Heather Leoncini says she was born into jug band music.
“My dad was a member of the Juggernaut Jug Band pretty much my whole life growing up,” Leoncini says. “There were some times he came off the road to take care of family things, but pretty much my whole life that’s what my dad did — he was in a jug band. I never really thought about it, you know?”
That’s one of the reasons Leoncini took on the role of president of the National Jug Band Jubilee — a festival now preparing for its 13th year that celebrates the legacy of jug music in Louisville and the states.
It’s a history with which many people aren’t familiar.
Michael Jones is the author of “Louisville Jug Music: From Earl McDonald to the National Jubilee.” He explains that jug band music is a unique blend of African horn-blowing traditions and Scotch-Irish fiddle music.
“And it combined into what we call old-time music, and jug playing is part of that,” Jones says. “So it was like the first truly American music and it combined European and African characteristics.”
Then, during the 19th century, African-American musicians wandered the streets of Louisville playing improvised instruments like kazoos, washboards and empty liquor jugs — the poor man’s tuba.
“And Louisville’s considered to be the home of jug band music because we produced the first group to record,” Jones says.
This year’s festival will take place Sept. 16 at the Brown Forman Amphitheater. Eight jug bands from around the country will perform and Leoncini says visitors can have their turn at making music, too.
“We’ll have a musician leading a group of people learning how to play the board, blowing the jug, kazoos, all sorts of instruments,” she says.
Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton will headline the 2017 festival. There’s more information here.