by Jane Roser
Halfway between the homes of songwriters Avi Vinocur and Patrick Dyer Wolf lies a virtual ghost town called Goodnight, Texas. There exists no post office (they lost that 100 years ago), only one store and about 18 townsfolk. Each of those 18 townsfolk own a copy of Goodnight, Texas’ debut album, A Long Life of Living, hand delivered by the band when they stopped in the sleepy town a few years ago.
“We received a few Facebook messages [from some of the townsfolk afterwards], including the couple that owns the one store in town,” says Vinocur. “They invited us back and offered us the community center to put on a show. We’ve been back four or five times since then, even performing in a fellow’s backyard. They’re really great, kind people.”
Randomly meeting at a show in San Francisco in 2007, Vinocur and Wolf soon discovered a shared passion for old-timey American folk music and working class anthems. “I was filling in for someone at a show and Pat had just moved to San Francisco with his then-girlfriend (now wife). He came up to me after the show and said we should play together sometime, but I didn’t take it too seriously. Later on I hosted an open mic night and invited him, so a few weeks later he shows up and played some of his songs. I just couldn’t believe that he had written them; I was completely floored.”
Vinocur and Wolf started playing a few shows together before Wolf relocated to North Carolina, but they kept in touch while Vinocur toured with The Stone Foxes, a rock band he had played with in college. “While in North Carolina, Pat wrote “Submarines” and “California You’re A Whole In My Heart”. We decided to do a few tours and it just built from there, but that’s the long version of it; yeah,” Vinocur laughs, “we met at a cafe.”
Seeing gritty Southern band Shovels & Rope while they were still playing small bars and were just making a name for themselves had a huge impact on Vinocur and really inspired him to push their limits. “That was one of my favorite shows, ” says Vinocur, “we were writing a lot of dark, introspective stuff that we would call sad bastard music and realized that we do that, but still make it fun.”
When A Long Life of Living was released two years ago, That Mag‘s editor sent me the link to their website telling me she thought I’d like their music. I loved the album and attended two shows in the DC area, which were lively, engaging and hauntingly beautiful. The audience was enraptured and attentive to every moment, which always defines a great show.
Goodnight, Texas hit the road for the past year and a half, supporting artists such as Shakey Graves and Rusted Root, plus selling out two hometown shows at the Fillmore alongside Bombay Bicycle Club and Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers. Their sophomore album, Uncle John Farquhar, was released August 5th on Tallest Man Records to fabulous reviews. While their debut record focused on working class Appalachia, Uncle John Farquhar was inspired by tales of the Civil War.
“It’s always something I’ve been interested in,” explains Vinocur on the theme. “My family would go back to our old property in Hagerstown, Maryland and there’d be bullets from the Civil War in the basement. Pat and I love hearing these old stories through different people’s perspective-we love reading into these characters, it’s like reading a novel.”
Uncle John really existed, too. He is Wolf’s great-great-great grandfather, a minister who delivered a sermon upon Abraham Lincoln’s death which appears on the record’s liner notes. The track “Dearest Sarah” is based on a well-known correspondence during the Battle of Bull Run that was prominently mentioned in Ken Burns’ Civil War series. “It’s one of the most beautiful pieces of writing,” says Vinocur. “I think everyone should read it to understand that people can feel so passionately about the United States.”
Recording Uncle John Farquhar in Vinocur’s living room, Vinocur says that hands-down the best part of making it was enlisting other artists to play on it. “Our new drummer Alex really helped us to develop the songs and Scott and Bobby made them feel [more cohesive]. We just threw up some microphones, would play a take of the music and build on top of that. We record live as much as we can, but had some restrictions and my recording computer was really old-it actually died while making this album and I had to get a replacement.”
After taking some time off at the conclusion of their West coast tour, Goodnight, Texas began their East coast tour in Boston a few days ago and will perform at World Cafe Live on September 14th and The Black Cat in DC on September 16th.