Goodnight, Texas / The Districts / Satellite Hearts

Goodnight, Texas

If you take out a map and measure the midway point between San Francisco and Chapel Hill, North Carolina — the homes of songwriters Avi Vinocur and Patrick Dyer Wolf, respectively — you’ll find an unincorporated town called Goodnight, Texas (population at last count: 28). That’s what the duo discovered when they went looking for the center of their long-distance collaboration, a musical project that sounds, appropriately enough, like a cross-country drive on Interstate 40: Expansive, full of possibility, American in every sense of the word — the perfect place for missing someone but regretting nothing, for losing yourself in the crackle of guitar through speakers and having a good long think.

After meeting in San Francisco in 2007, Vinocur and Wolf built a friendship based on trading words and tunes. “I had never been able to sing with anyone before Pat. I was terrible at it,” says Vinocur. “But I didn't even have to try to harmonize with him. I still sort of have a hard time believing how easy it still is.” When Wolf moved to North Carolina in 2009, the songwriters kept in touch, finding their stylistic midpoint amidst banjo, guitar and mandolin, a love of working-class anthems. Though the two singers have notably different styles — Wolf showcasing a lifelong love of acoustic folk; Vinocur clearly comes from the world of garage rock, and leans toward darker blues — the duo shared a mutual admiration and easy harmony, as well as a fascination with late 19th century small-town America: A vision of a grittier, simpler world, full of raw pain and mysterious beauty. In 2012, after picking up a rhythm section (Alex Nash and Scott G. Padden), Goodnight, Texas released their debut LP, A Long Life of Living, to much critical acclaim.

The band’s contagiously entertaining dynamic at live shows, as well as the album’s energy, soul and range — from red-blooded, foot-stomping rock ’n’ roll to wistful front porch ballads to haunting tales of doomed romance — has made devotees out of both music critics and a growing legion of fans spread out across the country. Goodnight, Texas spent the last year and a half out on the road, supporting acts like Shakey Graves and Rusted Root, in addition to playing two sold-out hometown shows at the Fillmore alongside Bombay Bicycle Club and Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers. The band released their sophomore record, Uncle John Farquhar, in the summer of 2014.

“It's a more upbeat, a little more fun, but it's still got some heaviness,” says Wolf of the new record. “The highs are higher and the lows are lower.” Vinocur, in particular, is excited to release “Dearest Sarah,” based on an actual Civil War letter written from husband to wife in 1861, a song Vinocur’s been working at for nearly eight years. “I wrote it in 2006 as a 4/4 acoustic guitar song and played it at two shows before taking it out of my set list.” says Vinocur “It was a lot of lyrics to remember and I was worried I would mess them up and ruin the song's impact. I knew it was a significant song to me, but it wasn't quite right yet.” Vinocur says the song was “all but forgotten until I re-watched Ken Burns’ Civil War where Sullivan Ballou's letter is read. Very shortly thereafter, on a particularly lonely trip to New Zealand in 2012, I re-learned it on a rooftop in Auckland and switched it to mandolin and waltz time. I added the bridge riff and the whole vibe came together. Finally I felt it was done and we recorded for release on our new record, 8 years after I first wrote it.“

The album itself is named for Wolf’s great-great-great grandfather, and a sermon he delivered on the occasion of Abraham Lincoln’s death graces the record’s liner notes. “In my eyes, he serves as kind of the first entry in the scrapbook that is this album concept,” says Wolf of the old photo of Farquhar that originally captured his imagination. “I was thinking of the album as a scrapbook - a collection of clippings over the course of the past century and a half,” says Wolf. “The oldest entries of the album package relate to John Farquhar, who was my maternal great-great-great grandfather, a minister in Lancaster PA: the cover of his Abraham Lincoln sermon is the cover of the liner notes booklet. Inside the booklet a letter that he wrote to his cousin in Massachusetts during the Civil War after visiting makeshift hospitals right outside the battle of Gettysburg. These documents are sort of the anchor of the work, so we've got this familial link to a seminal point in America's history and an example of both his (John Farquhar’s) public and private voices.“

Americana is arguably an overused term at the moment — but what sets Goodnight, Texas apart from the pack is its richly imagined, full-color stories. In the longstanding folk tradition of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and Johnny Cash, Goodnight, Texas sings songs that are each a world in and of themselves — transporting listeners from the battlefields of the deep south to a saloon full of hard-drinking but good-natured regulars to the nervous feeling in the stomach of a poor boy about to ask for his girl’s hand in marriage.

Uncle John Farquhar showcases this talent perhaps better than ever, with the two songwriters’ styles playing off each other to great effect, balancing a wry sense of humor with an obvious respect for the ghosts of this country’s past. Whether in Vinocur’s realm of epic sagas of loss and animated hit-the-road tunes or Wolf’s natural gift for deceptively sparse, emotion-driven songwriting, we can feel the sun-baked earth, taste the sweat of a day’s labor, hear the hound dog howling in the yard. Our protagonists are lonely travelers and scorned lovers ad sympathetically conjured bank robbers, and for the duration of a song, we are rooting for them with all we’ve got.

