Jug Band Jubilee
Holding the annual National Jug Band Jubilee in Louisville each fall may not convince other cities to give up their claims as the birthplace of the art form, but it does provide an opportunity to explore the roots of this all-American musical form—and enjoy a lot of good-time sounds.
At the turn of the 20th century, Louisvillians enjoyed the lively traditional fiddle and guitar tunes of the day like everyone else. But America’s 18th-largest city was also harvesting music from an unlikely source: whiskey jugs, which abounded because of the community’s long association with bourbon.
By the spring of 1900, largely African-American jug bands were delighting citizens on the streets of Louisville. In 1903, Kentucky Derby fans first heard the now legendary Louisville Jug Band. Its leader, Earl McDonald, has been recommended for the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame.
The infectious rhythms of jug bands were soon serenading steamboat passengers up and down the Ohio and Mississippi river system. By the 1920s, Louisville’s proliferating jug bands were entertaining theater and dance crowds in major cities east of the Mississippi. The popularity of these homespun tunes soon crossed oceans, too, and today jug band music is popular in Europe, Asia, and Australia.
- Program 103
- The 21c Museum Hotel, the Jug Band Jubilee, the Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library, Kentucky Center Programming Director Dan Forte, and Part 2 of our report on the Lost Boys of Sudan. (#103)