A group of 20 students sits in a big circle in the front parlor of a Victorian mansion at Davis & Elkins College. Everyone has a fiddle. And all eyes are on the teacher. Heads bop and toes tap as Dave Bing plays a West Virginia tune called "Camp Chase." Outside, a bevy of banjos plink out a mournful melody. Down the road the mandolin and guitar classes combine to jam on a new tune they've learned.
John Darnielle was a little lonely when he wrote the songs on All Hail West Texas, the 2002 album that became a highlight of his music career. His band, The Mountain Goats, is a trio now, but back then it was a one-man show. Darnielle would come home from the long, dragging hours of his healthcare job, alone in his house while his wife was away at hockey camp. He'd sit down on his couch with his guitar, cobble together some words and music, and hit record on his Panasonic boombox.