Wilco Bassist John Stirratt’s Favorite Maine Place

The midcoast musician loves to get outside at Jefferson’s 1,000-acre Hidden Valley Nature Center.

Hidden Valley Nature Center in Jefferson, Maine
Photo by David Wright
John Stirratt
The 20th-anniversary release of Wilco’s seminal 2001 record Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is currently up two Grammys: Best Historical Album and Best Album Notes.
After snowshoeing at Hidden Valley, Stirratt hits Sheepscot General Store, in Whitefield, for the all-day breakfast menu.
An ideal winter midcoast day ends with a Surfer Rossa grisette, brewed with sea salt and blood orange, at Oxbow Brewing Company’s original farmhouse brewery, in Newcastle.
By Bridget M. Burns
From our January 2023 issue

Bassist and founding member of Chicago-based rock act Wilco, John Stirratt started working remotely four years before it became commonplace. In 2016, he relocated from the Midwest to midcoast Maine with his wife, Crissy, and their now-teenage daughter. Crissy grew up a summer kid in South Bristol, and the family had spent more than a decade of summers vacationing in the area. That first September, as summer visitors petered out and his family stuck around, Stirratt says it dawned on him that they should have moved even sooner — although there was a bit of a learning curve in the months that followed. “Weather related,” he says. “You know — pre-generator.”

With an in-home studio and a “real engineer” friend living nearby, Stirratt can lay down tracks in Maine when the rest of Wilco needs him to — which the band relied on while recording demos during the early days of the pandemic, a particularly prolific time for frontman and songwriter Jeff Tweedy. “He sent us a song a day for 50 days,” Stirratt says. In summer 2021, Wilco reunited for a rescheduled tour (they were the first post-shutdown act announced at a reopened Thompson’s Point, in Portland). That winter, they convened in Chicago to make a studio record. The resulting double album, Cruel Country, dropped digitally last May and comes out on vinyl and CD this month. They recorded the album, a throwback to the band’s Americana roots, entirely in live takes, something the band hadn’t done in 15 years. “The sound of a band all playing together in the studio is such a nice way to approach material,” Stirratt says. “There’s this synergy that happens.”

After that, it was back home to Maine. In the winter, Stirratt loves getting outside at Jefferson’s Hidden Valley Nature Center, a rolling, 1,000-acre preserve with more than 25 miles of groomed trails (and weekend ski, snowshoe, and fat-bike rentals), maintained by the Midcoast Conservancy. “The exercise element to Nordic skiing and snowshoeing is really a lifesaver in the winter,” Stirratt says. “It does so much for your health and makes you feel better about getting cozy later in the day.” The preserve also offers five overnight rentals — four cabins and a yurt — available year-round. “You can spend the night and just take everything in,” Stirratt says. “It’s so beautifully maintained, but also down-to-earth. It feels like this complete Scandinavian adventure. Definitely a happy place for me.”

Headshot via Shutterstock