With eyes closed tight, I swing with all my might

The last time these guys made an appearance in my blog, they kind of got the short shrift. They closed out a busy two weeks of traversing the east coast and, in much the same way I collapsed, exhausted, on the couch when I finally got home, I lost all momentum in writing my recap. And the end of 2016 was so tumultuous, I even forgot to mention one of their performances altogether. I feel awful about that not just because the show was pretty great (it was), but because these guys have actually become more important to me than all of the other bands and artists I’ve written about.

Parsonsfield, Boot and Saddle, Philly, May 2017

You know the story of how I came to discover Parsonsfield, the insanely talented group of guys (Max, Chris, Antonio, Harrison, Erik and Dave) who play the most unique, dynamic brand of folk music I’ve ever heard. You know that I planned an entire week-long vacation last fall around their hometown shows in Connecticut and Massachusetts. But what you don’t know is that that trip was also a bit of a reconnaissance mission. At the time, there was a chance that I would begin working with them.

Let me explain. Almost immediately after seeing them locally one weekend in August, I spotted a post on Twitter from No Depression magazine (a publication that focuses on roots music – folk, Americana, bluegrass, etc) announcing their inaugural fellowship. The fellow would have a year to write about a topic of their choice relating to roots music, with essays published in the magazine in quarterly installments. Anyone could apply – you could be an established author or you could be a fledgling writer trying to get a foot in the door. I was instantly excited at the prospect. Maybe it was because I’d just seen them, but when I thought about potential subjects, the first to come to mind was Parsonsfield. They had released their excellent second album, Blooming Through the Black, and were in the midst of a heavy touring cycle. How interesting would it be to chronicle their experiences, a young band on the verge of exploding onto the public consciousness? It’s something I would want to read myself; surely others would too. After a bit of vacillating and bouncing ideas off my husband, I decided that I’d go for it.

Good advice

BUT…I had yet to say anything to the band. The whole thing was contingent on their approval – it could be dead in the water if they thought the project, having someone follow them for an entire year, too intrusive. Mustering the courage to send them that initial email was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. By proposing my idea, I was committing fully. But with the above quote, which hangs over my desk, fully in mind, I clicked “send”…and got a response from their manager, Sue, not long after. In it, she said that the guys had a couple of questions and asked if she and I could chat. I had been preparing myself to hear a flat-out “no” and had a hard time believing that they were actually entertaining the thought. And when I finally talked to Sue and said that their biggest concern was the logistics of me going on tour with them, their van being the musicians’ equivalent of a clown car, packed to the brim and unable to take on another passenger, I almost couldn’t believe it. THAT was their biggest worry? Not the possibility of me epicly f*cking up the whole project? I reassured her that transportation was no problem and that I’d both shuttle myself to and fro and take care of my own accommodations. And that was that – I had the go-ahead from the band. I didn’t have time to stay shocked though – I had to get to work.

The weeks that followed were some of the most stressful and invigorating of my life. It was pretty late in the going when I first saw the fellowship announcement, and by the time the band, their management, and I had our conversation, I only had two weeks before the deadline. I needed to come up with seven documents, essays showcasing my writing, that would comprise the application. Now, I know my blog was never meant to be strictly about music, but I don’t think I’ve ever been so damned glad that I’ve spent so much time writing about it. I was able to take a few of my best posts and use them as the basis for my samples. After calling in a few favors for two of the best recommendations I’ve ever gotten (I’m so indebted to you, Rich and Karen), I was able to put together a portfolio that I was, and am still, very proud of. I have no credentials, no history – I only have passion and a modicum of talent. That I was able to scrape together something that good entirely from those two things is what lets me hold my head high, despite the fact that I wasn’t awarded the fellowship.

It wasn’t terribly shocking that I didn’t get it once I found that I was up against published authors and journalists (the winner has written two books and dozens, if not hundreds, of essays and articles for some massively huge publications, so of course they weren’t going to pick someone like me over her). But, after an agonizing wait to hear the verdict, my disappointment was all-consuming. I was crushed. It didn’t help that, at the time, things were going very badly at my day job and I saw the fellowship as my one avenue out of those circumstances and into something fulfilling and worthwhile. I see now that that wasn’t the case, and even though it didn’t pan out, good things have come from it.

I can’t emphasize enough how much it means that the guys were willing to work with me on this project. I essentially was, and still am, an unblooded writer, with nothing but a few half-decent blog posts about my favorite musicians under my belt. That they believed in my untested abilities and were willing to stake so much, their reputations and burgeoning success, on so little is quite possibly the best compliment about my writing I’ve ever received. And what’s more, at this point, I think it’s safe to say that we’re friends. Those shows in Connecticut and Massachusetts that I mentioned earlier actually occurred at the end of the application period (and one of the performances was at the Fresh Grass Festival, which is hosted in part by No Depression – hence my recon work). So I ventured up I-95, Mom coming along with me, expecting to give the guys the scoop on how my application turned out. What I wasn’t expecting was to be greeted with open arms by their families as well. While waiting for the first show of a double-header in Willimantic, CT, to start, I was approached by a man who asked if I was the Colleen who had the blog. I answered in the affirmative and was thus introduced to Antonio’s dad, who told me that they (meaning the parents and families of all the guys) had loved my initial post about Parsonsfield and were all rooting for me to get the fellowship. He then introduced me to the parents of most of the other band members, all of whom welcomed me warmly and had the nicest things to say about my writing and the project I’d hoped to start. Knowing that I had the full support of everyone affiliated with the band is one of the most touching things I’ve ever encountered. Recalling it right now, I have tears in my eyes, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart, especially Mr. Alcorn, for bringing me into the fold.

The holiday acoustic show, York, PA, December 2016

So if you were wondering why I drop everything to see them when they’re in town or why I’m willing to trek up to New England to see them, that’s why. Those Willimantic shows were the stuff of legend, and their holiday show at the beginning of December (the one I neglected to mention) in my almost-hometown of York was the highlight of a frantic, fraught month. And last night, after a six month absence, I got to see them in Philly again. So many of us who had been at the infamous barn show in August were there and it was the most joyous, raucous sort of reunion. The set was far too short (although they could play for three straight hours and it still wouldn’t be enough), but even though some favorites were omitted (“Water Through a Mill”?? “Anita”??), I got to hear others that I hadn’t heard in a while (“Footsteps in My Ear”! “Columbus Stockade Blues”!). At some point during the night, it occurred to me that, had I been granted the fellowship, I would have been there working, maybe scribbling in a notepad or talking to other fans or helping lug in their ridiculous amount of gear. And I was wistful with “what ifs.” But who knows – maybe one day I’ll get to work with them in some capacity. For now though, the music and the friendship is enough.

@ Boot and Saddle

3 thoughts on “With eyes closed tight, I swing with all my might

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