When "The Anthology of American Folk Music," won the 1997 Grammy as Best Historical Album and for Best Album Notes, Peter Stampfel of the Holy Modal Rounders and writer of the liner notes, commented backstage when asked if he had plans for his award. "I'm going to put honey on mine and lick it off," he declared. One can only guess what his plans are for the Brown Jug Award!
The Brown Jug award is the brainchild of James Reams, a bluegrass musician and bandleader for 20 years, who conceived of it as a way to recognize people in the Northeast whose impact on the music deserved to be honored but who might be less likely to be recognized by national organizations since for some of them (unlike this year's recipient), their impact was only regional in nature.
Growing up in Wisconsin during the 40s, Peter Stampfel discovered old-time and folk music along with the five-string banjo while at the University of Wisconsin. His partner in musical crime was Steve Weber, a guitar player from Philadelphia who dropped out of high school and lived on the streets of New York City for a number of years before teaming up with Stampfel to create the Holy Modal Rounders.
Despite artistic differences, the duo's influence has grown steadily over the intervening decades, inspiring a younger generation of innovative folk musicians — and even filmmakers. In 2006 the documentary film, The Holy Modal Rounders: Bound to Lose, was released. Co-directed by Paul Lovelace and Sam Wainwright Douglas, the film offers insight into the lives of Weber and Stampfel and their career as The Holy Modal Rounders. Variety magazine's review of the film claimed “Charged with alternating currents of affection, exuberance and ineffable melancholy, "The Holy Modal Rounders ... Bound to Lose" offers an intriguing overview of the cult-fave combo that improbably evolved from an acoustic duo to a country-folk-rock band." Even though the title of the documentary says the Rounders were Bound to Lose, in the end, they won in a way, showing purists a thing or two about letting go.
Stampfel has been recording pretty much on his own since the mid-'80s in a fashion that keeps the spirit of the Holy Modal Rounders alive without sounding embarrassingly revivalist. Stampfel formed the Bottle Caps in 1986, releasing Peter Stampfel and the Bottle Caps (1986) and The People's Republic of Rock n' Roll (1989), as well as an album of standards, You Must Remember This (1994). Since then, Stampfel has released records with the Du-Tels (No Knowledge of Music Required, 2001) and the Bottle Caps (The Jig Is Up, 2004). He continues to be highly active musically, playing with a number of groups, largely in New York City.
In 2009 he released his Dook of the Beatniks compilation album and in 2010 he teamed up with Baby Gramps with his suitcase full of old-time blues to release Outertainment which gives a twist and a wink to new traditional songs as well as the old-timey favorites.
While Peter Stampfel and The Holy Modal Rounders never reached a mass level of popularity, the band's cult status continues to grow. It's influenced a new generation of musicians, including bands like Yo La Tengo and Espers. But Stampfel says he wanted that influence to be broader. "I felt that something big and amazing was going to happen to popular music that would change everything," he says. "And of course I was right about that, and it was The Beatles. The delusional part was that I thought it was going to be The Holy Modal Rounders."
Previous recipients of the Brown Jug include such notables as the late singer-songwriter and musician John Herald, Bill Knowlton, who was named Broadcaster of the Year by the IBMA in 1997, Stephanie Ledgin, an award-winning folk and bluegrass music photo-journalist and author, and the late Doug Tuchman, a bluegrass promoter who was instrumental in bringing Bill Monroe and other bluegrass music greats to play venues in the city.
The Park Slope Bluegrass and Old Time Music Jamboree is heralded as one of the finest events of its kind in the Northeast and attracts musicians and fans of traditional American music from all over the area. Time-Out New York magazine called the Jamboree a “happy little festival,” and indeed it is. Musicians gather in informal groups in the beautiful 100-year-old meeting house of the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture and the gardens surrounding the landmark building for informal jam sessions and attend workshops led by some of the top roots musicians in the area. Attendees who do not play music themselves can enjoy listening to it and stay for the evening concerts.