Who knew jug band music was so big in Japan?
Independent filmmaker Todd Kwait certainly didn’t, at least not until he took the advice of washtub bassist and jug player virtuoso Fritz Richmond and headed off to the land of the rising sun to see it for himself.
Kwait, writer and director of the documentary “Chasin’ Gus’ Ghost” — which screens during this weekend’s Jug Band Festival in San Francisco — made a deathbed promise of sorts to the legendary musician that he would visit Japan and capture the country’s fondness for all things jug in his attempt to chronicle the music’s history.
“It was jaw-dropping. Everything Fritz said was absolutely true,” says Kwait. “[The Japanese] really knew everything about the history of jug band music and it was shocking, but nice to see.”
Even if it was in a distant land, it was gratifying for Kwait to witness the appreciation of American jug band music.
Kwait’s documentary, “Chasin’ Gus’ Ghost,” sets out to give a long-overdue history lesson about the genre and pay respect to the jug band artists who influenced folk, jazz and blues music.
As part of San Francisco’s Jug Band Festival weekend — Mayor Gavin Newsom has officially declared it such — “Chasin’ Gus’ Ghost” screens Saturday at the Roxie New College Film Center. Other events include a free all-day concert Saturday in Golden Gate Park and a show Sunday at the Great American Music Hall with John Sebastian, Geoff Muldaur and Jim Kweskin.
Kwait, a businessman and lawyer by day, toyed with different film ideas for a number of years but settled on creating a jug band documentary after he realized even he knew little about the music that influenced such notable artists as the Grateful Dead and the Lovin’ Spoonful. So he reached out to Sebastian, founder of the Lovin’ Spoonful, and began to work on the documentary.
“I really did chase the ghost of these wonderful performers,” says Kwait. “I was lucky enough to find that not only did they inspire the groups I love and grew up with in the ’60s and ’70s, but that there’s still life to this whole thing. My hope is that maybe their contributions will have the opportunity to finally be recognized.”
San Francisco Jug Band Festival
Jug Band Concert
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Band shell, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
‘Chasin’ Gus’ Ghost’ screening
Where: Roxie New College Film Center, 3117 16th St., San Francisco
When: 7 and 9 p.m. Saturday
John Sebastian, Geoff Muldaur, Jim Kweskin
Where: Great American Music Hall, 850 O’Farrell St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $28 to $30