Ghost Brothers of Darkland County

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Ghost Brothers of Darkland County
Ghost Brothers of Darkland County album cover.jpg
Soundtrack album cover
MusicJohn Mellencamp
LyricsJohn Mellencamp
BookStephen King
PremiereApril 11, 2012: Alliance Theatre, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
Productions2012 Atlanta
2013 US regional tour
2014 U.S./Canada regional tour

Ghost Brothers of Darkland County is a musical by John Mellencamp, Stephen King, and T Bone Burnett. It debuted at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2012. A touring production began in late 2013 through the South and Midwest. A soundtrack was released featuring country, folk, and rock musicians.

The story is a Southern Gothic tale of two brothers who hate each other and are forced by their father to spend time in a haunted cabin, where they are visited by the ghosts of dead brothers who also hated each other.


Burnett playing guitar onstage
T Bone Burnett produced the music for Ghost Brothers.

In 2002, Mellencamp talked about his vision for the project: "I plan to have every person sing from their generation. This is what I'm thinking right now, but it may not work out this way. When the 18-year-old sings, he'll be rapping at you. When the people in their 70s are singing, they'll be singing in the style of Broadway or the style of Frank Sinatra or country. I intend to cover any type of music that Americans have invented." He did not wind up following this format, as all the songs in the final production are performed in a folk and roots rock style.

Mellencamp provided this update of the musical's progress November 2010:

T Bone and I and Stephen King are working on a musical. All the music has been recorded. We had Kris Kristofferson, Neko Case, Elvis Costello, Taj Mahal, all singing different characters' roles. I wrote all the songs, 17 songs. [T Bone] produced. It sounds like the Sgt. Pepper of Americana to me. Forget about the play, just the songs, the way these people sing them. I'm sitting there listening to it and thinking, "Did Rosanne Cash just kill that song or what!" The play is called "Ghost Brothers of Darkling County," about two brothers who hate each other. If you could imagine Tennessee Williams meets Stephen King.[1]

King and Mellencamp sought a regional theater to stage the show and chose Atlanta. "We wanted a place that was cosmopolitan but not out of touch with country roots. Atlanta seemed like the middle of the bulls-eye", King said. "You know that song, 'If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere?' That's how I feel about Atlanta and this show."[2][3]

Ghost Brothers began preview shows at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta on April 4, 2012, opened April 11 and played until May 13, 2012.[4] The musical was directed by Alliance Theatre director Susan V. Booth, with musical supervision by T Bone Burnett. The band included Mellencamp's guitarist and musical director, Andy York, as well as Nashville session bassist David Roe. The copyist (transcribing the musical score) and vocal coach was Peggy Still Johnson.

The cast included Tony Award winner Shuler Hensley and nominee Emily Skinner. Other cast members included Justin Guarini, Jake La Botz, Lucas Kavner, Kate Ferber, Christopher Morgan and Dale Watson. Completing the cast were Peter Albrink, Kylie Brown, Lori Beth Edgeman, Gwen Hughes, Joe Jung, Joe Knezevich, Rob Lawhon, Royce Mann, Travis Smith, Jeremy Aggers, Russell Cook, Stephanie Laubscher, Joseph Signa, and DeWayne Woods.[5] The show featured the blood effects of Joseph Jefferson Award-winning special effects artist Steve Tolin, notable for his international work on Martin McDonagh's, The Lieutenant of Inishmore.[6]

The show went on a 20-city U.S. tour of the Midwest and Southeast in October–November 2013[7] and an 18-city tour of the Northeast (including Canada), Mid-Atlantic, Upper Midwest, and West regions in late 2014.


A profile picture of King
Horror author Stephen King has worked in several media over the course of 40 years but never made a musical until this one.

Describing the plot, Mellencamp said, "I can tell what it's not going to be like: It won't be 'Jack and Diane' meets Cujo. He's [King] already written the story—it's very beautiful, more like The Green Mile. It's an American story about an American family. Some of the characters are 100 years old, some are 15. So that will give me the opportunity to write for each character in a different style. I ain't writing a bunch of rock songs."

In a later interview he said, "[It's about] two brothers; they're 19 years old or 20, maybe 18 or 21, who are very competitive and dislike each other immensely. The father takes them to the family vacation place, a cabin that the boys hadn't been to since they were kids. What has happened is that the father had two older brothers who hated each other and killed each other in that cabin. There's a confederacy of ghosts who also live in this house. The older [dead] brothers are there, and they speak to the audience, and they sing to the audience. That's all I want to say, except through this family vacation, many things are learned about the family, and many interesting songs are sung."

The official production synopsis reads: "In the tiny town of Lake Belle Reve, Mississippi in 1967, a terrible tragedy took the lives of two brothers and a beautiful young girl. During the next forty years, the events of that night became the stuff of local legend. But legend is often just another word for lie. Joe McCandless knows what really happened; he saw it all. The question is whether or not he can bring himself to tell the truth in time to save his own troubled sons, and whether the ghosts left behind by an act of violence will help him—or tear the McCandless family apart forever."[5]


Mellencamp standing onstage
Reviewers emphasized the strength of Mellencamp's songwriting.

