Old-timey party rock
Chico’s jug-less Jug Band is enjoying the ride
Chico, CA 95928
“The most memorable shows are hard to remember because we get really drunk,” joked Rock Creek Jug Band’s upright bassist/vocalist David “Rustwater” Costanzo.
Don’t get the wrong impression. This is not your run-of-the-mill college party band. Despite playing so-called “old timey” music on old-time instruments—fiddle, guitjo, standup bass, acoustic guitar and even washboard—this four-piece Chico crew has nonetheless captured the imagination of a modern college-aged crowd, and even garnered Best Country/Americana Artist nomination for the 2010 Chico Area Music Awards.
“We’re not all that proficient on any instrument, but we kinda make up for it by playing every instrument,” Costanzo added.
The band’s blend of folk, blues, country and even a little punk is refreshing, and when added to their loose, fun and direct approach to performing, is a perfect fit for this fun-loving Northern California town. It’s folk music, Chico style.
“We butcher stuff,” Costanzo said, “but people seem to enjoy it.”
Rock Creek came together a couple years ago when guitarist/vocalist Ryan “Rip” Johnson and fiddle player Melissa Patterson (aka “Texas”) went down to Has Beans Coffee House in downtown Chico for open-mic night with the intention of playing the Old Crow Medicine Show song “Wagon Wheel.”
Singer and guitjo player Anton “Ol’ Tone” Mussatt was onstage before them and, of course, he played “Wagon Wheel” (the “Free Bird of folk,” as he describes it). This led the other two to go across the street and practice a Devil Makes Three song out of necessity. Mussatt joined them, they jammed, and things just clicked.
“It was like wow, we should play again,” Mussatt said. “So we played around Chico just the three of us. We went to farmers’ market and stuff like that.”
The newly formed trio met Costanzo in 2009 at a Woodstock’s Pizza open-mic night. Then a solo performer, Costanzo was impressed by his new kin. And they thought he was all right, too.
“We were like, ‘Holy crap, that guy’s good,’” Mussatt said. He added that once Costanzo took up the upright bass in their band, the sound started to “thicken” and “flow really well.”
The Jug Band released their first album, Simpler Times, back in February with a sold-out show with kindred spirits The Devil Makes Three at Manzanita Place.
The debut is a collection of originals and standards that the group accurately describes as “a melting pot of Appalachian folk, Delta blues and barn-burning country songs.” The songs range from Costanzo’s up-tempo hard-times ballad “Life and Death of a Coal Miner” to “Box of Bones,” a bouncy, live-friendly piece with lyrics that get at the heart of the Rock Creek experience: “Well, me and my friends sing our songs into the wind/ on corners from town to town/ Well, heaven to me that’s a place where we all sing/ and I swear that I’m there now.”
As is the case for a lot of small-town bands, the recording isn’t a money-maker, Costanzo says.
“It’s a little weird now, making money off your album just isn’t there,” he said. “Everything’s so instant; you can download any album you want for free. People want an instant gratification.”
“I don’t know anyone who picks up a guitar and says, ‘I don’t ever want to do this for a living.’ [But] it’s always in the back of our minds,” added Costanzo, who recently started working as a structural engineer in Fairfield. “It’s just a little hard. You’ve gotta quit everything and work your butt off and tour … I’m down to do it.”
The rest of the band still resides in Chico, and Mussatt, for one, is more than ready for the musician’s life.
“I have a whole bunch of Top Ramen recipes—you can go to Denny’s and get some free jam to spice it up,” he said. “We’re ready to live that campfire lifestyle.”