Profile: South Austin Jug Band

Profile: South Austin Jug Band
originally appeared in Hyperactive Music Magazine, Number 3, Mar/Apr 2005

What do you do if your band is lucky enough to snag a flat-picking guitar champion? You let him play fiddle, of course. Then your prize-winning fiddle player picks up a mandolin, and joins your bass-playing drummer, your electric blues guitarist (who’s playing acoustic), and your singer/songwriter who didn’t pick up a guitar until he was older than your star fiddler is now. Whew! But wait–these boys can play.

The South Austin Jug Band, hailing from–you guessed it–Austin, TX, has been packing the house all across the Southwest and Mountain states since picking up Best New Band honors at Telluride in 2002. And that’s literally packing houses–these boys play as many private parties as they do full-fledged shows. Once you hear them live, you’ll understand why. What birthday party would be complete without a sound this purely joyous?

SAJB’s blend of bluegrass and old-time picking will bring out even your most deeply buried bit of redneck. Their jamming is so infectious, so energized, that even the most cosmopolitan in the bar can’t help but croon along to songs about rat-tails and mullets. But lest you blush at your secretly country soul, don’t worry–these young pickers cast their nets wide and bring up a little blues, a little rock, and a little Western swing to temper the ‘grass. The result? A heady concoction that throws the hyphens into overdrive trying to tack together labels for it all. The boys themselves will tell you it’s best not to try to name what they do so well. Bassist Will Dupuy explained, “We just kind of draw from the best of our influences and don’t try to keep it channeled down to one genre. [We play] real, pure American music,”

Playing real, pure American music in a town widely considered to be the home of Americana itself isn’t exactly revolutionary, so, to make a living doing it, you have got to be good. “You’ve got to put a new spin on the wheel to get noticed,” commented Dupuy. “Because [Austin] is the live music capital of the world.”

One thing that keeps the SAJB wheel spinning is the serious chops rounding out the band. Dupuy praised fiddler Brian Beken and mandolin-player Dennis Ludiker as “geniuses” and described the group’s creative process as “pretty organic.” Though Dupuy and singer-guitarist James Hyland are usually the band’s songwriters, Ludiker explained that everyone is involved: “We just bring [a song] to the table and … just mash it together with everyone’s ideas. We’ve got such good musicianship in this band now that it’s pretty easy to put out a song.”

It hasn’t been quite so easy, however, to put out a record. SAJB’s first studio recording fell into limbo, kept off the shelves by some legal minutiae. A now out-of-print live recording has in its stead become their first official CD–fitting for what Dupuy terms a “crowd-reaction type of band.” For now, the only music you can treat your stereo to is their eponymous 2003 release, which contains crowd-pleasers like “The Ballad Of Eddie Mullet” and Hyland’s “sexier old-time” ode, “My Baby In the Sunshine.”

In a perfect world, every city would have a little Austin in it. In this world, the South Austin Jug Band heldps balance the deficit. As the narrator of their song “Hill Country Nights” describes, the boys of SAJB are musicians who may love the stage and the hollering fans and the late, late nights, but who are also just as happy playing just to hear themselves play. Fortunately for us, they’ll drive to our town to do it.