A writer for Esquire magazine visited a New York rehearsal of the show in the fall of 2007 and said, "Musicals aren't usually a guy thing. This one, though, is not only tolerable, it's good. It may be the first-ever musical written by men for men. There's no orchestra, just a band with two twangy acoustic guitars, bass guitar, drums, an accordion, and a fiddle. The songs are both haunting and all-American."[8]

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted in 2013 that "reviews were mixed" of the original production but "the problems that required tweaking all resided in Stephen King's book—particularly an overlong, muddled second act—never in the music of John Mellencamp."[9]

The newspaper called the musical "a pretty awesome spectacle", praising Mellencamp's "rousing score, a fusion of blues, country and rock that's superbly performed by [director Susan] Booth's 19-member cast. Under Burnett's musical direction, the sensational four-piece band never misses a beat." Of the plot, the reviewer commented: "As a prolific novelist, King is a legendary master of suspense. As a first-time playwright, he doesn't really break new ground so much as he sticks to what he does best. Indeed, 'Ghost Brothers' might impress as a freaky paranormal morality tale on the surface, but at its core it spins a story as ancient as Cain and Abel—or, for one dysfunctional family living in backwoods Mississippi circa 2007, as recent as a mysterious tragedy from 40 years earlier."[10]

The New York Times review said "[t]he production is as rambling as the script", asking "with its parade of Southern Gothic references (Faulkner, Williams, O'Connor) and melodramatic metaphors, is the show supposed to be a winking, mischievous musical? It's not clear." Of the plot, it said "[t]he intricate story of Ghost Brothers might work wonderfully on the page ... but the mood too often wavers. The ghosts fade into the background, sometimes on purpose, other times not." The review praised musical director Burnett, who "handles a diverse range of styles without ever sounding a slick note" with "an impressive chorus of voices to support Mr. Mellencamp's score of blues, gospel and roots." It noted that, overall, "the show does resist cliche."[11]


Ghost Brothers of Darkland County
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedJune 4, 2013 (2013-06-04)
GenreRock, country
LabelHear Music
ProducerT-Bone Burnett

A CD/DVD was released on June 4, 2013, containing handwritten lyrics and a documentary about the making of the musical. The soundtrack features Neko Case, Rosanne Cash, Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, Kris Kristofferson, and Taj Mahal.[12]

John Mellencamp compared the CD version of the musical to "an old radio show with music."[13]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks are written by John Mellencamp except where noted.

1."That's Me" (Mellencamp, Costello)Elvis Costello3:14
2."That's Who I Am"Neko Case3:25
3."So Goddam Smart"Sheryl Crow, Dave Alvin, Phil Alvin2:44
4."Wrong, Wrong, Wrong About Me" (Mellencamp, Costello, Andy York)Costello3:21
5."Brotherly Love"Ryan Bingham, Will Dailey2:30
6."How Many Days"Kris Kristofferson3:20
7."Home Again"Crow, Alvin, Alvin, Taj Mahal3:37
8."You Are Blind"Bingham3:14
9."Tear This Cabin Down"Mahal5:27
10."My Name Is Joe"Clyde Mulroney2:13
11."Away from This World"Crow3:18
12."You Don't Know Me"Rosanne Cash3:18
13."And Your Days Are Gone"Crow, Alvin, Alvin4:25
15."So Goddam Good" (Mellencamp, T Bone Burnett, Stephen King)Crow, Alvin, Alvin3:04
16."What Kind of Man Am I?"Kristofferson4:10
17."Truth"Mellencamp, Lily & Madeleine Jurkiewicz3:20


  1. ^ Kot, Greg (18 November 2010). "'The Coug' is dead to John Mellencamp, as are record companies and the Internet". PopMatters. Retrieved 21 July 2017.
  2. ^ "King, Mellencamp stage musical in Midtown". Neighbor Newspapers. April 18, 2000.
  3. ^ "John Mellencamp to speak at IUB commencement". Indiana University. April 18, 2000. Archived from the original (Press release) on April 2, 2012.
  4. ^ Hetrick, Adam (March 31, 2011). "Stephen King-John Mellencamp Musical Ghost Brothers of Darkland County Will Materialize in Atlanta". Archived from the original on April 10, 2011. Retrieved March 31, 2011.
  5. ^ a b Hetrick, Adam (November 9, 2011). "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County Musical to Star Shuler Hensley, Emily Skinner and Justin Guarini". Archived from the original on January 15, 2012. Retrieved January 25, 2012.
  6. ^ "Stephen King's Down-Home Nightmare". American Theatre. April 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-07-18. Retrieved 2013-01-11.
  7. ^ Melissa Ruggieri (May 10, 2013). "King, Mellencamp's 'Ghost Brothers' going on tour". Archived from the original on June 5, 2013. Retrieved June 5, 2013.
  8. ^ D'Agostino, Ryan (18 September 2007). "No. 88: A Musical for Men". Esquire. Retrieved 21 January 2012.
  9. ^ Melissa Ruggieri (June 4, 2013). "Tuesday Tunes: 'Ghost Brothers of Darkland County'". Archived from the original on June 4, 2013. Retrieved June 5, 2013.
  10. ^ Bert Osborne (April 12, 2012). ""Ghost Brothers of Darkland County" a musical horror story that twists and turns". Retrieved June 5, 2013.
  11. ^ Jason Zinoman (May 2, 2012). "These Ghosts Are Singing With a Southern Twang". The New York Times. Retrieved June 5, 2013.
  12. ^ Greene, Andy (14 November 2012). "John Mellencamp's Musical With Stephen King Nearing Completion". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  13. ^ Breihan, Tom (4 January 2010). "Elvis Costello, Neko Case Join Stephen King/John Mellencamp Musical | Pitchfork". Pitchfork. Retrieved 21 January 2012.

External links[edit]