Thirty years ago this month, Mary Chapin Carpenter released her 1990 album Shooting Straight in the Dark, a record that, up until “Shut Up and Kiss Me” in 1994, produced the Washington, D.C.-area songwriter’s highest charting single. The song was “Down at the Twist and Shout” and it helped introduce country-radio listeners to some authentically Cajun sounds thanks to a cameo by zydeco kings Beausoleil.
Carpenter wrote the irresistible dance song about her nights spent at an American Legion Hall in Bethesda, Maryland, where an eclectic array of bands would play every weekend.
“You could rent it out on a Friday or Saturday and a local promoter would put on local roots-rock bands. You would go and pay two bucks and get your hands stamped just like your high-school cafeteria when you would go to a dance,” Carpenter tells Rolling Stone. “The promoter would put an ad in The Washington Post in the weekend section: ‘This weekend at the Twist and Shout Club.’ It was just this simple place.”
Beausoleil, the veteran Louisiana group led by fiddler and singer Michael Doucet, was one of the bands Carpenter regularly saw at the Twist and Shout, and she reached out to Doucet to join her in the studio while recording Shooting Straight in the Dark. “It was the apex of happiness,” Carpenter says of the session.
“Down at the Twist and Shout” peaked at Number Two on the country charts and earned Carpenter a Grammy Award for country vocal performance in 1991. Six years later she reunited with Beausoleil to recreate the song in New Orleans at Super Bowl XXXI. She calls the performance, which appears on the 1999 Party Doll and Other Favorites compilation album, one of the “most surreal moments of my life.”
“They asked us to come play that song for the pregame show. I remember we were in New Orleans and we played it, and there was Terry Bradshaw on the Jumbotron. It was like, ‘Wow, how did this happen?’” Carpenter says. “That song has gone a lot of places with us and it’s just a real joy. And to this day, I love playing that song.”
Carpenter released her latest album, The Dirt and the Stars, in August.