Backwash

Jug-gernaut is the latest local musician to leave town.

When it's trying to appeal to businesses that are thinking about relocating to Colorado, the Denver Chamber of Commerce is quick to cite a surge in the city's population. The numbers, however, don't reflect the veritable exodus of local musicians -- including Slim Cessna, Fat Mama and members of the Samples -- who, whether for personal or artistic reasons, have been hightailing it out of town faster than whooping cranes bound for Canada. The latest player to pack up his guitar case and move on down the road is Lonesome Dan Kase of the 32-20 Jug Band, who's moving to the frosty environs of Minnesota at the end of the month. Though we wish Kase the best of luck, the news is -- if you'll pardon the fourth-grade language -- a very serious bummer for D-town's music scene, not just for fans of the Jug Band's loving revisions of blues, country and bluegrass styles. Kase, a Michigan native who came to Denver in 1996 via Nashville and Los Angeles (and who's too busy packin' to be reached for comment), is a veritable Rhodes scholar of blues music. At 25, he's an archivist of traditional styles usually unheard of by the average player his age. It's a knowledge that shines through, both on his bluesy solo performances and in his contributions to the Jug Band -- his guitar work is meticulous and creative, while he's managed to elevate kazoo-playing to bold new heights during the two-and-a-half years of the Jug Band's life. The band's self-titled CD, released late last year, finds Kase and his jug mates covering tunes from greats like Roy Acuff and Huddie Ledbetter, as well as traditional gospel numbers and backwoods standards in a way that demonstrates why the band has found favor with hillbillies and hipsters alike.

The Jug Band's John Hickman, who plays banjo and other stringed things, says that Kase's departure was a very amicable one, based more on differences in lifestyle than musical taste. "What it really came down to is that Dan wants to work on his solo project, and he really wants to make a living as a professional musician," Hickman says. "I'm kind of in a different position in my life. I've got a job, a mortgage, I'm getting officially married later this year. I'm not really willing to go on tour and play at the Lion's Lairs all across America. It's just a money-losing proposition. I've seen people on the road. And they always seem miserable -- and broke."

Like most local outfits, the 32-20 Jug Band has never been a moneymaker for those involved. Though their CD was well-received by purists and press alike (including Westword; see "Please Release Me," January 27), and cuts from the album have enjoyed regular rotation on KGNU/88.5-FM, sales have been slow, partly because the band has never played the Denver club circuit with the fervor of peers like Marty Jones and the Pork Boilin' Poor Boys or Slim Cessna's Auto Club. "We've never really thought about the future, or been very good at marketing ourselves," Hickman says. "We've got some good friends at the Colorado Blues Society, and we like that organization a lot. Same thing with the Colorado Music Association. But it's like we never joined just because none of us ever got around to filling out the forms. I do feel like we have participated [in the music scene], but I think it might have made a difference if we'd actually done some of that stuff."

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Hickman reasons that Kase's departure could wind up being the best for everyone -- excepting, perhaps, fans who crave a heels-up hootenanny every now and then. "Dan is really motivated to make it out in Minnesota," Hickman says. "In a way, it will be better for us, both individually and as a group, because we can all focus on our own projects and Dan can make the Jug Band's presence felt in an entirely new area." And, Hickman says, even though Kase and the rest of the players will be separated by distance, the Jug Band will remain active in a limited capacity. "We'll still get together every now and then and write songs, and we'll play festivals -- blues festivals, bluegrass festivals. I'll probably go out to Minnesota from time to time to play with him."

The outfit's remaining members -- Hickman, washtub bassist Aaron Thomas and jug player Chuck Cuthill -- haven't decided just how -- or if -- they'll carry on locally. Cuthill is a full-time member of the Pork Boilin' Poor Boys, and Hickman plans to keep busy with an as-yet-unnamed solo project that finds him focusing on songwriting and banjo playing; he also plans to sit in with Mr. Tree and the Wingnuts sometime in the near future. In the meantime, fans can say their farewells on Saturday, April 15, at the Lion's Lair, where the 32-20 Jug Band will perform with Kase for the last time in Denver. (Well, the last time as a headliner: The band opens for the Dusty 45s on Saturday, April 29, at the Bluebird, with the Hellmen.)

Lonesome Dan, we hardly knew ya.

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