by Aprille Hanson
“The Bird Hunters” is my favorite Turnpike Troubadours song and on the surface it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for me. It’s something that’s always puzzled my husband because obviously there are other songs in their repertoire like “Good Lord Lorrie” or his favorite, “7&7,” that could be considered pretty iconic hits of theirs. There are so many favorites to choose from in their discography, but there’s something about that song off their self-titled 2015 album that speaks to me. It’s funny because I have never hunted in my entire life, nor do I have any plans to try it. The only type of shooting I’ll be doing toward an animal is with a camera.
But in reality the song has nothing to do about hunting, though that’s the setting. We see one friend trying to cheer the other friend up after a break-up. Even that is hardly relatable as I’ve been with my husband since high school.
But that’s the masterfulness of songwriter/Troubadours’ front-man Evan Felker — he can tap into human nature using the simplest scenarios. Because while the song follows two friends duck hunting in the place the pair grew up, the lyrics point to how the main character is going through the motions while focused solely on his heart break and the ending of something he thought would last forever.
In life I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve gone through the motions of whatever task is ahead while letting my mind drift to something that is greatly impacting me. It’s something I assume most people do. From the loss of my mother to a recent scary but turned out to be false diagnosis for our beloved dog to randomly second guessing decisions seemingly mundane to the average person but to an over-thinker like me, filling my mind. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a song touch on the simplicities of living inside your head more than “The Bird Hunters.” I’m sure there are songs out there that fit the bill, but combined with Felker’s drawl and those easily overlooked observations that just come out so naturally in his writing, makes him one of the best.
“The country was cold
With the sun westward sinking
It's good to be back in this place
With my hands around
A Belgian made Browning
My mind on the lines of her face.”
It’s clear that the character isn’t just thinking about the breakup, but her very being, every detail of her and reliving their breakup in the chorus:
“She said go on back to Cherokee County
Won't you crawl back with nothing but a razor and a comb
Babe, if you need me, I'll be where you found me
Go on to hell, honey, I'm headed home”
I can vividly see the character half smiling to his friend, trying to cheer him up by explaining how he “dodged a bullet” by not winding up with her. It’s the universal need to try and make things right for people you care about, even if it’s offering up platitudes or clichés.
It’s ironic because when the Turnpike Troubadours announced on May 31 that they were cancelling all their upcoming shows for an “indefinite hiatus,” explaining that they needed to take a break until “everyone is of strong mind, body and spirit and can deliver what our fans deserve” – essentially Felker for what we all presume is alcoholism — the first thing that popped in my head were his lyrics:
“I was beginning
To deal with it ending
The old dog had pointed while part of me died
And a flutter of feathers
Then a shotgun to shoulder
I thought of the Fourth of July
She'll be home on the Fourth of July
I bet we'll dance on the Fourth of July”
That’s my favorite moment in “The Bird Hunters” because his crescendo and almost desperation on the lines “I thought of the Fourth of July. She’ll be home on the Fourth of July. Bet wed dance on the Fourth of July” was such a hopeful moment in such a sad scenario. The entire song we’ve watched this man distracted by his thoughts, fumbling through the task at hand, despite his friend’s best efforts, but the most focused he gets was when there’s a glimmer of hope that he can be reunited with this woman. The prospect of getting back what he desires most rejuvenates him.
Following those lyrics, his friend points out:
“Dan says, "Hell of a shot
Looks like you've still got it
That's what we came here to do”
It immediately floods back into the chorus, recalling the couple’s fight.
And I guess those “I was beginning” lyrics swirled in my brain because in reading the band’s statement and knowing for a while that this was probably coming, I just had this moment of thinking this may be the end to my favorite band, a band with song lyrics that deeply touched my soul. No matter the emotion, I can find a Turnpike Troubadours song to correlate with it. When people talk about soundtracks for their life, there are a handful of artists I can say would fit for me and this band is certainly at the top of the list.
Not to mention the countless times my husband and I have stood on the front row in small venues like The Rev Room in downtown Little Rock, rocking out with a packed crowd behind us, singing along and dancing to every song they threw out at us. And when I say threw out, I mean “threw out” because they left it all on the stage every single time they performed. It was like they were setting their souls of fire and the crowd was ready and willing to catch the sparks.
There are some people that are just meant to pour their heart out in music and watching Felker and the whole band perform live, I just can’t imagine that ending. It hurts to even consider it.
And I do not want to pretend I understand at all the struggle that Felker or anyone else in the band is going through, because while I may know their music, as a fan, I just do not know their hearts.
But whether I am as naïve or as hopeful as the character in “The Bird Hunters,” I’m continuing to think about the “Fourth of July” for the Turnpike Troubadours, whenever that may come, so we can all dance once again.