Jug Band: The Galloway School


A graffito scrawled on the basin warns: “This Washtub Kills Fascists.”

The dented instrument thrums with surprising fury in the hands of Michael Groome, whose slight Adam’s apple bobs as he wails in a keening treble “Take This Hammer,” an old work song by Lead Belly. He is accompanied heartily by about a dozen other music makers, who play a makeshift springboard, the bones (rib bones of a cow), and a washboard with thimble, among other string and percussive instruments. In a gesture of authenticity, one girl strikes a rusty railroad spike periodically to punctuate the chorus.

“I wouldn’t be exposed to these songs if I didn’t belong to the band,” says Groome, a senior who dreams of playing “noisy, avant-garde rock” professionally.

The Galloway Jug Band grew out of the History of American Music class taught by Allen Barksdale, a hipster teacher in wing tips. He and science instructor Mark McCandless advise the group, which draws its repertoire primarily from folk and other old-timey roots music, including nubby-textured, world-weary numbers by the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, and Blind Lemon Jefferson.

“Music is a good tool because it gives the students context,” says Barksdale. “For example, the old fiddle tune ‘Eighth of January’ is about the War of 1812. A song gives them a fuller, richer sense of the time, so they’re more likely to remember the history lesson.”

The band rehearses once a week in Barksdale’s classroom, which is plastered in sepia-toned placards and posters of vintage Americana, and gigs mainly for parents and younger students—often with spontaneous, unexplained guerrilla performances in hallways.

“Our music is intense, comical, sometimes uncanny, and always awesome,” Groome says. “If you can bang on something, you are eagerly accepted.”

Front row from left: Maddie Fox (guitar), Savanna Lawing (washboard), Leah Zipperman (block). Back row from left: Dr. Allen Barksdale (guitar), Emili Earhart (bones), Matthew Tennant (tambourine), Daichi Tsunafuji (spring board), Michael Groome (tub), Mark McCandless (harmonica), Amy Wakano (jug drums), Sam Cone (washboard tie), Alanna Minor (cymbal). / Photo by Christopher T. Martin