Quirky musicians to celebrate 40 years of 'Glad Bag' folk song

Forty years ago, when Steve Mason was driving to Ottawa to have pizza with his friends, a song began forming in his head.

By the time he got to his friend’s house, the musicians immediately gathered around and wrote what would end up turning into one of the most celebrated (and dark) quirky songs across the nation, one that would air on radio stations across the world and get re-recorded several times over.

This weekend, musicians near and far will gather at the Jackpot to celebrate the 40th anniversary of “Send Me to Glory in a Glad Bag.”

Keeping it fresh

The song was written by Mason, but perfected later when he joined the Alferd Packer Memorial String Band. While it is a bit dark, folk musicians tend to know how to lightheartedly handle subject matter like that. You have to be proficient in puns for the fatal folk tune. Lines like “Send me to glory in a Glad bag/ Don’t waste a fancy coffin on my bones/ Just put me out on the curb next Tuesday/ Let the city sanitation bear me home” tend to require just the right touch.

If you go

“Send Me to Glory in a Glad Bag” 40th anniversary show, featuring John Biggs, Kansas City Hustle, and The Alferd Packer Memorial String Band. will be 7-9 p.m. Saturday at Jackpot Saloon, 943 Massachusetts St. Cost is $5 at the door for 21 and over and $7 for under 21. It is an all-ages show.

Mason, a local luthier, multi-instrumentalist, and composer of casualties in chorus, spent decades perfecting his joke-telling art.

“Joke songs are only good for one performance,” he says. “Pretty songs get prettier every time you play them, but funny songs are like telling a joke twice, so it’s a lot harder.”

This is why, in an effort to keep the performance fresh, Mason is pulling in a host of guest performers for the anniversary celebration.

“There’s going to be a bunch of people singing that song over and over again,” Mason says. “We’re going to have various people who’ve written verses for it, and so we’ll be doing a 5-minute-long version of ‘Send Me to Glory in a Glad Bag.’”

Spreading the word

It’s impressive that Mason found so many contributors to the song. Folk songs tend to get covered, re-recorded, and performed in various renditions. But it was John Biggs’ version, a song he recorded in 1978, that helped the song really take off.

It made it as far as the coveted Dr. Demento show, a radio program specializing in novelty songs that launched other famous comedic musicians, such as “Weird Al” Yankovic.

“That recording got into the top 25 of all time from the Dr. Demento show,” Mason says. “That started spreading it around the whole country.” Watching the song take off around the world and get re-recorded has always, and continues to, leave Mason a little bewildered.

“It’s certainly an ego trip,” he says. “We have had royalties dribbling in, but periodically I’ll go online and type in ‘Send Me to Glory in a Glad Bag’ or ‘The Glad Bag Song’ and see who’s doing it. There’s recordings of lots of different people doing it, and it’s a rush.”

Mason says he’s seen the song make it as far as New Zealand.

After Biggs’ recording, a yearning for humor and energy drew Mason to a group of musicians that would later become The Alferd Packer Memorial String Band.

“I saw them onstage, and they where just hilarious. I said, that’s what I want to do,” he says. “We started wearing costumes so you could tell who was in the band and who wasn’t.”

Since 1981, the band has gone through several lineup changes.

“In those first 10 years, there had been 40 different people in the Packer band. It stabilized tremendously after that. Past then, we’ve had personnel changes every five or 10 years,” he says, while joking (as always) that a band is a bit like a marriage. “I don’t know what keeps it together. Something. Glue? Glue. That seems logical.”

— Fally Afani is a freelance writer and editor of iheartlocalmusic.com.

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