Since the summer of 1998, I had been playing a washtub bass fiddle. An old washtub makes music...who knew?! After four years of jamming at festivals, parties or wherever there was an opportunity to play, I had met at least a dozen washtub players from different occupations and ways of life. Many of them were still actively playing, and all of them were unique characters with their own different styles and types of tub instruments. The unique tubs, styles and talented people inspired me to try to have a gathering. Wouldn't it be interesting to get washtub players together, compare instruments, jam and discuss things like sound amplification, tub construction, string types and playing techniques? You have heard it said that, "if you build it they will come"? Well, I did, and they did!
On July 25th - 26th 2004, the Rongovian Embassy in Trumansburg, New York was the host and gathering place for washtub bass players from all over the United States. The event, called "Washtubs Galore", was, to our knowledge, the first mass gathering of washtub bass players. Once thought of as a "novelty" instrument, the washtub bass fiddle has since gained a new level of respect in the music world, at least in Trumansburg, New York!
| The event was kicked off on Sunday with my son Jess acting as emcee for the day. His first introduction was a trio of fine musicians with a smooth vocal blend called The Mountain Dusky Gang-- Mark Zabler (guitar, mandolin, vocals), Mike Watkins (fiddle, guitar, vocals), and Debra Chesman on washtub bass and vocals. Everyone at the Rongo was impressed with their fine harmony. All three took turns singing the lead, high and low harmonies, creating a vocal sound that was as varied as it was pleasing. Their vocals along with pickin' and plunkin' and bowing some hot fiddle tunes made the crowd realize they were the whole package!|
| Following that great performance was an incredibly informative workshop on the history and construction of the Tub-O-Tone by the inventor himself, Lauren Miller. He discussed how he came to develop his variant washtub design and how it incorporates all of the innovative features of an instrument that is simple, affordable and tuneable. His skill on this instrument is unparalleled, as was witnessed by many other professional washtub bass players attending the gathering. Lauren travelled all the way from Kansas City, MO in his VW van and was instrumental in the promotion and success of the first ever washtub bass gathering. |
|Phoenix|| Next up on stage was the Putnam Brook Band. They brought a fun selection of traditional folk, old time, and bluegrass tunes plus many original songs by band members Michael Kirch (guitar, harmonica, fiddle, vocals) and Tom Fetterman (12 string guitar, vocals). Also in the band are, Wally Meier (banjo, vocals). Bob Deverell (guitar, banjo, vocals), and myself, Jim Uticone (washtub bass, vocals). My 2-year-old grandson, Phoenix, joined us on a couple of tunes with his mini washtub bass that I made for his second birthday. He may possibly be the youngest washtub bass player in the country, and he is my favorite. Thanks for joining us on stage, Phoenix. Your Gwompa loves you.|
| Following our performance, Dr. Michael Kirch, a friend and band bud, gave an excellent demonstration of how to build a plastic tub. Mike has been making and playing all kinds of instruments for many years. His skilful use of hand and power tools became evident as a musical instrument appeared before our very eyes. His construction skills, with hand and power tools, are surpassed only by his knowledgeable and witty presentation. Upon completion of the washtub, Mike offered it up to raise money to help promote the next "Washtubs Galore" gathering. Debra Chesman from the Mountain Duskey Gang purchased it.|
| Next on the agenda was an informal discussion on string types and technique. Everything from weed eater line to braided nylon rope was represented. Each player had their own preference, but some were still exploring other possible types of cable, string, twine, rope, or whatever to try to improve the sound of their washtub bass. There were just as many different playing techniques as there were string types. Some players rocked, pulled and pushed their sticks, while others just slightly moved their fingers. It seems there is no right or wrong way, just as there is no right or wrong string type. The variety of string types and different playing techniques made some very interesting and informative conversation, not to mention the sweet sounds of the washtub bass. Individual preference, combined with a passion for playing, created a great musical experience!|
