Local filmmaker Jack Norton sheds a fresh light on the pugs and jugs of Minnesota
When Jack Norton took a year off from the kids’ hip-hop and kangaroo suits of his PBS preschool music show, he devoted his free time to directing his first documentary film, Jug Band Hokum. The film follows two jug bands competing in the annual Minneapolis Battle of the Jug Bands where the usual drums and guitars are replaced by household items like spoons, jugs, and washboards. In the Battle’s 33rd year, Jack tags along with the Yoga Jug Benders, a group of yoga instructors and students who also sometimes blow on jugs together, as well as Show Me Your Jugs, a group competing with the assumption that jugs mean twerking and sports bras. To sort this all out, The Wake sat down with Norton and one of the stars of the Yoga Jug Benders, Brooklynd Turner.
The Wake: How would you describe the jug band community?
Jack Norton: Lots of beards, lots of banjos. Pretty crusty.
Brooklynd Turner: Crusty in the old man way, not in the punk way.
JN: It’s funny ‘cause the community, from what I could tell, kind of hated the trailer and hates the idea of this film. I think they wanted a film about jug band music and, in short, the film isn’t about jug band music. Jug band music is the glue that holds it all together.
BT: It’s more of a character study.
JN: For sure, it’s about Brooklynd and Anne (The Yoga Jug Benders) versus Amnesia and Majesty (Show Me Your Jugs). Those two groups are so different and that’s what it’s really about.
The Wake: The very first time I watched the trailer, I was actually certain it wasn’t real—the characters were too bizarre!
JN: Yeah that’s the question we always get! What’s good about it to me is that you don’t even have to know what jug band music is or be a fan to get something out of this movie. It’s way more universal and way more funny than I set out to make it. I’m glad that it’s not about the history of a genre of folk music, I’m glad it’s about people and humanity.
The Wake: How did the two of you meet and end up working together?
BT: We met because I taught him and his wife yoga at Your Yoga in Minneapolis. One day they were going to Chicago and I was like, “Bring me back some wonuts!” Because I had just read this article about waffle donuts. And they were like, “We can’t bring you back wonuts cause we’re raw vegan” and I was like, “Sick I’m raw vegan, too!” And then for the PBS show he asked if I could dance around in a kangaroo suit and I said, “Do you want me to bring my own suit” Because I already have one.”
JN: And then I knew that any girl that has her own kangaroo suit needs to be in my life.
BT: So he started following me around loosely as one of the many characters in the film and then realized how extremely strange my life is and was like, “This girl is weird, I wanna exploit her!”
JN: Yeah totally, that is how it happened.
BT: Wonuts, kangaroos, and then exploitation.
The Wake: What does the word “hokum” mean and how does it describe the film?
JN: It was a term in the 1940s or ‘50s that was used a lot by carnival people, and I liked that. They used to say “hokum” as a slang word for craziness or insanity. And within the realm of jug band music, there’s a genre called hokum music which is all of the super-sexualized, double entendre songs that were released in the 1920s. So people who know jug band music would know that term as very sexualized, goofy, double entendre music.
BT: Okay, I think I know what it means to me. I’m thinking about when we were driving around on tour and there came this certain moment when nothing felt real anymore. Everything was so crazy and we were all so sleep-deprived. So I think it’s that feeling of the world not actually being real and it’s all just open possibility for you to do whatever the fuck you want and then you just do it. Yeah, and make some kind of jug song about it.
The Wake: Man I hope to feel hokum someday, it sounds sweet.
JN: Really, it’s a state of being!
The Wake: If you were a jug band instrument, what would you be?
BT: I feel like I would be the weenie whistle. It’s kinda kooky.
JN: I think I would be a banjo cause you can play them like a drum but they’re also kind of
stupid and goofy. And you can play me like a drum and I’m stupid and goofy.
BT: Solid but goofy. Holding down the beat.
JN: But I’d want to be a homemade banjo. Like a banjo made out of…
BT: A potato.
JN: I was thinking an old coffee tin.
BT: I would be a weenie whistle made out of a potato.
The Wake: What was something new that you learned about the Twin Cities while you were filming?
JN: The thing I noticed is that Minnesota Nice is super real and no one will ever question you. When we were filming in Tennessee, we filmed at a park, but the cops would always come over and say, “What are y’all doing? You need a permit, we’re gonna shut you down.” But in Minnesota no one ever confronted us or asked us anything. We would go into bars and clubs and parks and no one ever stopped and asked us what we were doing. And that’s the thing I learned more about the Twin Cities was that people want to be nice and avoid confrontation. They’re also open-minded enough.
BT: I think I learned about the pug community. We did one shot where we had like 30 pugs and the people were so passionate about their pugs; they felt they were so expressive!
JN: We put an ad on Craigslist that we were looking for pugs and we got so many emails right away. People would send us headshots of their pugs.
BT: Shout-out to the pugs.
The Wake: If someone really wanted to get in the hokum spirit before watching the film, what do you think would be the best Twin Cities restaurant to eat at before seeing Jug Band Hokum?
BT: I feel like there should be an open bar that starts at noon.
JN: Here’s what you should do. If you like Brooklynd and Ann and the Yoga Jug Benders, then go to Namaste Cafe. Order a really good, high-quality Indian dish. Don’t worry about the price, just do it. If you like Amnesia and Majesty and Show Me Your Jugs, go to Taco Bell and then stop by SuperAmerica and get flaming hot Cheetos to sneak into the theatre. Every day that I saw Amnesia she was eating flaming hot Cheetos. There was this moment where she was chewing gum and eating flaming hot Cheetos at the same time and it evaporated in her mouth.
The Wake: Any final words to the readers?
BT: Keep it real; sneak in Flaming Hot Cheetos.