Tiny Desk

Vic Chesnutt

I didn't think much of Vic Chesnutt when I first heard his music more than 15 years ago. I was just out of college and living in Athens, Ga. Chesnutt lived there, too, and was making occasional appearances at some of the local clubs. He was often drunk and sometimes belligerent. I walked out of at least one performance.

A friend of mine remained loyal. She caught most of his shows and had the two albums he'd released at that point: 1990's Little and 1991's West of Rome. Though I hadn't noticed at the time, both were filled with the anguish of someone struggling with a lot of (now obvious) inner demons. He suffered from bouts of depression and anxiety. There was the drinking problem. He readily admitted to fairly heavy drug use. I can only speculate that it was at least partially a form of self-medicating, since a horrible car accident years earlier had left him paralyzed from the waist down.

All of this probably made it easy to dismiss Vic Chesnutt's music. He was a challenging guy, and his unpolished, idiosyncratic songs weren't easily digested.

Everything changed for me one rainy autumn night while attending a small party at my friend's house. She put on West of Rome and let it play quietly in the background while everyone chatted in the kitchen. Maybe I was in a less festive mood, but before long, I found myself sitting alone in front of the stereo, absolutely transfixed by Chesnutt's voice as he began one of his heartwrenching stories: "West of Rome / just east of the border / in a static-y Ramada Inn / polishing his boots and pummeling his liver / steeped in dark isolation." I hung on every word.

The music of Vic Chesnutt is deeply intimate and introspective. It requires a little solitude to really take it in. For me, I suddenly saw and felt both the joy and sadness of his world. His music was, and still is, like life itself: crude and elegant, beautiful and gruesome. Chesnutt is a remarkably gifted lyricist: The strength of his songs lies in his Southern-flavored narratives, which capture more in a handful of carefully chosen words than many novels.

So I can't recall when I first heard Vic Chesnutt, but I definitely remember when I first listened. After 15 years, he's sobered up and put out a dozen albums — some better than others, but all of them memorable and moving.

Though he's revered by better-known artists (both Madonna and The Smashing Pumpkins have covered his work), and he has a loyal fan base, Chesnutt doesn't have much of a machine to promote his music. He's posted his personal email address online for anyone to see. That's how I contacted him when I saw that he'd be in D.C. for a show to promote his latest album, North Star Deserter. He wrote back right away to say he'd be happy to give us a Tiny Desk Concert. We couldn't be more thrilled to have him.

Set List

  • "When The Bottom Fell Out"
  • "Very Friendly Lighthouses"
  • "Panic Pure'"
  • "We Were Strolling Hand in Hand"
  • "Glossolalia"
[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Tiny Desk Concert with Youth Lagoon Jun Tsuboike/NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR/NPR

Tiny Desk

Youth Lagoon

Trevor Powers' new songs are expansive and self-assured, a transition reflected in this performance.

Tiny Desk Concert with The Wild Reeds Julia Reihs/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Julia Reihs/NPR

Tiny Desk

The Wild Reeds

Great singers aren't easy to come by, so finding three in one band is something special.

Tiny Desk Concert with Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats Julia Reihs/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Julia Reihs/NPR

Tiny Desk

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

At the Tiny Desk, Rateliff's body-shaking Southern-style soul takes on a more laid-back sound.

Jun Tsuboike/NPR/NPR

Tiny Desk

Rahim AlHaj

The oud player's wordless music tells powerful stories about life's blessedness and fragility.

Tiny Desk Concert with Aurora Hadas /NPR hide caption

toggle caption Hadas /NPR

Tiny Desk


At 19 and on the cusp of her first album, the Norwegian singer performs with a sense of discovery.

Tiny Desk Concert with My Bubba Jun Tsuboike/NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR/NPR

Tiny Desk

My Bubba

My Bubba is a duo of women whose quirky, delicate, sweetly sung folk songs are a delight.

Tiny Desk Concert with Chris and Morgane Stapleton Lani Milton/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Lani Milton/NPR

Tiny Desk

Chris Stapleton

With his wife Morgane, the country singer-songwriter sings patient, detailed songs of devotion.

Tiny Desk Concert with Diane Coffee. Jun Tsuboike/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR

Tiny Desk

Diane Coffee

Conjuring David Bowie, Diane Coffee's Shaun Fleming swaggered and shimmied behind the Tiny Desk.

Tiny Desk Concert with The Suffers NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Tiny Desk

The Suffers

The 10-piece band can barely fit all its horns, guitars, percussion and energy behind one desk.

Tiny Desk Concert with Beauty Pill Julia Reihs/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Julia Reihs/NPR

Tiny Desk

Beauty Pill

In Beauty Pill, life whirs with plunderphonic glee and riffs are funky from the inside out.

Back To Top

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor