Dec. 05--DECATUR -- If any other band featured the xylophone in a way similar to Bone Jugs N Harmony, it would likely be that band's defining feature. In Bone Jugs, though, it's just one more quirk among many.
An audience member is just as likely to note the old-timey whiskey jugs or clacking of sun-bleached animal bones the first time they take in the unique Champaign musical group.
"We're sponsored by a company called Bone Dry Music in St. Louis, where we get our donkey jawbones," said guitarist JP Goguen, who will perform for free Friday, Dec. 6 with Bone Jugs N Harmony at Donnie's Homespun Pizza in Decatur. "It's a unique sound for sure. I play guitar and banjo, and the other guys play everything from xylophone to steel pan drums, ceramic jugs, the bones and bass."
The end result is an up-tempo brand of music that sounds a little like circus music meeting Caribbean dance tunes with a twist of American roots. Goguen was inspired to form the group by bands he saw at Urbana's annual Folk and Roots Festival, combining several disparate sounds into one.
"Last year we saw a band there called Devil in the Woodpile, and after seeing what they could do with acoustic music we realized we wanted to make a crowd really groove with acoustic instruments," he said. "Later we started doing Calypso tunes and started bringing in all these new dance rhythms. The whole band is really rooted in percussion and we're always finding ways to add quirky little solo sections."
Quite simply, there isn't anything else quite like Bone Jugs in Central Illinois, even among other "jug bands." Goguen said many have tried to describe the group through comparisons to other experimental bands such as Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, but those comparisons are more in terms of attitude than music. The one thing that is clear is the intent behind Bone Jugs' signature xylophone rags, which is to get audiences up and dancing.
"It's all just about having a good time, creating this high-energy ecstatic vibe in the audience," Goguen said. "There's a lot of food and drink references in our music, and stuff about getting together with friends. One of our songs is called 'Party in the Kitchen,' and it's about when you invite people over and set up the living room all nice, but everyone ends up just hanging out in the kitchen anyway."
Since forming earlier in 2013, the band has quickly found a passionate following in Champaign-Urbana, likely owing to the unique nature of their shows. They embrace a spirit of revelry and wild abandon in their performances, encouraging listeners to get up, dance and cut loose. "Reserved" is the last word one would ever use to describe their performances or fandom.
"The people in the audience go wild, they get up and do the Charleston and stuff," Goguen said. "It's really a ton of fun for us. You just have to see it to understand what it's like."
The band has yet to put out an official commercial debut, but has instead released four mini-EPs called "episodes" for free on their website, http://bonesjugsnharmony.com/blog/. They plan to fund a full-length debut themselves in the near future.
(c)2013 the Herald & Review (Decatur, Ill.)
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