Jug Life! Bearsville Theater Salutes the Sebastians – Lovin’ Spoonful John and Photog Wife Catherine

The Bearsville Theater put the spotlight on one of Woodstock’s most famous couples, legendary musician John Sebastian and his photographer wife Catherine, at a joint all-star concert/art opening on Friday, December 3.

The concert and the photo exhibit provided a look back at the many famous musicians, like Fred Neil, Tim Hardin and Sebastian himself, who cut their teeth in the folk and jug band scene of Greenwich Village in the ‘60s before migrating to Woodstock.

Fritz Richmond, Paul Rishell, James Wormworth, Annie Raines, John Sebastian & Jimmy Vivino. Group shot during rehearsal for an appearance at the “Late Nite with Conan O’Brian” show

The evening kicked-off with an introduction to the two dozen photos in the exhibit “Catherine Sebastian at Bearsville: The Jug Band Years.”  A star in her own right, Catherine’s work has graced album, book and magazine covers featuring Pete  Seeger, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Mick Jagger, Kathy Valentine (of The Go-Go’s), Lady Gaga, Debbie Harry, Dr.  John, Paul Butterfield, Edina Menzel, Levon Helm and the RCO All-Stars and many more.

The photos date from the ‘60s through today, with many featuring John and his musical cohorts from the J-Band, a jug band formed in the ‘90s which has included Fritz Richmond, Yank Rachell, Jimmy Vivino, Paul Rishell, Annie Raines and other notables.  The collection boast many classic shots of Sebastian with Tim Hardin, Happy Traum, Fred Neil, Paul Butterfield and even his father John, who was an internationally renowned harmonica virtuoso in the classical idiom. Also featured are shots of Sebastian’s J-Band in performance, at the Bearsville Theater in 1994, on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and more. Not to be missed is a shot of John inside his famous tie-dyed tent in Laurel Canyon. This is where he learned to craft the colorful fashions for the jeans and jeans jacket he wore at Woodstock ‘69.  Framed and unframed prints are available for purchase at the Bearsville Theater and their website

Immediately before the concert commenced, John, Catherine and the musicians headed outside where Bearsville impresario Lizzie Van dedicated the recently rebuilt back porch, “The John Sebastian & Fred Neil Deck.”

“When Lizzie said she wanted to name a part of the space after Fred and me, I was kind of puzzled as to where it would be,” laughed Sebastian. “When she said it was going to be the porch, I said ‘ that’s perfect.’  Because if me and Fred were going be anywhere it would be out on the porch… smoking something we probably shouldn’t be smoking!”

The concert that followed had the intimate and casual feeling of a living room session, with Sebastian greeting the hometown audience with a boisterous “Good evening, my town.” He began solo with a few  selections from Fred Neil, with whom he recorded and toured for two years before forming the Lovin’ Spoonful. The highlight here was his ambling version of “Other Side of This Life” from Neil’s classic 1965 debut album, “Bleecker and McDougal.”

Sebastian then turned his tales and musical talents to another friend, Tim Hardin.  Sebastian lovingly joked: “Timmy was really not the cuddly guy who wrote Misty Roses. But the coolest guy of all of us, someone best known by listening to his early nasty tunes!” Sebastian followed with a solo performance of one of these, the knotty blues You Got A Reputation.  He then brought on longtime J-Band member, Paul Rishell, for a solo on one of Hardin’s most covered compositions, “Reason to Believe.”

Sebastian’s cohorts in the J-Band and another aggregation, The Black Italians, then came to the stage. Guitarist Jimmy Vivino and the always smiling drummer/washboard whiz James Wormworth, joined by Lovin’ Spoonful bass man Steve Boone, partook a spirited run through the Lovin’ Spoonful’s Lovin You.  Next up came another Woodstock legend, Cindy Cashdollar, who added her slithering, bluesy dobro runs to another nugget from early in John’s career, The Even Dozen Jug Band’s All Worn Out

The energy was upped when another harmonica virtuoso, Annie Raines, joined for Sebastian’s Jug Band Music and You’ve Been A Good Old Wagon But You’ve Done Broke Down.  The latter is a blues composed in 1895 and popularized in the 1920s by Bessie Smith, to which Raines added wailing harp and throaty vocals.

After a trip through the traditional Fair Thee Well and Jimmie Rodgers’ Miss the Mississippi and You, blues great Joe Louis Walker came onstage for a high-energy romp through Viola Lee Blues, with Sebastian on harp.  John’s playing proved his mastery of the blues’ most portable instrument, and why he has been called upon to play it on classic tunes by the likes of Crosby Stills and Nash, The Doors and many others.  His still stellar chops were further evidenced on the following, a two-harp duet with the equally fierce Raines. 

Sebastian saluted important friends and mentors, the blues greats Sleepy John Estes and Yank Rachell, with soulful covers of their Milk Cow Blues (Leaving Trunk) and Tap That Thing respectively, with the latter featuring contributions on the jug and stage banter from John’s son Ben.  Sebastian also performed the wonderful jazzy ballad to a love lost, My Passing Fantasy, from his 2014 duet disc with David Grisman.  He then donned a harmonica holder and banjo to round out the set taking the all-star band through a rollicking rendition of K.C. Moan, a 1929 classic from the Memphis Jug Band.

After a well-deserved standing ovation, Sebastian and crew returned to perform two of his best loved Lovin’ Spoonful hits, Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind and You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice.  With Cashdollar’s swirling dobro, Vivino’s smooth guitar licks and Wormworth’s percolating washboard and ever-present smile, these tunes sent John’s audience off into the wintery Woodstock night winter with very warm feelings indeed.

Photos by Neil Segal, Hurley, NY

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