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For Lori McKenna, "Bittertown" is the pill

By Dan Armonaitis, October 2004

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"But from talking to the band about the song, I came to find out that a lot of musicians got beat up in high school," McKenna adds with a laugh.

And the sentiment of the song could just as easily apply to McKenna.

"I actually got beat up once when I was in seventh grade," McKenna laughingly recalls. "This girl kicked my ass over a boy.... Actually, my husband was there when I got beat up. It wasn't him that I got beat up over, but he actually witnessed the whole thing."

Although he didn't come to her defense then, McKenna eventually fell in love with him and the couple married when she was only 19 and had their first child.

Settling into her life as a young mother and wife, McKenna dropped out of community college, got a job as a receptionist and sold Tupperware prior to playing her first gig during an open-mic night at a local hangout called the Old Vienna Coffeehouse in Westboro, Mass., when she was 27 with a guitar she borrowed from her brother.

The warm reception she received was particularly encouraging considering that the open-mic night's participants often included nationally-touring Boston folk veterans such as Ellis Paul and Vance Gilbert.

Despite the fact that she had been writing songs and poetry for herself since she was 13 (poetry provided solace for McKenna who lost her mother when she was 6), McKenna says she'd never before considered a career in music."I definitely never thought of doing it professionally. I didn't think I could sing. I didn't think anyone would like my voice. But I had always enjoyed songwriting."

McKenna self-released her debut, "Paper Wings & Halos" in 1998. The album did quite well, selling more than 10,000 copies, a very healthy sum for an indie album. She won a Boston Music Award and appeared at the Newport Folk Festival and Lillith Fair.

McKenna signed with Signature Sounds, a western Massachusetts folk oriented label, which released "Pieces of Me" in 2001. Last year, she had an Internet-only release with "The Kitchen Tapes," which she recorded entirely at her kitchen table in less than an hour one afternoon.

Nowadays, with more than a half-decade professional experience under her belt, McKenna wouldn't have it any other way.

"I have these moments every now and then at my job where I'm playing a song, and I'll just think of how thankful I am that I'm getting to do that. My husband works as a plumber, and there's not very many moments in that career where you get to say 'this is what I love doing.' And I just want to keeping loving playing music and not worrying about the business side of things. I think if I ever started feeling like I was worrying about the bottom line or worrying about the business or feeling like I was competing against other people, that's when I'd back away and maybe go pour some coffee somewhere."

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