Greetings from Savannah, GA, Blackbeard's favorite drinking spot, our favorite Southern city and setting of our favorite true crime story, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." You see, it's Mallory's birthday today and we're partying (Party, party, party, party!) and there's no better place to party than Savannah. So while we're wandering around the Hostess City of the South, eating pralines and drinking manhattan's in one of Savannah's 24 public squares, we're going to tell you a bit about another town, a town that is nothing like Savannah.
If you've been out to a show of ours in the last couple years, you may have heard our story about this little, Driftless Wisconsin town with nothing much going on except a fantastic Food Co-Op and a Wal Mart parking lot. We're not going to tell you the story here today because, well, you should just come out to a show and hear it live. But we are going to tell you a bit about how this song came to be.
"Viroqua, WI" was written in 25 minutes at around 10:30PM on a hot summer night in a Wal Mart after we each had consumed three mint chocolate chip Klondike bars and tried to jump a stranger's Cadillac. It was an aggressive tune at the time, in drop D tuning, fast and full of the energy that comes from an experience still within shouting distance. There were a lot of words, fun, tongue twisting turns of phrase like "two and forty miles from Madison" and "chickadee day and a swallows night," and we had a hard time spitting 'em out at the speed we were taking it. For a love song, or a lost song, or a lost love song, the lyrics have a lightness and whimsy to them that didn't quite fit together with the chords and the way we were singing it. And so, like a lot of songs that get written to get it out, Viroqua, WI sat in a songwriting journal for 10 months while we did other things, surrounded by blank pages and other unfinished ideas. We fed it, of course, even took it out on a walk once when we got to Nashville, but it wasn't a song that was going to go anywhere with us. It was stuck in place with no way to get going again and we thought that was where it would stay.
And then, one night in May when we were booked at a bagel shop in Montpelier, VT and nobody (and we mean nobody) showed up for the first hour and a half of our two hour set we made progress. Since we already had our instruments set up, we played a little bit in that quiet sort of way, testing our voices against the walls to see who was more embarrassed to be here, the band or the barista. It was the barista and so we leaned into it and started playing through a couple songs we needed to rehearse still. Scott ended up in an open G tuning, and Mallory ended up opening the lyric book to the Viroqua page, and for whatever reason, a bouncy little fingerpicking pattern emerged. And that bouncy little fingerpicking pattern had a heavy thumb, that plodded along, 1-2-3-4, and slowed the song down but in a way that allowed the lyrics to be light and free while sitting on top. Mallory pulled out her banjolele and started strumming and suddenly we had a song again. Looking at the page and the chord chart, it's almost exactly as it was when it was written; nothing changed in its fundamental nature. The tempo change was probably not as drastic as we make it seem either, maybe just 10-15 beats per minute faster, but it was enough that we began to see the song from a different perspective.
Recently, our nephew Iason has been ganging up on Scott and beating him at this game called Sticks or Chopsticks. You and your opponent each stick out 1 finger on each hand and the goal is to add the number on your hands to your opponent's hands until they have all five fingers extended and that hand is out or "dead." It's a game of strategy and adding and Scott, being good at neither of those things, kept losing. Scott was close to winning one game; Iason was cornered (the numbers adding up to five on his one remaining hand no matter how he looked at it) and then he slapped hand against his forehead, yelling "Headbutt!" and gained an additional finger. It's an elementary cheat move by a third grader smarter than he should be, and it eventually won him the game.
Sometimes, writing a good song is just about adding the numbers up right and being able to look forward far enough to know where you'll get stuck. Sometimes it's just about gaining that perspective. And sometimes you just need a "Headbutt!"
Here's a playlist called Stuck Miles From Home featuring our song, "Viroqua, WI" and ten other songs about being far away from home and having trouble getting back. Enjoy!