The looseness was partly an illusion - they assiduously sought out long-forgotten records, worked out innovative arrangements, practiced hard, and maintained a high standard of technical skill - but when they played it always felt like play rather than work. They revived the jug band style of the 1920s and made it sound fresher than ever. As Kweskin said, "We don't sound like anybody ever sounded before. What we are doing is taking old styles and building new things out of them. We're ourselves all the time." The Memphis musician and producer Jim Dickenson, who had put together his own group under the tutelage of the legendary Gus Cannon of Cannon's Jug Stompers and Will Shade of the Memphis Jug Band, recalled, "When I heard the Kweskin bunch it blew me away. I couldn't understand how a bunch of guys from Cambridge, Massachusetts got so much closer to the spirit of that music than we could."
Where other folk-blues revivalists were nostalgic, the Kweskin gang were revolutionary hipsters. "We were a family, and we were dedicated to presenting a life experience and pioneering experiences for people," says Geoff Muldaur. "We were trying to get that kid in the fourth row to finally pick up a guitar or take a trip - or just get down."
Other bands amazed or impressed their fans; the Kweskins made you feel like you wanted to jump onstage and join them. "The whole trip was so innocent," Maria Muldaur recalls. "We just did it like crazies and got up there and sang... It was just a pure love of music and a real community feeling." That family and community centered around Jim Kweskin, a formidable ragtime blues guitarist with his signature black mustache and a gift for good-time jazz. He pulled together a mismatched bunch of talented individuals who often seemed like they had ended up onstage together accidentally and were thrilled and amazed to get along so well and sound so good.
Members came and went, but the foundation was always Fritz Richmond, jug player extraordinaire and "poet of the washtub bass." Kweskin handled the upbeat songs, while Geoff Muldaur sang slow blues with eerie soul and added a second guitar, mandolin, or washboard percussion. Maria Muldaur played fiddle, kazoo, or tambourine and sang like a cross between a hillbilly lass and an old blueswoman. Other cast members included Mel Lyman, Bruno Wolfe, and the virtuosos Bill Keith on banjo and Richard Greene on fiddle; both Bill
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Sat., Oct. 14 6:00pmAlt-Country