The Districts

Whether they’re tearing it up in a basement, rocking a festival crowd or hard at work in a studio, The Districts are a band that exists in the moment.

The Pennsylvania four-piece channels its long-forged bonds into visceral, explosive rock and roll. You’ll hear hints of Americana, moments of the blues and folk, but written into songs so expressive that those labels are transcended. Their second LP, A Flourish and a Spoil, is out on Fat Possum Records in February of 2015.

Founding members Rob Grote (guitar, vocals) Connor Jacobus (bass) and Braden Lawrence (drums) have been friends since childhood and formed The Districts in high school. You can hear that closeness in their effortless chemistry onstage and off, the way their songs build and grow, the way instrumental bits intertwine and the compelling command they have of whatever square footage they occupy behind microphones and a PA.

The band self-recorded and self-released its Kitchen Songs EP in 2012, followed that summer by their full-length debut Telephone (also a self-release, and all the more impressive for it). By their senior year, the band had already begun to make inroads beyond their small Lancaster County hometown of Lititz, and were performing on the regular in Philadelphia, Delaware and New York (“4th and Roebling” from Flourish is named after the intersection in Brooklyn where they parked their car for their first New York gig at the now-defunct Big Snow Buffalo Lounge).

In 2013, they were being played in regular rotation at WXPN in Philadelphia and were a featured performer at the station’s XPoNential Music Festival. That fall they signed to Fat Possum, which released their self-titled EP in January of 2014; the five-song 10” contained two new songs – “Rocking Chair” and “Lyla” – along with three tracks from their self-releases.

With the momentum behind the EP and their buzzed-about live show, The Districts had a tremendous showing in Austin for SXSW 2014, named “the band who owned SXSW” by the NME. They’ve since taken the show to Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits, Reading / Leeds, Outside Lands, Haldern Pop Festival and many more fests in the U.S. and Europe.

That’s not to say the band hasn’t experienced its share of setbacks. In early summer of 2014, its van was broken into during a tour stop in St. Louis and all of its gear was stolen. Shortly after, founding guitarist Mark Larson left the band to pursue college, performing as a District for the last time at the 2014 XPoNential Music Festival (where they shared the stage with Band of Horses and Beck). But the band persevered, recruiting new guitarist Pat Cassidy and recording their second full length with producer John Congleton in the fall.

A Flourish and a Spoil is built about those ideas of transition. As Rob puts it, it’s a record about “change and loss, the fact that everything sours in time, but also the beauty that can be found in that.” It’s reflected in the cover art the band made in collaboration with photographer Joanna Ference: a halved grapefruit, dried and decaying, but still attached to a bright green stem.

Sonically, Flourish is a vibrant, eclectic rock record, collecting sounds from toe-tapping fuzz-pop (“Peaches”) to contemplative folk (“Suburban Smell”) and driving, impressionistic soundscapes (“Young Blood” is well worth 9 minutes of your time) into a whirlwind 45 minute set. The Districts credit John Congleton with shaping their sound on this outing. While the band is used to writing and producing on its own, Congleton “gave us an objective ear that helped us find and refine what we were trying to accomplish with this album.”

Rob recalls that, toward the end of the recording process, he had a song stuck in his head: the old Doris Day tune “A Bushel and a Peck,” which his mother used to sing to him as a childhood lullaby. “The title was born from that,” he says. “A Flourish and a Spoil is our attempt to reconcile lullabies with reality.”

It also announces the arrival of The Districts as a captivating voice in contemporary rock: a young band crafting heartfelt music that’s honest, raw, energetic and unforgettable.

Satellite Hearts

Satellite Hearts are a four-piece band that combine both the raw, unpolished, and unapologetic sound of today, with the soul of true classic rock. Featuring J.M. Pellecchia on guitar, vocals, and harmonica, Lucas Rinz on bass and vocals, Keaton Thandi on drums, percussion, and vocals and Dre DiMura on guitar and vocals; they create a sound that mixes the best of classic and alternative rock and roll, with elements of soul, funk, and R&B that give them a unique and explosive resonance that is hard to find in today's music scene.

Presented by The Swollen Fox

Founded in the summer of 2010 by Kevin Kennedy, The Swollen Fox is an independent music blog dedicated to covering and promoting the music scene in Philadelphia, with a specific focus on live music in the area. In addition to powering the XPN Concert Calendar, The Swollen Fox is a go-to resource for fans looking to keep up with burgeoning live scene in and around Philadelphia, providing show announcements, concert recaps, new music, ticket giveaways, and more.

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