Behind the Jug – Part 1

How does one begin the story of a shattered dream?

Where do I start the tale of innocence lost?

Like all sad stories, at the beginning, I suppose.

It seems like it all began two months ago, but it’s actually only been eight weeks. Natasha and I walked into that first jug band class full of excitement and a bit of trepidation, and came out changed women. For the first time in my life, I knew what it meant to truly be alive. To be conscious of the rhythm of my beating heart. To experience unbridled joy.

So this is what unconditional love feels like, I thought. This is what it means to belong. As the weeks went by, Natasha and I threw ourselves into becoming the best jug band members this band had ever seen. We spent days researching traditional jug band instruments, scoured local Salvation Army stores for the best spoons, trekked through the hills of Wisconsin to find antique washboards, and drank untold quantities of sugary soda pop to construct our glass bottle xylophone.

The fervor and commitment with which I approached my music could be described by one word, and one word alone: love. I had fallen in love, not with the individual, but with the collective. With the idea of jug band, and everything that came with it. I couldn’t stop thinking about the jug band. I wanted to impress the jug band. I wondered what the jug band was doing when they weren’t in class. I wore my contacts and put my hair down for the jug band.

But as is my history with love, I fell too hard, too fast. If it hadn’t been for Natasha, I probably wouldn’t have seen it coming at all.

It all started in Week Four:

Jug band class ran later than normal because we began practicing our songs for an upcoming performance. This would be our biggest and most prestigious gig to date, so everyone was a bit on edge. After class ended and we packed up our jugs and dried off our kazoos, Natasha and I decided to grab a drink and some quesadillas before heading home.

As we waited for our late night snacks, Natasha squeezed more lime into her vodka and tonic, and said, “Jen, I’m not so sure about this jug band anymore.”

Taken aback, I said, “What? What do you mean?”

“I mean, I just don’t know if I’m into it like I was on the first day. Something has changed.”

“Well, everyone’s really focused on this upcoming performance, if that’s what you mean.”

Nat glanced up at me with a look I hadn’t seen since we dropped out of tap dance class, and asked, “What instruments did you play today?”

I had to think for a minute, but then said, “Well, I played woodblocks on the first song. And egg shaker on the second one. Then on Broke Down Jug Band Blues I played the woodblocks again. Oh, and then I went back to the egg shaker on Whiskey Tells No Lies. Why?”

She took a gulp of her drink, wiped her lips, and continued, “Now let me tell you what I played on those four songs: egg shaker, Fanta bottle and chopstick, Fanta bottle and chopstick, and then Fanta bottle and chopstick.”

“Huh. I wasn’t really paying attention. I mean, I kind of wanted to play washboard on Bottle O’ Corn, but someone was already playing it.”

Nat nodded, “Exactly. And I wanted to play washtub bass on Boxcar Baby, but that really wasn’t an option, now was it? And I wanted to play kazoo or spoons on Tobaccy Road but it seems that someone else had already claimed those instruments as well.”

“So what’s your point, Nat?”

”What’s my point?! What’s my point?! My point is that this utopian jug band society we thought we stumbled upon is really nothing more than a fascist regime in sheep’s clothing! This is no democracy! What happened to that welcoming, ‘Oh here try my washboard’ attitude they used to sucker us in on the first day? That went away pretty quickly when you actually wanted to play washboard on a real song, didn’t it?”

My mind started racing. Could Natasha be right about this? Was jug band really a tyranny? I began to play back the events of the previous four weeks, and suddenly felt a metallic burning in the back of my throat as I realized that everything Natasha had said was true.

We were extra pieces. Spare buttons. Wisdom teeth. This band didn’t need us. They never needed us. They were fully formed before we even joined the class. That’s why we always got stuck playing the leftover instruments that barely made a sound.

But why? Why did they encourage us to join the band?

We later learned that the answer to that question came in the form of the $150 check we each wrote out to join the band. As it turned out, funding for class materials had been cut, so in order to keep everyone in shiny new jugs and taut new washtub bass ropes, the school had to increase the class size.

Natasha had already figured out what took me three beers to deduce, “Exactly, Jenny! So they increased the class size, without giving a second thought to the severe shortage of viable instruments that would leave everyone. I mean, seriously! At what point was someone going to notice the fact that I had been playing a piece of garbage and a chopstick for the past ten songs?!”

I felt like Dorothy, when the curtain was pulled back, revealing a weak little man hiding behind a booming voice. My head was spinning from the combination of betrayal and Boddington’s. I looked up at Nat and asked, “So… what are you going to do?”

She just grinned, and said, “Revolt.”

Ain’t That a Peach?