| Along comes The West Niles Marching String Band. Wow! These people really rocked the Rongo Sunday evening! Bob Lyna, (lead vocals, harmonica, and guitar). Ron Van Nostrand (mandolin, guitar, banjo and lead vocals). Dave Cleveland (drums, guitar, banjo, and lead vocals), and on washtub bass, Rich Curry. Rich was the first professional washtub player I met when I first started playing. His skill and ease of playing amazed and inspired me. I hope to, someday, be as accomplished on the washtub as he is. Thanks, Rich, for showing us, how great that plastic tub can sound!|
| We spent the rest of the evening "jamming our handles off". Half a dozen excellent washtub players accompanied by Clint Swank on guitar with vocals, Art Scholtz on mandolin, bones and saw with vocals. A mystery cab driver from Ithaca came in off the street to play some great piano and sing. Also joining in the jam was Chris Drysdale playing the washboard with drum brushes. During the jam, my Grandson, Phoenix was inspired by the beautiful sound of Art's saw, and at one point, politely pulled the microphone away from Chris and began singing and dancing......look out music world!|
| By noon on Monday, most everyone had recuperated from the previous day of music, laughter, education, and other various sociable behaviours. Studio Stu, master of ceremonies, washtub player, and singer wowed us with his entertainment skills. His beautiful washtub, the Studivarious and his trumpet-sounding lips kept our attention all day long, as he introduced the events of the day, beginning with a fun filled hour of music and antics of The Spooneys.|
| These guys kept everyone laughing and giggling while they sang, played a variety of instruments, told jokes, and poked fun at each other. Howard Keller seemed to be the leader of this band of merry men. Howard plays a mellow metal washtub, but that is not all. He also plays spoons, boom bas, washboard and tribicilla (three wooden hammers). Garry Grant plays boom bas, spoons, tribicilla and a cool rubber mallet with a squeaker in it. Chuck Haskin also played spoons and tribicilla. These guys are serious about their nonsense! Great entertainers ~ great entertainment! |
| Following the Spooneys was "Plunkin' Time Again", another 2 hours of open jamming. During this time, we gathered all the tub players in "Tub Town to establish an unofficial world record. Fifteen tubbers played the same song on the same stage at the same time. Talk about bottom end...the brick walls in the Rongo are still resonating!|
| Next up on stage was a group from the Corning area called East Side Laundry. These folks kept the crowd entertained with their sing-along style and abundance of musical talent with Dave Anderson on banjo and vocals, Marilyn Puccio, singer, Dick Puccio on guitar (also sings), Jerry Wright on clarinet and washboard and Kenneth Overman, skilfully playing his traditional metal washtub. Ken and fellow tubsman Dave "Downtown" Brown also took some great pictures during the two-day gathering, some of which you will see along with this write-up. |
| Coming back in from an emcee gig at the Corning arts festival, the renowned Studio Stu fired up his Studivarious for an hour of improvisational jazz, the likes of which, the Rongo has never heard. Studio kept us all mesmerized as he sang and played on his beautiful washtub base. Studio really knows how to work the crowd. He does emceeing for a living and is a true performer.|
| All the T-burg locals were very familiar with the next group called Djug Django, touted as central New York's Premier Gypsy Swing Band. A highly polished group of musicians including Brian Earl on clarinet, Dave Davies on guitar, trombone, vocals and song writing, Ben Smith on violin and Jim Sherpa, a washtub player extraordinaire. Jim has been playing in the band for many years and his skill, on his converted drum-washtub bass, quickly caught the attention of those listening. If you didn't see it with your own eyes, you might have thought, from the sound, that he was playing a big ole' stand-up bass.||Djug Django|
| A freewheeling show band called The Gonstermachers, claimed the stage next. Leo Crandal, (bandleader), soulfully playing everything from Louis Armstrong to Hendrix on cello and guitar. Hymie Witthoft, a multi-talented percussionist using everything from his fingers, hands, brushes, sticks, spoons and small logs, played on drums, rims, a washboard and anything in his path! Curtis Waterman, aka (Sweet Curtis Brown), a soulful and melodic harmonica artist extraordinaire who played the harp like you never heard it played! On his souped up modified washtub bass, Rich Curry amazed everyone with his unerring sense of pitch.|
| ~The innovative music of the Gonstermachers ~ the last band, the final song, and a fantastic end to a two day musical adventure that will long be remembered by everyone who made it to Tub Town on July 25th and 26th 2004. What a plunkfest! We are looking forward to seeing everyone at the next washtub gathering...wherever it may be. |
Thank you to everyone who played a part it organizing, planning and putting on "Washtubs Galore" 2004.
