Musical group Scuffletown celebrates 25th anniversary
What do you get when you combine high energy and humor with guitar, accordion, harmonica, flute, vocals and great songwriting? You get the band Scuffletown.
For this Charlottesville Inside-Out (CVIO) digital special, I sat down with founding members Marc Carraway and John Whitlow to talk about the secret behind the group’s longevity and the important role friendship and “Scuffleheads” have played in the band’s success.
Keep reading below for the CVIO Scoop on Scuffletown.
As a bonus, Terri, Marc and John had a quick chat about some of Scuffletown’s additional experiences throughout the years — including their most bizarre gigs and the origin of their band name.
Here we go!
Note: The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Terri Allard: What’s the most bizarre gig Scuffletown ever played?
Carraway: Yeah, we had a nun sit in with us — my sister-in-law. She did Bette Midler's "The Rose." She's a full-on habit nun.
Whitlow: And when we're doing [the show], this is the weirdest thing: the owner was Catholic. So, he started crying—
MC: —He's like, "My mother's name is Rose, and it's her birthday today."
JW: She got this thunderous roar at the end of it. It was crazy. And I just said, "That's not gonna happen again."
We played at a county fair one time. We were competing with carnival music on the left and the dirt bike track on the right.
MC: I had put that out of my memory.
JW: And we got off there and go, “Man, that was just … I'll never do that again.”
Why the name Scuffletown?
MC: Well, we were just sort of going out as Mark and John for a while. But at some point we said, “You know, we really should formalize this thing. And so, we need a band name.”
We decided to do that at a concert. We came up with a list of band names and shared them with the audience and did kind of the applause-o-meter thing where they kind of reacted to the different names we were putting on.
Scuffletown was right about midway between John's house and mine — Scuffletown in Orange County. And so that was one of our names on the list. And that turned out to be the audience's favorite.
What were the other choices besides Scuffletown?
MC: The Whoopers.
JW: Whoopers was one.
JW & MC: Whoop! Whoop!
JW: That came from somebody, I think. “Call yourself the Whoopers." One of them was Way Low—
MC: —Way Low and the Low Hangers.
MC: Or just Way Low
JW: Way Low. Waaaay Low.
MC: Yeah, Way Low: Caraway and Whitlow, so Way Low.
JW: Oh, I think we really wanted Scuffletown, so we kind of stacked the deck.
MC: There were one or two others.
JW: It was like fishbone or bonefish came up.
MC: I think something like that...Running with Scissors was knocking around.
What would people be surprised to learn about Scuffletown?
MC: So, yeah, it might surprise people to know that John was a top executive at Plow and Hearth, and I was a high school principal and Governor's School director.
We do leadership teaching: teaching and training around leadership, and particularly around leadership partnering and creativity. That’s based on both our leadership experience and our musical experience and our relationship with Scuffletown.
JW: Yeah, I think one thing that they probably aren't aware of and would be surprised [to learn] is we're so intentional about our craft. We actually do strategic planning: We take things that we've learned from our professional lives around leadership and management, and we use those skills, really, to help us manage Scuffletown. So, we're very intentional and strategic about the management and of what we want to do with it.
MC: We get together about twice a year. And like a true retreat, you know, it'd just be us and just knocking out, “What songs do we want to do? What venues do we want to play? What things do we want to accomplish, you know, in the next year or the next six months? Where do we want to expand our audience?"
And, yeah, we're very, very intentional about it. A lot of discussion and a lot of targeting and edits — it's paid off really well for us—
MC: —We've had certain kinds of shows we wanted to do this year. The 25th anniversary show was one and came out like we wanted it to.
JW: I don't want to sound cliche, but we do put stretch goals out in front of us. One of our goals is we want to tour Ireland. We don't know how we're going to do it. And so, we put, "What's the outcome we want?” And then we kind of lock that in and very intentionally get down and say, “Well, how is that going to happen?”
And we're successful: had a great tour in Ireland. One of the stretch goals this year was to play Nashville. And we're leaving Sunday for Nashville. We have two to three shows in Nashville.
John, what’s the best piece of advice Marc ever gave you?
JW: Well, probably the best advice — it's a mantra for us — is “what gets written down gets done.” So, it ties into this planning thing that we're always doing. Like, Ireland was a bucket dream of mine. But once we sat down, and wrote it down, and committed ourselves to it, it started to happen.
What's the best advice John has ever given you, Marc?
MC: Not to buy a second dog.
MC & JW: [Laughing]
MC: So, we [Marc and his wife, Lisa] always had two dogs. Our two dogs passed away very close to each other. We got a dog, but that's when we were starting to sail a lot, and our dog was a great boat dog. And we said, “Ah, you know, we should get another dog to keep Joey company.”
And John says, "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. You can't take two dogs sailing." And it turned out that was really good advice.
But then the other thing — I don't know if I call it advice. We told the story in the video about how [bass player] Vaughn got in. You know, that was never planned. It was, “We've got a big Fourth of July gig. We need a little bit more sound. Let's get Vaughn down here.”
And then, you know, six years later he's been a member of Scuffletown all that time.
JW: Here's this— kind of a mutually agreed norm that we set right up-front. And it comes back to us around major decisions, and the norm is "family first." It was incredibly important to me when we started, and it comes into decision-making so many times. Mark has always honored that, and I honor it with him. It's the family first value and norm in our relationship that helps keep this thing in perspective.
MC: That's part of the reason we've been together 25 years.
You said earlier that you plan to continue performing. Describe a Scuffletown performance 10 years from now.
JW: I would say in 10 years, if we're clickin', it's not gonna look a lot different.
JW: I think we're in such a sweet space — I mean, the tour is exciting this summer, playing in Nashville, but the real sweet spot for us is playing the music we love in the community we love for the people we love.
And that's the sweet spot. That's my favorite.
MC: And I think, maybe, you will have stopped talking about wearing spandex.
JW: I might be wearing spandex at that point.
Scuffletown’s website includes their full performance schedule and samples of their tunes.