Smile Politely

Jug life

Friday, October 17th marks two milestones for local jug-band-rag-time-ish rabble-rousers Bones Jugs N Harmony:

Since its inception in December 2012, Bones Jugs has amassed a massive and devout fanbase, not just for excellent musicianship, songwriting, and an incredible musical experience filled with impressive displays of xylophoning, steel drumming, jugging, and — uh — boning. Bones Jugs performances are hootenannies in their own right, post-olde-time-y parties for, essentially, everybody.

“At first this band started as something that was fun, and an outlet without a long-term goal,” said guitarist and banjoist (among other instruments) JP Goguen. “But, the feedback was really positive, so it became ‘OK, let’s see what we can do. So we started investing in and promoting our shows pretty heavily, and making sure that we build up high expectations, and then do something really special to exceed them. So at every local show we always have at least a couple new songs that people haven’t heard, whether it’s a new song that we wrote, or a cover that’s sort of funny. And then we’ll time it, and we spend a lot of time talking about setlists, so that things sort of build to these ecstatic moments within the set. And so that went a long way to — if people didn’t go to the show, they heard about it.”

Eclecticism plays an enormous role in the band’s music and performances as well. Each member lends his talents as a multi-instrumentalist. Charlie Harris plays bass, horns, and lends vocals. Goguen handles guitars, banjo, whistling, kazoos, and the jug. Tim Berg rocks the xylophone, steel drum, drum set, and some guitar and vocals. And, Cody Jensen, in addition to vocals, adds another layer of percussion with drums, xylophone, and bones. Additionally, the members all have different backgrounds in music. Jensen and Berg both graduated from the University of Illinois’ percussion program, among participating in various other bands and music groups on Campus, strengthening the composition of more “classically” influenced songs like “Cast Iron Rag.” But, Harris’ and Goguen’s experience in pop music and performance in more “social” settings help bring out the music’s inner party.

It all results in music that’s “folky, but also nerdy, rhythmically precise.”

A live band from the outset, Bones Jugs didn’t initially consider playing established venues, vying for pop-up performances at farmer’s markets or a wild, living room rumpus. But, venues and tours eventually followed, and the parties only got bigger. So, a studio LP might leave some fans scratching their heads. But it’s clear that, despite the absence of a “live” performance and the tactile experience that goes with it, the album includes much of the energy, fun, and even the feel of a Bones Jugs concert. Recorded and mixed with engineer Joseph Dejarnette (Carolina Chocolate Drops) over five long days at Studio 808a in Floyd, Virginia, Party’s in the Kitchen is the embodiment of its namesake. The LP is a portable party one can play in the kitchen, in a car, or anywhere good times can (or can’t usually) be had. It sounds natural, raw, and unprocessed, resulting in what sounds like one of the most flawless live record ever conceived, though layering played a major role in the record’s production.

“At our live show, we’re all playing lots of different stuff, and doing our best one-man-band impersonations all together, at the same time,” Jensen explained. “We’re trying to do all these different sounds while still trying to play our primary instruments. On the album, it’s a lot more feasible to get good takes of everything if you’re just concentrating on putting your rhythm track down and then getting that bike horn part in just the right spot, and just adding some other flavors. For “Cobwebs,” tracking an extra xylophone part that we don’t do live. We put three-finger banjo parts on a tune, which we’ve never done live and probably won’t, because I play drums on that.”

According to Harris, that “live” feel is essential to the Bones Jugs identity.

“We play so many shows; that’s just what we know,” he said. “That’s a big part of what this band is.”

Bones Jugs performs at 5 and 10 p.m. at The Iron Post in Urbana, joined by special guests, local singer-songwriters Sam Payne and Kenna Mae Reiss. Tickets are on sale for $10 now on the band’s website, The Red Herring Vegetarian Restaurant, and at The Iron Post. Party’s in the Kitchen will be available at both shows for $5.

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