Ghost towns, old homes, and felled trees
Images from southwest Washington's past populate the songs of Carl Wirkkala
September 28, 2023
"Certain places kind of haunt you," Carl Wirkkala told me on the phone the other day.
He remembers grinding cascara bark and catching crawdads with poles cut by his grandmother, who lived in an old house along Knappton Road in Naselle. When he was young, he would tell his dad and his uncle "weird stories about police." The two men would take little Carl on trips looking for scrap iron among the dark, dilapidated houses of Frankfort, a ghost town that was set to be the new Astoria.
"It never happened," said Wirkkala. "Because the railroad didn't come through."
He remembers watching his dad and another uncle working in the woods, when his father pointed out a stump of a tree that had been felled many years past. There were weathered gashes in the wood from the old springboards loggers placed in the trunk to fell the tree.
"Look at that," Carl remembers the elder Wirkkala saying, indicating the notches. "We're separated by time, not space."
Carl Wirkkala is haunted, in a good way. These hauntings have worked their way into the many songs he has written in a 20 year career spanning eight studio albums and countless performances, including some with members of the Waylon Jennings band. Hailing from Castle Rock, Wirkkala's deep southwest Washington roots inform his music, which has been described as part Jennings, part Johnny Cash, part Bob Dylan. But for Wirkkala these influences are, like the memories that infuse his work, background sound, almost like dreams.
"I'm influenced by so much, but I want to be myself," he said. "I want to keep my own sound and voice."
Wirkkala's newest album, entitled "Hope Is On the Rise," features his new band, The Whistle Punks. Wirkkala takes lead vocals and guitar; rounding out the roster are Christine McAllister on vocals and bass, and Jesse Cunningham on vocals and pedal steel.
They will perform at this year's Finnish American Folk Festival in Naselle on October 8.
Carl Wirkkala & the Whistle Punks. Sunday, October 8th, 4:00 p.m. at the Finnish American Folk Festival. Naselle Community Center; 14 Parpala Road, Naselle, WA, 98638. Contact Barb Swanson at (360) 484-3602 or email@example.com, for more information.