John LaSala started playing guitar with his brothers at age 11. An early fan of folk, jug band and Americana music, John played in a folk mass group in his teens, the folk/country group FEZO in late high school and early college, and was an occasional member of the Acoustic Eels in later years. He and his brothers ran the Golden Aardvark coffee house in high school days and the Detour Coffee House at Boston University. John played intermittently for a number of years until he met Bob and Jo Ann Shaffer who were looking to start a jug band jam on their porch. They asked that question you always ask when you meet someone new - “Do you have a washboard?” The answer was yes! And a musical journey began. The Back Porch Jugband formed as a direct result of those jam sessions. John, Mark and Gary simply love to play and to share the fun and joy of jug band music with audiences wherever they can. They regularly play at farmers markets, coffee houses, bars and are available for private parties. They also play at the Doylestown Food Market, a cooperatively owned grocery store in Doylestown PA that sources its products primarily from local farms and producers. John is the President at the Market and encourages everyone to come in to see the bounty of Bucks County available there!
Mark Toman is a lifetime musician and multi-instrumentalist who returned to playing music many years ago after watching a friend play washtub bass all night at a festival campfire. After going home to make one (the same one he still plays today, but with modifications) he became a washtub fixture around campsites at a number of music festivals. Then he received a hammered dulcimer (HD) as a gift after seeing Walt Michaels play at a Bluegrass Festival and totally digging on it. After sporadically playing the HD over the years, he was accepted into the legendary Shack in Lambertville NJ where his talent on this instrument was allowed to blossom. Needing more musical space for his contributions, Mark and original Shacker guitarist Tim McKenzie branched out for a different sound where the HD has musical room to roam. This has evolved into Instantly Radioactive, where Mark now incorporates the HD, 12-string guitar, theremin, ukulele and bowed psaltery as per his whim, and IR is active today. Mark also appears at drum circles and fire ceremonies with his wooden frog instrument and other percussion, and does solo work (and loves to jam). Recently, Mark has found a happy welcome for the original washtub bass in the Back Porch Jugband and is thrilled to be playing the instrument that started off his whole musical resurgence. His tub now has a number of innovations that make it more playable. In addition, when you watch him play, you might note that his playing style differs from other washtub bassmen as he plays with his pulling thumb stuck in his ear. This allows him to ‘be the note’ as the tones produced by the bass resonate throughout his body producing accurate and inventive bass lines that hold down the band’s music. He has added bowed psaltery, musical saw, ukulele, flute and harmonica to the band’s mix and plans to add other instruments as time goes on.
GARY P. COHEN
Gary P. Cohen recently retired as the Producing Director at Middlesex County’s summer theater Plays-in-the-Park, a job he has held for 30 years. He is also a filmmaker (VIDEO VIOLENCE 1 & 2, CAPTIVES), playwright (FRANKENSTEIN, a new musical, J.B.'s HARMONICA, THE RULUCTANT DRAGON, THREE LITTLE PIGS IN A BLANKET, HIGH SCHOOL MONSTER MUSICAL) and author (THE THEATER DIRECTOR'S PRIMER, THE COMMUNITY THEATER HANDBOOK), but he always wanted to be in a band! The Back Porch Jugband allows Gary to not only play guitar, but occasionally an autoharp, a banjitar, ukelele, 12-string and washboard! He has even written one (so far) original song for the jug band - RHYME OR REASON. In addition, Having tasted musical fame, Gary is also one-half of a folk-rock duo with Michele Crefeld (CAFE MOCHA), covering singer/songwriters’ tunes. Recently, Gary has created a documentary about St. John Terrell’s Lambertville Music Circus entitled MAGIC ON MUSIC MOUNTAIN and also directed HALLOWEENVILLE, a documentary on the outrageous way in which Lambertville celebrates Halloween.
As a young child I sang songs with my sisters and brothers while doing chores. Later, I sang in the church choir, then in school chorus. But I began to study music when learning an instrument. I played French horn throughout college and began playing harmonica during that time. I gave up playing French horn for something easier, like a violin, which I found at a flea market. But I decided to stop playing classic band and orchestra music, because I just wanted to have fun playing.
People were surprised that I could play blues harp, but it got me into my first band. I've spent the last 25 years trying to make my fiddle playing listenable. But I have reached my goal of having fun playing music, now I'm hoping that I can make it fun for you.