| Play~on, |
|Credits & Thanks|
| During this two day extravaganza, each and every one of the performers and presenters came to Trumansburg (now called "Tub Town") at their own expense, donating their time and musical genius because of there passion for playing music and entertaining people. A heart felt thank you to all the bands and especially to those washtub bassists who traveled many miles to be part of the first ever gathering of "Washtubs Galore":|
It takes quite a bit of planning and organization to put on an event of any kind and this was no exception. I am very grateful for the support of my family and friends. Many thanks to:
- Michael Kirch, I play today because of your encouraging words from yesterday. Thanks for your great ideas, your construction workshop, having me in your band, and for being a great musical connection in my life.
- Lauren Miller, owner of the #1 Washtub Bass Website in the World! Finding it was one of the most memorable days of my life. Thanks for hosting it, for helping with the organization of "Washtubs Galore", and for traveling from Kansas City, Missouri to be part of it. Excellent workshop on the Tub-O-Tone! Keep up with the great work and keep us posted as to what is happening in the washtub world.
- Chuck Porter, you are the #1 in my book. Thanks for coming all the way from Washington State. You are the "best in the west". As you shared your knowledge and demonstrated your mastery of the washtub, it became very apparent that you have dedicated a great deal of time and energy developing your unique style of playing...you make it look so easy!
- Debra Chesman, thank you for your enthusiasm, your ideas, your great tub playing. You have a voice like an angel. You had better check for wings. O yea, thanks for the $25 dollar donation and congratulations on getting the first annual "Washtubs Galore" tub.
- Studio Stu, you pulled through. You pleased us all with your trumpet lips and timely quips. Your instrument (Studivarious) is a "one of a kind" and so are you. It was a pleasure meeting you and your family. Thank you for donating your time as emcee and for keeping it rolling smoothly. You did a great job...you should try doing it for a living. Oh, that's right, you do! See you on the back deck of the Rongo.
- Rena Kosnett, I cannot believe you came all the way from California, but I sure am glad you did. Thanks for taking many pictures and helping the event go smoothly. I hope to hear you play some day. How about a washtub gathering in LA?
- Paul "Washtub" Brown, thanks for the $25 donation to help promote another washtub gathering. Have you completed the construction of that plastic tub yet? The Tub-O-Tone is a sweet instrument and you play it very well, but I think you will find a completely new musical experience playing a plastic tub. Thanks for travelling from Lake Quivira, Kansas.
- Kenneth Overman from Corning, NY. Thank you for the great pictures at the Rongo, the group shot and individual pictures of tub players, especially the one of my grandson playing his washtub bass.
- Many thanks to all the other washtub players who attended:
Howard Keller, Moravia, NY
Ted Sobel, Brookeondale, NY
Joe Ottati, Burdett, NY
- My wife, Julie. Thanks for going along with and sharing such a crazy dream. You are the glue that keeps it all together. Thank you.
- My daughter, Joleene. Thank you for sticking by my side for those two days. I couldn't have done it without you.
- My son Jamin. Thanks for drawing the chicken playing the washtub. We used for advertising and promotion of the event. It also looks great on the t-shirts.
- My son, Jessamy. Great work emceeing on Sunday. You have great stage presence. Thanks for keeping things moving.
- Kelly, my niece. Good work with the interviews and your help on the door. Thank you. You are a natural on the washtub, by the way.
- Alison, my daughter-in-law, Thank you for helping with interviewing of tub players and marrying my son Jess.
- Thank you, Roy Dewar, for the excellent sound management. I know you had a great deal of bass to contend with and it was a challenge...nice job!
- Thanks to Clint Swank for setting the groove during the open jams. The Rongovian Embassy would not be nearly as much fun if it were not for you and your music.
- A special thanks to Susan and Melonie Jo, at the Rongo, for putting up with all of us. Because of your gracious hospitality, you made us all feel welcome at The Rongo.
- Also, thanks to Ruth Kahn for letting some weary tub players stay overnight in her converted barn. It was very generous of you.