I have never been one to leave my fate in the hands of a higher power, but sometimes destiny chooses us, and we’re just along for the ride. Such was my week.

After a few particularly stressful weeks at work, I decided on Wednesday to call Natasha to see if she could join me for a quick lunch. About fifteen minutes later, we were dining on salads and sandwiches, debating the finer details of American Idol.

I told Nat that I thought it might be time for us to get back into tap dancing, when she stopped me, and said, “Oh – didn’t I tell you about the class I’m thinking of taking?”

“No, what is it?”


This was a highly unexpected response, so I needed clarification: “Fiddle? You mean like the violin? Huh. I guess I always pictured you as more of a woodwind kind of a gal.”

Natasha shrugged her shoulders, and said, “Yeah, well. I’m still deciding. They have a ton of classes this session that sound fun – fiddle, vocal lessons, jug band, theatre, tap dan-“

I held up my hands, and said, “Whoa. Did you just say ‘jug band?’ Elaborate, please.”

She chewed on her straw a bit, and mumbled, “Oh yeah. It’s a jug band – you know, like those country bears at DisneyWorld? Or is it Chuck E. Cheese? Anyway, apparently you make all your own instruments and just get together and make music.”

“So wait… are you saying I could play the spoons?”

“Sure, I guess. Or the washboard, or the jug, maybe.”

“Nat. Do you even understand how badly I have always wanted to play the spoons? I used to try to play them as a kid! And my mom had an antique washboard that we used to play with, too!”

Natasha kind of rolled her eyes, and said, “I thought you grew up in Wisconsin, not Whistler’s Holler. But hey, it’s cool that you’re proud to be a coal miner’s daughter.”

“Joke all you want, but you are not taking fiddle. Or vocal lessons. Because you. And I. Are taking jug band. This is what we’ve always dreamed of! Finish up your salad – we’ve got classes to sign up for!”

When I got back to work, I realized that the class started that evening, and there were only two available slots left. I frantically called Nat, and we registered immediately, happily plunking down the $150 for the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than both of us.

Since we weren’t exactly sure what to expect, and hadn’t had time to research jug bands online, Nat and I were a little nervous about the first class. We got there about a half an hour early, just in case we needed to quickly run to a convenience store to pick up some bottles or tin cans to use for instruments.

As we sat patiently outside the locked classroom door, I started to sweat a bit when I saw someone walk down the stairs carrying a giant steel washtub, a broomstick, and some rope. When we saw the second person carrying a washtub, Nat and I started to freak a little.

Natasha grabbed me by the arm, and whispered, “Crap, Jenny! They all have instruments already! How did they know?! Who just has a washtub bass lying around?”

“I don’t know, but we are so in over our heads. Maybe they’ve taken this class before?”

The instructor finally came down, and we meekly filed our way into the classroom. In the middle of the room was a circle of chairs, and in front of each chair was a music stand. I knew immediately that this was no hack jug band. The instructor explained that everyone, except for Natasha and me, had been taking this class for the past sixteen weeks. It was an eclectic group of people, ranging in ages from about 25 to 70.

As we went around the room and introduced ourselves to the group, everyone listened attentively, and asked us all sorts of questions about what we knew about jug bands, and what made us want to sign up for the class. It was like a dream come true – we had infiltrated a fully established jug band ensemble, yet were instantly accepted. Everyone was so welcoming, that it was almost alien. One woman handed me a rhythm egg. Another man handed me his spoons. Natasha had already received her very own tin kazoo, and was learning to play the nose whistle before the class even officially began.

After the introductions were over, the instructor tried to bring Natasha and me up to speed so that we could quickly join in the group. He played some traditional jug band music for us – the Mississippi Sheiks, I think – and then let us in on the most wonderful secret I had ever heard: this ragtag group of juggers had actually formed a real band, with a name and everything. They have a website, they have bumper stickers, but best of all, they have gigs.

I wasn’t sure if I had heard him right, so I leaned over to Nat, and whispered, “Wait – did he just say they have gigs lined up? As in plural?”

Nat’s eyes widened as she nodded her head. She tried to contain her grin as she whispered back, “Jenny, this is what we’ve been working toward our entire lives! We’re totally in a band, and we didn’t even need to try out!”

Before I knew it, I was flipping through photos of the band’s last performance, which was at a local coffee house a few nights earlier. As it turns out, they’ve been performing several times a week for the past few months.

And we were welcomed in with open arms.

The teacher decided to dive right in and practice one of the songs they had recently learned. The woman next to me, whose forte was the washboard, gave me her copy of the lyrics to sing from. The thimbles on her fingertips clicked together softly as she pointed out the parts where I should jump in. Natasha and I started hesitantly at first, but within minutes we were clanking and clinking and thumping our way through our first performance.

In the middle of our second song, I had to stop playing the spoons – partly because I wanted to talk to Nat, and partly because my fingers were killing me from “drumming” – so I leaned over to Natasha, eyes slightly misty, and said, “I’ve never been so happy in my life!”

She took a break from blowing into her sarsaparilla jug, and agreed, “I know – me too! Jenny, it was meant to be! Fate stepped in and made this happen! This is our time to shine!”
I’m not a churchgoer, but I imagine that this is the feeling that some people hope for when they go to church. Acceptance. Love. Energy. Joy. It was surreal.

The next day, Natasha naively told a few friends about our gleeful experience, and was quickly met with quiet disinterest. I tried to explain to her that most people wouldn’t understand.
“Nat, you can’t take it personally. Not everyone is going to understand what jug band is all about, and what a visionary our teacher is. I mean, most people thought Jesus was crazy at first, too.”

“Wait – you’re not comparing our jug band instructor to Jesus, are you?”

“Of course not. I’m comparing us to Jesus.”

“Oh boy.”

“Look. Some people will want to follow us, some won’t, and we’ll have to leave those people off the Ark and let them turn to salt. So let it be written.”

Natasha squinted a bit, and said, “Mmm… I’m pretty sure you’re mixing up a few stories there.”

“Whatever. You know what I mean. All I’m trying to say is that we can’t let the opinions of others keep us from pursuing our dream.”

So what if we hadn’t really known what a jug band was until that evening. And who cares if playing the jug made me a little light-headed, and playing the spoons made my fingers swell. I am part of something important. Something that will change the direction of my life forever. Why, with tap dance and jug band under my belt, there’s no mountain I can’t climb!

But if you’ll excuse me, there’s a shiny tin jaw harp on eBay that I’m bidding on, and I can’t let that baby slip away!

5 Responses to “Jugheads”

  1. Dave Says:

    When do you go on tour?? Will you be ready in time for the Illinois State Fair? If so, I’ve still got some connections down in Springfield so 1, you can stay on the cheap, and 2, you’ll have someone to hang out with so you are not bored out of your skull after the mandatory visit to Lincoln’s Tomb (where you MUST rub his nose for good luck)

  2. Robert Says:

    When you tour the Carolinas, you’ve got a standing invitation here at the bookshop/coffeeshop.

  3. Mateo Says:

    You… are… killing… me… here. Back in college, I knew you would be a part of something great, but I had no idea that greatness included a steel washtub and a kazoo. Jug on, my friend!

  4. Fiorello LaGuardia Says:

    I’ve been trying to come up with a comment….I can’t do it. I’m just speechless in your presence!

  5. Jenny Says:

    Yes, we will be touring the US this year, then launching into a whirlwind tour of southeast Asia, where jug bands are treated like kings.

    Nat and I have already decided we may need split off from the core group in order to explore our new hip-hop/jug band fusion idea.