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Bones Jugs at The Crow’s Nest on Friday

Bones Jugs, formerly Bones Jugs ‘n’ Harmony, are a quartet hailing from southern Illinois and the town of Urbana. Which for anyone aware of that area is close to Champagne where the University of Illinois is located, but I digress. This band is comprised of four members who are: Charlie Harris on upright bass and lead vocals, Jens (pronounced with a soft J) on basically every instrument known to humankind but most notably: drums, lead vocals, xylophone, banjo-lin, clarinet, jug, bones, washboard, kazoo, and according to Charlie “probably 2-7 other objects that make noise,” Steve Meadows on reso-tele guitar, 6 string banjo, kazoo, vocals, and jug or trombone, and lastly Meagan Gillis on xylophone, trumpet, trombone, and vocals. With all of these instruments they make a sound equal to something that could have derived from the 20’s with ragtime mixed with a little of modern day. In short, they are simply an Americana, roots, and jug band.  Charlie Harris and I had a conversation about the band and where it has come from and where they are going. All the while I was listening to their latest release “Don’t Waste a Drop” which came out last year.        

Bones Jugs traces their beginnings way back to the winter of 2012. Charlie received an email from Jens in which they were going to form a new band featuring xylophone in a “roots Americana jugband-ish setting.” As the formation was beginning they were tooling around with some names, and Charlie wanted me to put this in, one of those names was “Sloptastic” which did get vetoed, and he said anyone reading this can have. The following year, 2013, they had their first practice, as well as a show at their local open mic in which the only folks that had heard them (their friends), offered up their name that they kept up until 2015 which was “Bones Jugs n’ Harmony.”     

Over the course of these many years they have gone through different line-ups and members, however, at the helm of the ship are Charlie and Jens. These different members are a rotating cast of characters as well in Charlie’s words it’s “a sort of collective.” The current line-up mentioned previously has been together since Steve Meadows joined back in May of 2016. Meagan Gillis moved from New York City to Urbana, IL in 2015. This has led to an album that features most everybody that performs as Bones Jugs.          

The album is thirteen songs long which feature just about every Americana instrument you could possibly think of; however, the one constant is this xylophone. Which along with a steel drum gives each song a Caribbean feel to it, and lends to a sound unique to them, I mean how many bands have a xylophone in it? The album is fun. It is meant for a good time, and if you let your mind drift you could probably get lost on a beach somewhere, or a smoke filled speak-easy. The talent they have not only as musicians but as a band is showcased on this record. The fact that it was recorded at Charlie’s house is equally impressive. It is layered with all kinds of sounds much in the way of ragtime, and old time radio. They are simply sharing their idea, and taking you along for a ride.    

This upcoming year they want to spread the joy of their music. They are working on an ep of George Hamilton Green songs. The godfather of ragtime xylophone who was influential in composing and playing xylophone, and according to Charlie “for this project we take the songs he wrote and rearrange and re-imagine them to create something unique, yet still a wide and deliberate head nod to George Hamilton Green.” This will be there second ep of his music titled “Rag Day 2” which should be out later this summer. I was not aware of who George Green was or is, and found him intriguing to say the least. It was nice delving into somebody unique and influential. As for the rest of the year in general their plan is to continue with what they are doing seems to be theme as they have gained support throughout the Midwest. Again Charlie, “we take off in one direction every weekend or so from our hometown in central Illinois, and we make it to Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis, Nashville, Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison (Wisconsin), St. Louis, Paducah (Kentucky), Carbondale (Illinois), and many other towns and places.” The main goal being to hit all the same places with new ones scattered in there along with continuing to write and arrange new and interesting Bones jugs songs.         

Bones Jugs will be coming to Cincinnati and, more specifically, The Crow’s Nest this Friday evening. For this run they will also make stops in Dayton, Columbus, Eaton, and Bloomington, Indiana. They are a good time band with a good time feel. They harken back to the days of yore, and simply want to share their good times. Charlie and I closed out our conversation with me asking the question: why music? And I will let Charlie close this out.

Charlie Harris: Because making music, writing music, listening to music, thinking about music, and sharing it all with other people is just about the only thing I feel passionate about and driven to do every day. In order to do it you need to travel and play new places and meet new people, for me that’s fuel in the fire. Like when we came to Cincinnati and played a holiday show to a packed house in 2014 with The Tillers at the North Side Tavern, and got to be a part of a new music scene for one night, and see those fellas perform, and have a real good time, that’s what it’s all about. Also, Bones Jugs sound is feel good music, I mean it’s interesting, and arranged, and informed and steeped in tradition and all that, but if nothing else it’s fun. It’s straight up happy music. That sounds cheesy to type out, oh well, I think it’s true. While it’s fun and feeling good I’m gonna keep it going, continue playing, and sharing it with other people.