The Five-Dollar Goat and Chickens in the Yard

Amid all this playing of songs about ghosts, banshees, fairies and the like in preparation for my "Songs of Myth and Magic" Irish Concert on Saturday, I suddenly got inspired to write a new Irish-style jig.

About, of all things, a $5 goat.

The story: last spring, Sara came to a Prima Vox rehearsal laughing and telling us that she'd just seen an ad in the shopper for Goats for Sale: $5. I couldn't help thinking "The Five-Dollar Goat" would be a great title for an Irish jig. But we were set to rehearse magnificats and psalms and Hildegard chants that day, and the drones and the harmonies pushed the idea of the jig to the back recesses of my mind.

However, I seriously wanted this $5 goat. I thought it would be a great (and cheap) alternative to a lawnmower. I'd read that they could be walked on leashes like dogs, and could even be trained to carry packs. For helping when I hiked to the liquor store, for example. But I knew I'd be met with the same opposition as when I'd approached the North Mankato mayor (actually, I accosted him when he was jogging down the street one day) about raising chickens in my backyard. "No, they're smelly," he'd said. "And noisy."

I didn't get to make "smelly" comparisons between gas grills, gas lawnmowers, lawn-beautification chemicals and 4 chickens right then because the police pulled up and told me to stop blocking traffic.

Fast-forward to late winter 2010. I was deep in finalizing the set list for our Irish Concert, and I needed to program another jig for Megan to dance. I didn't like anything I was finding and was getting frustrated. So I took to my favorite procrastination activity: blog reading. One of my favorites is Cold Antler Farm. Lo and behold, the author had just written about her goat, Finn, and the jig idea came rushing back.

But first, the research. I grew up in the country, but not on a farm. I had no idea how goats sounded, how they moved, how they behaved. Lots and lots of Google searches and YouTube videos later, and lots of conversations with people about goat sounds — and naturally, lots of hysterical varieties of baaaa-ing to each other — I had gotten the idea. (SamTheDrummer even suggested this video. Hilarious!) I wrote a three-section jig in e minor filled with repeated notes, jumping intervals and kicky 8th note runs. I loved it.

But after a few days, it seemed lonely. I wanted Megan to dance longer, too. And that's when the idea of turning this into a mini-commentary on "why can't Amy raise goats and chickens in her backyard." I added a slip jig called "Chickens in the Yard" in G major with just a little bit of a rooster crow interval for a "there, take that!"

The band and I have been rehearsing the "The Five-Dollar Goat" and "Chickens in the Yard" for weeks now, and they sound so natural together, like a big, happy backyard. Tonight, Megan came over to hear the jig for the first time and to rehearse her dance moves. We had good laughs about adding in goat kicks and high leaps and even adding in a rendition of the chicken dance. I have no doubt Megan will make these dances as traditionally classy as they can be, despite their earthy beginnings.

(Anti-livestock members of the North Mankato City Council, you are cordially invited to my concert.)


  1. Susan P.3/11/2010

    Great story. Thanks for the insight into your creative process!
    I read Cold Antler Farm as well, and thought that Finn was one of the cutest goats I'd ever seen. Unfortunately, I'm not allowed to own a goat in the Denver suburbs, although I don't know what the ordinances are on chickens. Now you just have to get all the people who read Cold Antler Farm to read your blog and buy CDs!

  2. Protest songs without words lose some of their punch.