You'll either love it, or you'll hate it so much you walk out. Those are the only responses Emmy Award-winning director and musician Jack Norton will be satisfied with when people watch Jug Band Hokum, his first documentary. The work, inspired by his love of folk music, is a Twin Cities Film Festival Official Selection this year, and is making its world premiere this Friday.
Norton wanted to do a documentary about music, but didn't know on what until he heard about the annual Battle of the Jug Bands, a Minneapolis competition that is over 30 years old. It was an idea that would work with his budget, which was pretty much nothing.
“I just kinda wanted to do something that was cheap and interesting and entertaining, but also had a really quirky character base," says Norton. "I thought that this would be the event that would attract weirdos, and I was right.”
The original plan was to do a Ken Burns-like historical documentary about jug-band music and its connection to Minnesota, but upon meeting the people in the bands, he changed his mind.
“I realized that it would be more entertaining to be a character piece,” he says.
The film focuses on members of two competing bands who couldn't be more different from each other. There's the Yoga Jug Benders, who Norton says consists of an always-rotating roster of yoga teachers and students (at one point, there were 16 band members on the same stage). Norton recalls hanging out with them during their band practice, and noticed how they did everything but music.
“They just kinda hang out, and they do yoga poses,” says Norton.
For many bands that's a recipe for disaster, but member Brooklynd Turner believes things are different with jug band music. And, for her, it's one of the upsides.
“I don't think the laws of the universe apply if you're in a jug band,” writes Turner via email. “Maybe that's truly what attracted me to it. You can do things like yoga and miraculously get better at playing the jug.”
The other band, Show Me Your Jugs, is the polar opposite. Norton says their main motivation for being in the documentary was that they saw it as their big break, with one girl wanting to be the next Britney Spears or Paris Hilton. He also says that they had no idea that Battle of the Jug Bands was a music competition.
“At first I thought it was like a cute competition,” says band member Amnesia Starr. “Like a wet T-shirt contest without water or something.”
There was also a spiritual aspect to her decision as well. Before she realized that music was a part of the competition, she thought of it as another opportunity to use her modeling talents to spread the word of God. However, she was actually more excited once she found out about the music part, because she says God gave her such a “love for all the arts.”
To Norton, there was just something about the girls that it made sense to include them as one of the focal points of the documentary.
“They were so absurd and so crazy that following them, it just felt right,” he says.
To contrast the bands even more, he hung out with the Yoga Jug Benders everywhere, including art shows and yoga seminars. As for Show Me Your Jugs, a lot of time was spent in Amnesia's room, their dance studio, and a local Taco Bell.
But there is one thing that brings them together, and it was the reason Norton decided on them instead of some of the older people on the jug band music scene. He wanted break the cliché of who plays that kind of music.
“I wanted to shy away from, you know, the traditional, middle-aged guy with a banjo and a beard,” he says.
Before filming began, Norton envisioned a family-friendly music documentary that could air on stations like PBS. He was quickly proven wrong.
“Within a few days of production, people were swearing and getting half naked, smoking pot, and drinking,” he recalls.
The documentary also features appearances from both local and national talent. Singer-songwriter Charlie Parr and A Prairie Home Companion's Garrison Keillor both sat down with Norton to talk about the genre. And then there's Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony, who Norton got in contact with after he found out one of the bands in the battle only did covers of the rap group's songs.
In the end, he just wants to people to be entertained. But he welcomes the hate, too.
“If a person sees this film and writes me a hate letter and says how horrible it is, that's great.” he says.
Jug Band Hokum
9:30 p.m. Friday, October 23
For more info about the event, visit Twin Cities Film Fest's website.