Musician, songwriter and producer Tim Eschliman traces the roots of the Christmas Jug Band back to December, 1977. That’s the date marked on the cassette he holds dear that features a live recording of the ensemble’s earliest holiday gathering, playing on Christmas Eve at the long-gone Old Mill in Mill Valley.
“When we first started doing it, we marketed it as Christmas music for people who hate Christmas music,” Eschliman says. “It’s not Perry Como.”
Of course, the band wasn’t called the Christmas Jug Band back then; they were simply a group of friendly musicians who gathered on Mondays to drink Wild Turkey and play jug band music.
Yet, the project snowballed from that first holiday performance, and more than 40 years later, the band is still an annual tradition that features Eschliman (Commander Cody, Rhythmtown-Jive), Gregory Leroy “Duke” Dewey (Country Joe & the Fish), Austin deLone (Elvis Costello, Boz Scaggs), Ken “Turtle” Vandermarr (Dan Hicks), Paul Rogers (Those Darn Accordions), Blake Richardson, Ken “Snakebite” Jacobs (Kinky Friedman) and special guests performing original holiday-themed tunes, parodies and classic songs that all get the raucous, acoustic jug band treatment.
“One of the jokes about the band is, ‘How do you guys stay together so long?’ Well, we have 50 weeks off a year,” Eschliman laughs. “It’s really a band full of band leaders, but for a week or two we can just have fun as a group and drop the need to be the dictator and just enjoy the crowd.”
The Christmas Jug Band’s annual slate of shows this year also acts as an album-release tour for the group’s new album, Live From the West Pole; their first collection of new material released in a decade. The group recorded the entire album last year at Sweetwater Music Hall, their homebase that Eschliman dubbed the West Pole some years back.
“I just decided we’re going to name Mill Valley ‘The West Pole,’ because it’s the birthplace of this silly thing,” says Eschliman. “No one else has claimed that the West Pole is anywhere, so we’re claiming it .”
The Christmas Jug Band performs on Friday, Dec. 13, at the Big Easy (128 American Alley, Petaluma. 8pm. $15. 707.776.4631) & Sunday and Monday, Dec 15–16, at Sweetwater Music Hall (19 Corte Madera Ave., Mill Valley. Sun, 7pm. $19–$27; Mon, 8pm. $24–$27. 415.388.3850).