I’m very nearly finished with my whirlwind month of long car rides that end either in beautiful locales or at the foot of a concert stage. I’m tired, I haven’t really known what day of the week it is since mid-July, and my house desperately needs to be cleaned. But despite all that, I don’t want it to be over. I’ve had so much fun, met so many great people, and have so many stories to tell. I’d thought that I’d recount them chronologically but the one I really want to tell right now is the one that happened the most recently.
Now that I’ve had a year to reflect on it, that trip I made to western Massachusetts for the inaugural Amourasaurus festival ended up being pretty damned meaningful. There was no indication of its importance at the time, of course. All I’d intended was to celebrate my birthday by following my favorite band around for a few days. But in addition to the chance meeting with a stranger I had that day, I also found another group of guys whose ability to convey incredible depth of emotion in a three-minute song left a lasting impression on me.
The only band I really knew out of the five on the bill for that festival was the one I’d driven seven hours to see – JD McPherson. I’d heard of Lake Street Dive, the headliners, but can’t say that I’d really listened to them. The three openers were completely new to me; they were all local acts. The first, a group called Winterpills, was a mellow start to the day, the soundtrack to lazing on the soft green lawn under the summer sun. The second, a trio of incredibly talented girls called And The Kids, woke everyone from their somnolence and made them stand up and pay attention. But the third act turned the crowd into a screaming, clapping, foot-stomping mob. I can remember turning to the new friend I’d made that day and asking, “Who are they??” Turned out, their name is Parsonsfield.
Based on the mix of instruments on the stage, I’d figured I was in for your standard folk act – there was a banjo, a few guitars, a mandolin. The upright bass was the prettiest I’d ever seen and the pump organ looked like it had been salvaged from an antique store. But when those guys started playing those instruments, I remember scrambling to my feet, my jaw hanging open. They were good. No, they were more than good – they were amazing. They played with such exuberance, such joie de vivre. Head-banging with acoustic guitars?? What on earth was I witnessing here?? The music was anything but standard, an amalgamation of folk and bluegrass and rock ‘n’roll that’s impossible to define and perfectly unique. And that’s not even mentioning their aesthetic – it seems to be a band requirement to have either a glorious mane of hair or an equally glorious full beard (or both). I’d never seen or heard anything like them before, and before I knew it, I was dancing and clapping and singing along (despite not knowing a single word of any of the songs), completely swept up in their force of their performance. After their set, I made a beeline for their merchandise table and bought both of their albums (a full-length release and an EP of mostly covers) and have kept them in fairly constant rotation ever since.
Unfortunately, until this past weekend, that was the last time I’d seen them live, despite them coming fairly close several times on their near-constant touring cycle. And in the interim, they had a surge in popularity thanks to one of their songs being featured prominently in everyone’s favorite zombie TV show, “The Walking Dead”.
After missing a springtime show in Philly and really regretting it, I told myself that, even if it meant completely upending my schedule, I was going to see them the next time they were in the area . As it turned out, I didn’t need to go to such extremes – they played this past Saturday less than an hour from my home and the same distance from my parents’ home on Sunday. In the interest of making up for lost time, I decided that I’d go to both.
I knew the Saturday show was going to be special – it was a home concert. I’d never been to one before and was psyched, especially since the home in question is in a particularly beautiful area of southern Pennsylvania. Of course, it ended up being one of the hottest days of the summer, so rather than risk being caught outside in a thunderstorm, the host relocated the event to a restored barn not far from the original site. And if there was ever a more perfect venue for this band to play, I couldn’t imagine it.
It’s safe to say that I’ve never been to a more relaxed show in my life…it was like being at a private concert for a group of friends. Of course, that’s essentially what it was. There were quite a few locals and friends and family members of the host in the audience, but they all went out of their way to make the rest of us comfortable. There was a potluck meal and plenty of cold beer and frozen drinks for everyone, which was much needed considering that the temperature in the barn had to have been close to 100 degrees. The show hadn’t even started and we were all drenched in sweat, despite several industrial-sized fans churning the air. But I don’t think anyone even noticed once the guys started playing.
They were just as good as I’d remembered. They blew a breaker at one point (which actually created the perfect segue into an unplugged segment) and had an intermission so they could change out of their sweat-soaked shirts, but it all added to the spontaneity of the evening. I think, because it was just so hot, people were less inclined to move around, but there were a few pockets of guests (including yours truly) who didn’t bother to sit because we knew we wouldn’t be able to stay that way. And sure enough, with only a couple songs left in the set, a few exuberant fans just couldn’t contain themselves anymore and rushed into the empty space in front of the stage area to dance. That was when the lid blew off the place. It was amazing to see the band feed off the energy of the audience and to see that they were having just as much fun as us. It was a special, unforgettable night. I didn’t want it to end.
But I got to do it again the next day.
Another different and memorable setting, this one was a pop-up venue-slash-art gallery called the Listening Room. So in addition to the guys, we also got to hear from the local artist whose painting were on display as well as a local seventeen-year-old singer-songwriter named Rose. Folks brought picnic lunches and bottles of wine and sat back, waiting to be entertained. I’m not going to lie, even though it was expected of us, it was difficult to stay seated during their set. I probably annoyed the couple sitting behind me with my chair-dancing. But I’m amazed the entire room didn’t collectively break the rules and get to their feet – they exploded in applause and whistles and screams in between every song, and gave them a standing ovation at the end of the set.
Unbeknownst to me at the time (and that’s probably a good thing, since I’m sure I would have clammed right up had I known), I chatted with world-renowned gig photographer and filmmaker Danny Clinch for a minute after the show and he nodded with approval when I said that Parsonsfield is one of a small handful of bands that I’m willing to travel to see. Because I just can’t wait that long for them to come back around again. Their music gets under your skin…you begin to crave it. It speaks of the lovely and the forlorn; of lazy country nights and lonely wandering roads, of love lost and found. And as dear as their first album is to me, based on what I heard this weekend, I have a feeling I’m going to love the new one even more. September has never seemed so far away.
Parsonsfield are Chris Freeman, Max Shakun, Antonio Alcorn, Harrison Goodale and Erik Hischmann. Their new album, Blooming Through the Black, drops on September 9th – get it!!