There are several important rites of passage that go along with being in a jug band, one of which is being given a nickname. One of the stipulations of this ancient nickname giving ceremony is that the recipient must not actually like the nickname given to him/her. Natasha and I got a little worried about what our jug names would become, particularly when we heard that two of the current members had been named Sergeant FatAss and T.J. Rat-Nose.

We quickly devised a scheme to give each other nicknames and pretend that we hated them, to avoid being stuck with a name like Grey-Roots Amadeo or Old Jenny Four Eyes. Last weekend, while Nat and I were scouring the antique shops for washboards and jugs, I kept complaining about how bruised up my leg was getting from all the spooning. She just laughed, told me to take some vitamins, and said, “Aww. Little baby Jenny. She’s just delicate like a piece of fruit.”

I laughed and said, “Yeah, I’m just like a little peach.”

And then it hit me: Peaches! My nickname would be Peaches!

Nat cocked her head to the side and said, “Jenny. There is no way that this class is going to believe that you hate the nickname Peaches. Please.”

“No, but what if we explain why I’m called Peaches. You know, because I bruise so easily. That’s kind of gross, right? And I can pretend like I’m really mad when you suggest it. Let’s role play – pretend we’re in class and you suggest the nickname.”

“Oh brother. All right. Hey, I came up with a nickname for Jenny! Let’s call her Peaches!

“Natasha! I said, no! Do NOT call me Peaches!”

“Ha ha! We’re gonna call you Peaches because you’re all black and blue from playing the spoons!”

“Noooo! I hate that name! Pick something else!”

Natasha stopped me at that point, and said, “Okay, if I’m going to make them believe that you hate the name Peaches, then you have to convince them that I don’t want to be called T-Bone.”

“Oooh – T-Bone’s a badass nickname! Peaches and T-Bone, together at last! We’ll be running the show in no time.

As much as I wanted the nickname Peaches, I did agree that we had a tough road ahead of us in trying to convince the group to let me keep it. I figured that the only way I could win them over would be to write a song about the name. How could they deny me then? So Nat and I sat down over lunch and penned what I believe will become one of the greatest bluesy jug band songs of our era.

Bruised Peach Baby Blues
© 2005 Natasha and Jenny
I calls my baby Peaches, but she don’t hang on a tree.
Oh I calls my baby Peaches, but she don’t hang on no tree.
She’s like sweet Georgia peaches, ‘cause she bruise so easily.

My baby plays da spoons, and she gets all black and blue.
Yeah, my baby plays da spoons, and gets all black and blue.
Took my baby to the doctor, but ain’t nothing he can do.

She’s got bruises on her thighs, and bruises on her knee.
Oh she’s got bruises on her thighs, lord and bruises on her knee.
But I still loves my Peaches, ‘cause she means that much to me.

She don’t wanna play no washtub, nose flute or kazoo.
No, Peaches won’t play no washtub, nose flute or kazoo.
She just keeps on playin’ spoons till she turns all black and blue.

I calls my baby Peaches, but she don’t hang on a tree.
Oh, I calls my baby Peaches, but she don’t hang on no tree.
Well I calls my baby Peaches, ‘cause she needs some Vitamin C.

While I’m gone, if anyone cares to contribute an additional verse or an alternate nickname, please feel free to unleash your inner jugbandster. Please note, however, that all proceeds from the Bruised Peach Baby Blues will go to the Run Jen Run Scotch and Soda Fund.

Work/Life Balance

I had a huge blowout with my friend Vivian this week. I was telling her that I’m worried about not having enough time to balance my job, gambling habits, writing, and jug band all at the same time. I love games of chance, and Seamus just taught me how to beat the house at blackjack, so I can’t give that up. And my paycheck is the only thing that allows me to gamble, so that left writing and jug band on the chopping block. I needed to discuss my dilemma with someone close to me. Someone who would understand the internal struggle I was going through. Clearly that person was not Vivian.

“So, I think that music might be my true calling. You’re a musician, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, right?”

“Jenny. You cannot choose jug band over writing – are you nuts?! Stop playing the damn spoons!”

“Stop playing the damn spoons? You did not seriously just say that to me. Okay, what part of I’m in a jug band now do you not understand?!”

“Um, pretty much starting with the part where you said jug band.”

“Look, Viv. Let me explain it to you again – I’m in a jug band now. This is who I am. And if you can’t seem to accept that, then maybe I need to hang out with someone who can.”

“Fine, Jenny. So play the spoons and write. How hard can it really be to clack some spoons on your leg? A monkey could do that.”

“A monkey could do that? A monkey?! A monkey can do three finger rolls, a double thigh slap, and a side knee tap, all while keeping time with the banjo player? Find me one monkey with bruises all over its thighs from practicing for hours every night and risking eviction due to excessive spoon noise. Well? Go ahead! You can’t, can you?!”

“You have bruises on your thighs? Gross. Why don’t you play the washboard?”


