Bathtub Gin Serenaders

From a series of ads on Craigslist, Wayne Philipp carefully constructed an Americana band of eclectic, experienced musicians who call themselves the Bathtub Gin Serenaders.

The nine-piece acoustic troupe plays hot jazz and blues tunes from the 1920s and '30s, some of which have never been heard by contemporary audiences.

"We're a cover band — we're just covering really old songs," said Philipp. "It's so old it's past being cool or not cool."

The band first started to come together when Philipp, who plays resonator guitar, banjo and ukulele, started jamming with Chari, a body piercer by day and washboard/kazoo player by night. Chari then brought in Daniel Wyatt on bass, and once the trio started playing, Philipp posted ads to Craigslist to put the rest of the band's custom sound together.

The current formation of the Bathtub Gin Serenaders includes the three original members plus Stephany Smith-Pearson on mandolin, accordion and vocals, Lawrence Newcomb on clarinet, "Bongo" Bob on percussion, Melissa Orr on violin and Ila Selene on vocals and kazoo.

"I've been playing classical music all my life, so this is extremely fun to break those constraints of everything being written on a sheet of music," said Orr. "Now I can improvise."

"It was funny when I answered his ad because I said, 'No, I can't really improvise, but I really want to learn,'" she said.

Audiences aren't sure what to expect when the large group takes the stage with its antique instruments.

"There has been a number of shows we've played where it's been really satisfying to see a group of people that maybe are not quite sure what we're about and you can see over the course of a set winning the crowd over," said Philipp. "People at the beginning of the show may be standing and watching and by the end they're dancing."

The sound of the Serenaders is highly influenced by groups such as the Squirrel Nut Zippers and the Asylum Street Spankers that have a lot of acoustic players. Several of the Serenaders are Django Reinhardt fans.

"I had the rare privilege of getting to see Stephane Grappelli when I was 16 years old," said Smith-Pearson. "He played with Django Reinhardt, so I've been hooked on jazz ever since."

Today's audiences might not be familiar with the Serenaders' early 20th century set list, but the group's music was recently requested by the residents of Mountain View Senior Living.

"Chari's grandmother's retirement home was probably one of the greatest gigs," said Philipp. "My favorites are ones we can truly do acoustic."

Residents of the retirement home can make special requests for musical performances, so when a call came from Mountain View to play on Grandparents Day, the Serenaders knew they couldn't turn it down.

For Chari, it was a special privilege to play for her grandmother and her neighbors.

"I cried several times. There was this little old woman that came in with her guitar and said she was just learning," said Chari. "She played the most beautiful music! That got me."

"I talked to a woman that remembered dancing to the Tommy Dorsey orchestra — she had lived in Chicago," said Philipp.

"Another woman I was talking to said her husband used to perform in New York and L.A. and she used to sing with him, but she said, 'I don't do that anymore now that I'm 200 years old,'" said Chari with a laugh.

All the members of the Bathtub Gin Serenaders have day jobs and play their music together purely for fun.

"When I started putting the ads out, I was very clear this was just for fun. It's great if we get paid, but once it's split up, it's very little," said Philipp.

The most frequented venue by the Serenaders is Johnny B's in Medford, where the group performed "Digga Digga Do," a song from 1928 originally called "The Black Birds" and arranged by The Asylum Street Spankers, for the Tiding Café video.

"We'd like to get a regular home in Ashland; Johnny's is our regular spot in Medford," said Philipp. "The band is kind of split, half of us are in Ashland, half of us are in Medford."

Among the band's dreams is a trip to New Orleans, where Philipp has vacationed and has been trying to persuade at least some of the eight members to join him for some busking.

The band is in the process of recording a CD now, but with a big group of people, it's been slow going. "Hopefully by March we'll have it all wrapped up, we can take it to New Orleans, sell it to all the tourists who think we're from New Orleans," said Philipp.

Mandy Valencia is a freelance writer and videographer living in Ashland. Reach her at

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