GET ON THE BUS
The Jugg Sisters’ side-splitting take on mass transit
The bus is nothing fancy. It’s just like the one you rode to school on when you were 8 (assuming your school bus was pink). It sits on the east side of the Farmers Market just off Rosa Parks, north of the state capitol and the rest of the skyline you get from that view. The bus is emblazoned with the NashTrash Tours logo and the names of your hosts: Sheri Lynn and Brenda Kay — the Jugg Sisters, longtime East Nashvillians with feet planted firmly on both sides of the river. A bit shy of 11 a.m., they welcome their passengers onto the bus, most of them tourists from out of town. “Good mornin’!” the sisters crow. “Now sit your ass down!”
Sheri Lynn dresses like a country star, with teased hair, teardrop eyeglasses, and a knotted neckerchief; Brenda Kay is a little more dressed-down, a denim jacket and a NashTrash cap holding back her long hair. They both wear earrings with dangling pink guitar picks. From the moment the passengers board, the two ladies greet everyone and learn everyone’s names, adding a personal touch to the whole excursion. On the trip your humble scribe rode on, there were tourists from New Mexico, the Bronx, and Canada. To the couples, they ask, “Are you married, or are ya doin’ it?”
For 21 years, Sheri Lynn and Brenda Kay (who really are sisters) have been putting on their headset microphones and escorting tourists and natives alike around town, pointing out landmarks while deploying side-splitting remarks on the sites to be seen — and almost anything else that crosses their minds, too.
They have the comic repartee of Martin and Lewis finishing each other’s sentences, but their act is not for your Pentecostal grandparents. Bawdy is too small a word, no cow too sacred to be slaughtered. Ad-lib jokes range from the endowment of male passengers to personal dryness to anything else that crosses their transoms. (Sheri Lynn once riffed, apropos of nothing, about her “court-ordered hysterectomy.”) They stop just short of the F-bomb, and we’re talking just short.
One street inspires the classic story of George Jones and his lawnmower trip to the liquor store; another street brings about, “On your left, that’s Fort Nashborough, and some historical shit happened there.” At other points they riff on Davy Crockett and point out that Andrew Jackson is indeed dead. (Which is as political as they get.) The pair’s funny song and dance routines usually (but not always) have something to do with the site the bus is passing by at the moment. At some point, God knows why, but the ladies pass along the German word for Vaseline (der weinerschleider). At another point: “On your left is the Davidson County Jail, former home of Randy Travis, Marty Stuart and, of course, Hank Jr.”
Born and raised in Kalamazoo, Mich., Sheri and Brenda Schnyders were performers from the start, starring in school plays and suchlike. “In those early days we performed very rarely together,” Sheri Lynn says. “One time we did ‘Fiddler on the Roof ’ at the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre, but we were five years apart, so in the world of teenager stuff, I was driving and Brenda wasn’t, and we had a brother between us, so I kind of grew up before her. And I was out of the house while Brenda was still in high school, so we didn’t do a lot of things together until NashTrash. But we have always been very, very, very close.”
Sheri Lynn would wind up on the west coast as a cabaret singer and Brenda Kay wound up singing in bands. “Brenda did blues, and was also an actress, too. But we were both known as actresses who could sing really well. Brenda did a couple of things at the Ryman when we first moved here. She understudied for the original part of Louise [Seger] in ‘Always … Patsy Cline,’ when Mandy Barnett played Patsy, and she originated the role of Mama in ‘The Lost Highway: The Music and Legend of Hank Williams.’ ”
While the sisters lived in different parts of the country, their bond was strong enough and their vocations so similar that it seemed almost predestined that they would wind up working together at some point.
“Sheri has traveled all over the world singing the music of Edith Piaf,” Brenda says. “Vanderbilt hired her a couple of times, she’s done some stuff for their French department. When one night our friends did [The] Doyle and Debbie [Show] at the Station Inn, they had a special guest. Sheri brought her piano player in from LA, who has toured all over the world with her, doing this one-woman show that was written specifically for Sheri — ‘The Miracle of Piaf ’ — and so she performed that one woman show at the Station Inn one night after Doyle and Debbie. So, we’ve both done all sorts of different things in show business.”
Brenda Kay was the first of the sisters to try Nashville on, moving here in 1989. Sheri Lynn made the move in 1996, and it wasn’t too long before the idea came up to christen themselves the Jugg Sisters and find themselves a niche, which they certainly did. “Sheri came up with this idea [for the tour bus],” Brenda Kay recalls. “We told our parents about the idea, and our dad surprised us with a little tiny pink bus. We opened in ’97, and here we are today!”
Starting with the aforementioned smaller bus, demand for tickets soon enough necessitated buying the larger bus they use today. Almost all the tours are sellouts, and tickets go fast online, so it would behoove any tourist to get them ahead of time. Having appeared on the Today show and many other network programs, they appear to the top of the screen on sites like TripAdvisor and others.
Brenda Kay says that when they started, “We had nothing but an 800 number, a logo, and our name trademarked, and Nashville just kind of really embraced us. We had so much free publicity from Nashville Women, the Nashville Business Journal, The Tennessean, we were on the cover of the Scene, and of course there was the Internet.”
They have exactly one employee and no office. The employee, Beth Thorneycroft, a vision in bright blue hair, works in the garage of Sheri Lynn’s home, booking tours, putting out fires, and answering calls like the angry ones she got after the Jugg sisters pulled the bus over and ejected a slew of passengers so noisy that the other customers couldn’t hear the sisters’ act. (It was the only time that’s ever happened, and the culprits — if you even have to ask — were a bachelorette party.) “I’m so lucky to have run into these two idiots,” Thorneycroft offers. “They’re family to me.”
“Well, of course, working with my sister is really great, and being our own bosses, and making a nice living out of being in show business,” Sheri Lynn says. “I’ve never had to, you know, go on public assistance, but it’s hard being an artist. It’s very daunting. But since we’ve been successful, it’s really a joy. We’re working together, we’re making a living and another really joyful thing is that we get to meet 40 people every day. And that’s such a joy because we meet people from all walks of life. A lot of them are Americans, but some of them are Canadians, from the U.K., many Europeans, and meeting all these people is just fantastic.”
Brenda Kay sums it up: “After 21 years people ask, ‘Don’t we get tired of it?’ No! Because we meet people all over the world, some of whom over the years have become close friends of ours. We love what we do every day — make people laugh for two hours, which I think is the most important thing that we’ve done. For two hours we make people forget all the shit that’s going on in the world. All the fucking assholes in office right now — don’t get me started — and as we say lately, the political world is just so effed up right now.
“Our political views are very liberal. I say, ‘Well, Sheri Lynn, they did not pay to come on our bus and hear our political views.’ And then Sheri says, ‘Well, that’s why we give it to you for free!’ But you’ve got to laugh about it though, because we’ve got both sides on our bus. Ha! Sheri says we’ve got the right side and the wrong side, not to mention just other crap that everybody’s dealing with. If we can just make everybody forget all that for a couple of hours, and laugh and giggle and make fun of ourselves, it’s inspiring, it’s worth it, and we love what we do every damn day.”