By Doug Hill
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — “It’s going to be a rowdy and fun concert,” Will Gardner said. “What you need to know about The Great American Jug Band (GAJB) is that we’re where indie rock and red dirt music collide.”
Gardner leads the six-piece outfit that creates an amalgamation of these two robust genres with a healthy dose of performance art. Don’t expect to actually hear a jug being played, they don’t have one. The Great American Jug Band will perform in concert tonight at 10 at The Deli, 309 White St. Cost is $5.
GAJB’s name makes you expect Henryetta hayseed and what you get is clever Norman skiffle. They recall Austin’s Possum Posse for their irreverent humor and vaguely country vibe.
“There’s going to be a lot of hooting and hollering,” Gardner said. “We definitely interact with the audience.”
Creating a personal connection that goes beyond just listening to music and making the concert an overall experience is the Norman native’s goal.
“If there’s one thing I live for it’s to give you the best show every single time we take the stage,” Gardner said. “I guarantee I will put my heart and soul into it because this means the world to me.”
Gardner’s not exaggerating. GAJB’s new album is all his originals that were written from intimate personal experiences. Women who have broken his heart, goofy road trips with best friends to score porn in Texas and warm memories of being snowed-in during blizzards define the songs. Toning down lyrics for broad social acceptability isn’t part of his credo. The composition titled “Love and Drugs” inserted here.
Gardner co-wrote a twisted children’s song called “Little Bird” with his pal the left coast screenwriter Patrick Rieger. It’s about tiny creatures meeting their demise with a jaunty kazoo score. There’s a moving-on tune memorializing travel to Africa titled “Leaving Phalaborwa” and a faux distressing ditty on unrequited love.
“This is my life and it means a lot to me,” he said.
Understand that Gardner is an experienced stage and film actor who brings his theatrical sensibility to GAJB’s performances. He’s performed in more than 75 stage plays. Gardner draws artistic inspiration from all aspects of life and channels his creative energy toward audiences. Being in the limelight is his comfort zone.
“All my work is for those moments before an audience,” he said. “Making people happy, hearing the cheering and touching someone is my enjoyment. It’s what I feel I was put here in life to do.”
He described live performance as being the ultimate creative outlet because it only happens once and your physical presence is required.
“You don’t get 50 chances for the right take like when you’re recording music,” Gardner said. “It’s a sense of legitimacy you don’t achieve anywhere else except when performing live.”
Gardner marshals powerful sonic force in his band. John Givens plays violin, Josh Benson is on drums, Jon Goodell’s the lead guitarist, Tim Gregory alternates between steel guitar and mandolin with Gabe Matthews on miscellaneous percussion. Gardner’s the lead vocalist and plays rhythm guitar.
“The whole band is Oklahoma born and bred,” Gardner said. “I lived in Michigan until I was 5 but was definitely raised here. GAJB is a product of the region and that’s something I love about it.”
The band members are all friends and they share recreational interests.
“Josh and Gabe have known each other since they were babies,” Gardner said. “We’ve met through mutual friends and from being drinking buddies.”
GAJB started with just Gardner and Matthews two years ago. The vision was for 20 musicians playing together but that wasn’t practical.
“We get heckled a lot for not having a jug player,” he said. “Our sound just wasn’t going in that direction but we are definitely a skiffle band.”
Gardner is fond of the local music scene and finds what’s offered on any given nights at Norman saloons to be wholly satisfying. Wishing for more listening room-type venues was the only criticism he’d hazard on record. GAJB’s music, performance style and comedic aspects dovetail nicely with other bands such as Hosty Duo whose sly humor and jump beats are metro crowd pleasers.
“Our music goes all over the place, but we do have some sad songs,” Gardner insisted.