“Jenny. Calm down. I’m just saying that I think you’re being irrational. You can figure out a way to balance all these things in your life. I mean, if jug band has to be put on hold for a while, I’m sure it will-“

“I can’t talk to you right now. I’m too emotional. Why don’t you go find that spoon-playing monkey to talk to? Oh wait – I know. Because it doesn’t exist!”

“Lord help me. Bye, Jenny.”


After I cooled down for a while, I realized that Vivian might have had a point. I’ve always been good at multi-tasking, so maybe I could juggle all these different priorities at once. All I need is a well thought out action plan. Fortunately, I’ll have some time to put that plan together, because next week, I’m attending a work conference in the glamorous destination of Scottsdale, AZ! And given my track record over the past decade, I’m all but guaranteed to have at least a three-hour flight delay in one direction, allowing me plenty of time to map this out.

But I guess there is still one thing that worries me – do you think I’ll be able to get my spoons through airport security?

A Proverbial Mess

In preparation for our rise to jug band fame, Natasha and I both bought shiny new harmonicas last week. As I sat on my couch watching The Bachelor Monday night, I tried to play a few tunes on the old harp, but quickly discovered that whenever I would play, “You Are My Sunshine,” my cats would go berserk and attack each other. I then tried playing the intro to The Beatles, “Love Me Do,” and the same thing happened. I would have tried to play, “On Top of Old Smoky” next, but I just bought the harmonica song book and haven’t learned that one yet.

Thinking this might have just been a strange coincidence, I waited about an hour before playing the harmonica again. But as soon as I played the first few bars, the attacking began again. Now, I have always heard that music soothes the savage beast, so I was perplexed by this reaction from my cats. Is it possible that my newly acquired harmonica skills don’t qualify as music? Are my cats not savage enough? Or is it the more likely answer: that I have been lied to all my life by proverbs?

That had to be it. Well, I’ll be darned. Music really doesn’t soothe the savage beast.

But if that’s the case, then what about all the other proverbs that have guided my every life decision? What if those two birds in the bush really are worth more than this stupid one crapping all over my hands right now? And what if a rolling stone actually does gather moss?

Are you telling me that I could’ve been sitting in my recliner all these years, covered with no more moss than those go-getters over there?

Since my entire world has been turned upside down by this discovery, I now realize that I have a lot of ground to make up. With that in mind, I put together the following list:

To Do:

  • Borrow some money from Vivian, and then lend it to Seamus.

  • Knock over a glass of milk. Cry.
  • Count chickens as soon as the eggs are laid.
  • Collect all those eggs in that big basket.
  • Accept gift from Olympia Dukakis.
  • Make hay at 9:30pm.
  • Wait for iron to cool down, and then strike it.
  • Close eyes. Leap.
  • Wake up that dog.
  • Teach him to roll over.
  • Make bed. Sleep on couch.
  • Get mad at face. Cut off nose.

The Nose Knows

Monday, May 2 (after first jug band class):

“Marketing, this is Jenny.”

“Why did you say I played the nose whistle?”

“Oh hey, Nat. What are you talking about?”

“You wrote that I played the nose whistle. I never played the nose whistle, and you know it!”

“Ha! So what? It sounded funny. One of us had to be playing the nose whistle, and I was too busy with the spoons.”

“Nose whistle is for dorks. I don’t want people thinking I play the nose whistle. I want you to print a retraction.”

“Natasha. It’s a blog. We don’t print retractions. Little thing called creative license – ever hear of it? Besides, you never seem to complain when I give you all the funny lines. You can’t have your blog and eat it, too.”

”Well, I don’t care. Make me the straight man from now on, but leave the nose whistle out of it.”

“Actually, I just found out that it’s officially called the nose flute. Does that make it any more appealing to you?”

“No. That sounds even dorkier. Now people will think I’m just sticking a flute up my nose and blowing in it.”

“Ooh – when I was a kid, my brother used to steal my recorder and play it with his nose. I think that’s why I gave up on music long ago.”

“Look, Jenny. I’m not trying to tell you what to write, but I just don’t like being associated with any instrument I have to play with my nose.”

“How about nose trumpet?”


”Nose saxophone?”


“Nose harp?”

“I said no.”

“Wait… you said nose?”

“Shut up!”

“Nose dulcimer?”

“Dammit, Jenny! I’m not kidding!”

“Okay fine. So you don’t have any nasal talent. I get it. Consider it stricken.”

Wednesday, May 4 (after second jug band class):

“Jenny – did you see how many nose flute solos there are in our song book? I had no idea.”

“Yeah, I guess it’s a pretty key instrument for the old jug band. Who knew?”

“Huh. You know, I think they sell them in the music shop for only $1 each…”


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!