Country You Can Laugh At

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

The members of the South Austin Jug Band know how to have fun.  This Thursday, the band will be playing at Henfling’s Firehouse Tavern in Ben Lomond.  You are invited to check your preconceived notions about country and bluegrass music at the door and join them for an evening of sizzling hot music laced with tongue-in-cheek humor.

The South Austin Jug Band consists of James Hyland on vocals and guitar, Will Dupuy on vocals and stand-up bass, Matt Slusher on vocals and mandolin, Willie Pipkin on guitar and Dennis Ludiker on fiddle.  The band plays music in an old-timey style, but with a twist.  The band’s set comprises traditional American music, covers of artists like Jerry Garcia and Jimi Hendrix, and original songs about subjects as diverse as lost love and criminals sporting mullet haircuts.

The band hails, of course, from Austin, TX, and was formed as the result of the dissolution of another band.  James Hyland was in a spot.  He had a gig to play but no band to play it with.  He called around and quickly assembled a pick-up band with Dupuy, Slusher, Pipkin and original fiddler Warren Hood.  “It wasn’t like the first gig was very good,” he recalled, “but everybody had a good time.”

The five musicians enjoyed themselves enough to keep playing together, and over the ensuing months they developed their sound, taking in bluegrass and Western swing influences among others.  They soon landed a weekly gig at Momo’s, a popular club in Austin.  The band quickly became a local phenomenon and recorded a live album, titled “Pickin’ & Grinnin’,” at the club.

Hood left the band shortly after the first album, having won a scholarship to study at the prestigious Berklee School of Music.  He was replaced by Dennis Ludiker, a transplant from Washington State, who joined the band just in time for their first tour in 2002.  On this tour, Ludiker took first prize at the Winfield fiddle competition and the band was named Best New Band at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

Since then, the South Austin Jug Band has played at some of the country’s top bluegrass and country music festivals, sharing the stage with artists like Lyle Lovett.  The band released its first studio CD in 2003.  Produced by Lloyd Maines (the Dixie Chicks), the self-titled CD contains 12 songs and was described by one critic as “a veritable weekend acoustic music festival packed into [one] CD.”

So if you are looking for some good fun and great music this Thursday, the South Austin Jug Band at Henflings could be the show for you.  In the words of mandolin player Matt Slusher, “It’s an organized campfire acoustic jam session with a few of the rough edges knocked off, but not all of them. It’s people playing good music, having a good time, and giving it 100 percent.”

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, July 8, 2004

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