Juke joints, the heart of American blues-culture, provided a venue for predominantly rural African-Americans barred from white establishments to unwind and let loose after a long workweek. Juke joints offered food, drinks, music, dancing and a chance to gamble. Some juke joints even served moonshine during Prohibition, which gave them the reputation for being rowdy and untamed. Set the mood for your juke joint theme-inspired party with period dress, Southern food, lively music, dancing and a little gambling.
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Dress Code Required
Juke joints, far from fancy, had a casual dress code for any era. Ask your guests to dress in clothes that best represent your favorite period such as the '20s, '30s,‘40s or even '50s. For instance, women might choose flapper-style dresses, T-strap heels and headbands for a roaring '20s look, while the men sport bowties with wide-shouldered suits. For a '40s look, women might choose knee length dresses in muted colors for winter or floral prints for summer, with pleated skirts and fitted waists, or blouses with knee length, pencil skirts. Add the shoulder pads, available at most material supply shops, bright red lipstick and the ‘pin back’ updo. Men can wear wide, pleated pants and white shirts. Check your local vintage clothing shop for a flat cap or fedora to complete the look.
The Right Atmosphere
Whether you choose a barn, backyard or living room for your party, add rustic decor to emulate a traditional juke joint, which evolved from dilapidated shacks. Clear your space and set up enough tables and chairs to accommodate your guests. Leave room for a dance floor and a makeshift stage. Add a table for food, and decorate the walls with old posters or photos of musical legends. Throw simple checkered tablecloths over the tables, and decorate with vintage jugs that represent bottles of moonshine, and mason jars with tea lights; add bowls with harmonicas and spoons for your guests to play. Distinguish the stage area, by surrounding it with additional mason jars and tea lights or string lights, and add a few milking stools, guitar and banjo. Paint the words “juke joint” on a barn board, and hang it on the door or gate.
The most significant part of a juke joint was the music. Originally, juke joints featured fiddles and banjos; by the late 19th century, juke joint music progressed to ragtime and dance music. Hire a few local musicians to entertain your guests with authentic blues music created by artists who established roots in juke joints such as John Lee Hooker, Ike Turner and Sam Cooke. Hire a DJ, or download a variety of music, including dance tunes, and play them through your IPod and speakers. For authenticity, add a little light-hearted gambling such as – bingo, bell jar and raffles, with part proceeds going towards your favorite charity. Check with your state gaming commission for any permits that may be required.
Down Home Cooking
Choose authentic Southern food for your juke joint shindig such as fried green tomatoes, crab cakes, shrimp with red pepper aioli sauce, coleslaw, fried chicken, pulled pork sandwiches and corn on the cob. Prepare your buffet ahead of time with hot plates and bowls of ice for the shrimp and crawfish. Host a potluck, and ask your guests to bring their favorite Southern food. Create signature “moonshine” cocktails with whiskey or bourbon spiked ice tea, and serve in mini mason jars with lemon wedges.