric came to me from an old jug band song: "You may leave, but this will bring you back."