Thursday & Friday
The South Austin Jug Band is positively thrilled to be returning to Old Settlers Music Festival for the first time since 2004. Yep it’s been 15 years, and in that time they’ve experienced breakups, run their own solo projects and joined other bands, performed as a different configuration or two, and played the occasional reunion show. In 2019, however, it’s the original quintet of James Hyland (vocals and rhythm guitar), Willie Pipkin (vocals and lead acoustic guitar), Warren Hood (vocals and fiddle), Will Dupuy (vocals and upright bass and future Governor of Texas), Matt Slusher (vocals and mandolin) and still no jug.
What began as five aspiring musicians just learning their acoustic instruments together at the turn of the 21st century, with a name that’s a nod to The Muppet Show’s Emmet Otter’s Jug Band, transformed into an outfit that didn’t exactly play bluegrass winning the Telluride (Colorado) Bluegrass Festival’s bluegrass competition in 2001. They followed that up with a well received eponymous release in 2004.
“Once we got the ball rolling,” Dupuy recalls, “we got all this buzz and opened for Lyle Lovett at the Backyard and got a booking agent and went on tour and essentially never stopped. None of us was married and we didn’t have any kids. My dad bought us a Suburban and in four years we put 300,000 miles on it. We came up at an opportune time for the bluegrass and jam band thing. String Cheese Incident and Widespread Panic were real big nationally and the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” phenomena was huge.
”In typical South Austin fashion SAJB doesn’t follow the rules. They may look like a jam band on stage and they possess all the elements and virtuosity of a classic bluegrass or newgrass act, but what they do is difficult to pigeonhole. Their rootsy originals sidle up easily next to craftily chosen covers from the likes of such musical heroes as Walter Hyatt, Bob Wills, Jimi Hendrix and Townes Van Zandt. Heck they even titled their last record, 2007’s Strange Invitation, after a Beck tune.
Not long after the release of that disc they decided to go their separate ways. In 2012 the original five regrouped for what was a ‘let’s see what we can do’ one-off. It felt so good though, the SAJB has performed in Austin a couple of times every year since.
“We’re brothers,” acknowledges Hyland. “We lived in the same house. We traveled around the world together. We lived in a car together. We grew up together and we definitely fought together.” Most importantly, he continues, “We’re all bound by this music from a special time in our lives.”
Hard to believe it’s been nearly 20 years, but the South Austin Jug Band evolved into one of the most thoroughly entertaining ensembles on the Texas music scene. They make acoustic music that’s distinctive, at times frolicsome and spiked with humor, occasionally restrained yet moving, and always performed with confidence and without a hint of flash. In the end, the quintet remains true to their beginnings, taking acoustic music from Texas and beyond and making it into something they can proudly call their own.