To explain why I admire the North Carolinian gone Chicago Joe Pug— a very young songwriter with a bawdy nasal style compared to Gaslight-era Dylan– I point to the third time I heard him play. I already liked his manners. He’d stayed at my house while touring, he’d put me and some rowdy Icelanders up in Chicago as well. He had folk songs that were so well-crafted that he was selling copies in the thousands. But about a year ago, he came to Seattle and did opening duty for one of the toughest acts I can think of, Flatlander himself Mr. Joe Ely. Mr. Ely is a showman, he has a cult following, and his crowd, while they maybe once were young, aren’t the kind of people who look kindly on . . . my kind.
So a year ago, Joe Pug invites me to see him open to the toughest room in the history of Seattle. And Joe Pug gets up in front a crowd raring to see a rough and tumble mid-fifties Texan, says “I’m Joe Pug from Chicago, I won’t take much of your time” and he blows the whole crowd away. Standing ovation situation.
This is all to say Joe Pug is that rarest of contemporary folk artists– he knows his elders, respects them, and he can earn the respect of their working-class fans. The people who have tattoos from when tattoos meant something very different than they do now.
I have since seen Joe Pug upstage Steve Earle’s son, Justin Townes Earle. I’ve sadly missed a show he played with Levon Helm in which he jumped on stage for “The Weight.” Joe’s been touring the world and doing what few young folk singers can do, and doing it well.
I’ll also point out, he’d been doing it without the support of much of the indie press or crowd, which is likely a blessing. Ball of Wax is proudly indie, but on behalf of them, I’d like to reach out to an actual working man’s folk singer.
Here’s a recording a made of Mr. Pug from a year and a half ago when he played a bill with my band at Tractor Tavern.
On May 13, 2011, Joe will be playing with Ben Gilmer, an under-the-radar but club-filling troubadour himself from Seattle, and Strand of Oaks at Tractor Tavern. For anyone curious to see how an entertainer can handle an acoustic guitar, I encourage you to check it out.
Joe Pug plays the Tractor Tavern on May 13, with Ben Gilmer and Strand of Oaks.