Juke Joint 5 Itchy Feet and Good Times

By Matthew MacDonald
December 2015

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THE JUKE JOINT 5: ITCHY FEET and GOOD TIMES

By Matt MacDonald

The Juke Joint 5 may be the hardest working blues band in New England. I found this out after I had missed them at the Gloucester Blues Festival – which I reviewed for the BBS – and, finding out they were local, decided to check them out. I did. Twice. And I’m glad I did.

On a Saturday night in early September, I got my first look at them at the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge. I found an open stool at the back of the bar and watched and listened as they worked their way through five sets, starting and finishing to a nearly empty house but, in between, playing to a nearly full one made up of returning college students and locals.

Throughout the night, Gretchen Bostrom solidly belted out a hodgepodge of old rhythm and blues tunes, ranging from jump to swing to Jimmy Reed to Howlin’ Wolf to some of the band’s own stuff. The crowd turned over several times and the dance floor ebbed and flowed with itchy feet and good times, right up until “Shake Your Moneymaker” wound things down and the lights went up four hours later. I stood up and stretched, finished the dregs of my last beer, and felt vaguely as if I had just come through some sort of an endurance test.

The last time I had seen a five set show was way back, and there had been a sax, and guitar, and a woman singing many of the same tunes I had just heard. This, and possibly that barstool, left me with a somewhat disconcerted feeling. I couldn’t help but think of that now defunct local band and others that I had seen that were almost the same as the JJ5.

Paying attention to the local blues scene after some time away, it seemed that, at least in this case, nothing had changed…and I wasn’t entirely sure if this was such a good thing.

Afterwards, I took another look at their website (www.jukejoint5.com) and it made clear that this is, in fact, what they’re aiming for: a broad sampling of that 1950s sound complete with pedigree (guitarist Silvertone Steve played with J.B. Hutto) and street cred roads traveled (Bostrom and Dick “The Poet” Lourie make regular visits to the Delta to sit in).

In terms of musicianship, the entire band had sounded great and their song list was as long as my arm but, still, that forest for the trees feeling wouldn’t go away.

So the next weekend, I headed up to Salem to see them again to try to shake that vibe. In A Pig’s Eye is a cozy corner pub. Opening its door, I found the band rocking in profile one step away. Watching them and entering at an angle, I nearly tripped over Silvertone Steve sitting at a front table and playing a guitar solo. The brightly lit room was full of people positioned around occupied high tables and chairs. I took an open seat at a table by the kitchen and was soon joined by a white haired man in a floral shirt and his friend, an attractive woman with dyed red hair wearing a brown pilgrim dress, a turquoise outer corset and a couple of pentagram pendants.

The music was more or less the same but the crowd was older than at the Cantab. It made no difference at all: the reaction was exactly the same. It didn’t matter that there was no dance floor: people couldn’t help themselves. Lourie did a walk around, lie-down-on-the-ground sax solo; Steve did the beer bottle slide trick. Gretchen was singing and hip shaking, and my pilgrim dress-clad table companion was over by the bar, laughing and getting down to “Mystery Train” with not one but two big mamas. Maybe I had missed the forest for the trees.

I left that night with my ears ringing and one feeling shaken off and replaced by another - that long ride was worth it.

Driving back home I thought about both shows and also about those trips to the Delta. I know that the band is trying to tap into that blues line and I’m all for it.

But I also thought about that old local band from back in the day, and the others like it that came and went, and the similar energy that this band generates and the popular reaction that it brings. I see that the Juke Joint 5 are also very much part of another much less famous but very real musical line. One that hasn’t changed at all for a good reason: because it makes its listeners feel so good.

www.jukejoint5.com

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