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23rd Annual Battle of the Jugbands (Sunday, February 13th, 2005, The Cabooze, Minneapolis)
Members of The Phleshtones took home the coveted Waffle Iron prize this year at the 23rd Annual Battle of the Jugbands. Photo by David de Young (click photo or here for photo gallery.)

By David de Young (with Cyn Collins)

Last year, HowWasTheShow made history by getting the Battle of the Jugbands review online before the show was even over. This year I’ve been remiss, and it’s taken three days; in the meantime, hits coming into the website since the event have made last year’s review of Jug Band battle one of the most popular articles of the week.

The numerous web searches for jug band information confirm the popularity of this annual show (this is it’s 23rd year.) They also indicate there are also a lot more jug band aficionados (if that’s not a contradiction of terms) out there than you might expect.

Besides nearly 8 hours of diverse music, another reason this show is popular among west bankers and others is that it’s thrifty! Admission is technically free, though a donation is recommended at the door. The proceeds go to charitable causes, so while it's a great deal if you’re broke, if you do have a buck or two (or five) to donate (or food) it really fits the share and share alike spirit of the event.

I arrived at the Cabooze during The Fat Chance Jug Band to a packed house. It was a little easier to work my way through the crowd than it was during the previous weekend’s Bob Marley tribute, but not much.

Next up was The Je Ne Sais Quoi Jug Band who announced that they had bribed the judges, a jugband tradition I learned shortly thereafter when HowWasTheShow writer Cyn Collins and organizer of the Whiskey Girls and Their Wild Turkeys Jug Band passed by with a plate full of food on her way to the judge’s booth. (It was apparently a well-selected spread of food as Cyn’s band won the "Most Attentive to the Judges" award at the end of the night.)

Je Ne Sais Quoi really went for the gold (or the annual prize of a Waffle Iron as the case may be) by singing mostly songs about waffles, one song referring to a fake URL In a gimmick that I thought should have gotten them the prize right then and there, a woman who looked like a younger version of Granny from the Beverly Hillbilly’s started tossing real waffles into the audience from a string bag slung over her shoulder. Try as I might to catch one mid-flight, the Frisbee like projectiles were just too elusive.

The Phleshtones took the stage next with 14-plus members. I’m told this group of musicians had nearly 23 years experience playing together at the battle, though this was their first year appearing as the Phleshtones since they change their name every year. They received cheers from their very introduction.

I’m also told members of the Phleshtones were Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion band during its first couple years. The band included Judy Larson on guitar, who played on the same bills with Bob Dylan in ’59 and ’60 (actually, there were a number people in Sunday’s jugbands who could make that claim, including Dave Morton.) Judy’s husband Bill Hinkley was on jug, and "Bobo" Bob Stelnicki, who came up from Chicago with his family for the event, was on gutbucket bass. Stelnicki has played gutbucket bass for 40 years.

If you wonder how I know all this, it’s due to the diligence of my colleague Cyn Collins. See more info in Cyn's recent Seward Profile article on Bill and Judy here: and her article on the history of the Jugband here:

I had to leave after The Phleshtones, and I won’t keep you in suspense any longer: They won the 23rd Annual Battle of the Jug Bands.

Cyn Collins, who was at the show through to the end told me Goober Sez Hey! who started with great rendition of "Born to Be Wild," was really good. Cyn filed the rest of this report via email:

The Lawless Walleyes seemed to be comprised pretty much all the Palmers 5 - 7 pm regulars who've begun a Wednesday nite "Hippenanny" jam session -- there were about 12 of them. They also looked like a composite of 3 - 4 of the older (80's) jugbands such as the notorious "Tortilla Flats" which featured deceased Tim Kinnay, northern Minnesota Ojibwe. They dedicated "Living on Indian Time" to Tim who wrote this great song. That drove the entire crowd to dance and sing like crazy. Willie Freeman, an old jug blower and funny player was fun to watch. The year prior to this, he was on Prairie Home Companion with Spider John Koerner's band Outdoor John and the Sears Roebuck Catalog. (Getting paid $500 to blow doesn't suck.) I was once in Willie's winning jugband, The Bukowski Family Jugband during which he did a great spoken word performance.

People were dancing a lot at the end. The fact that we won "Most Attentive to the Judges" award surprised me as I was rather lower than usual on the quantities of refreshing beverages and sustenance this year due to economic circumstances beyond my control. (But my friend Sid did give them a note saying she'd plant each of them a pepper plant in their yard in honor of the Whiskey Girls and their Wild Turkeys.)