Parsonsfield enjoys performing music on its own terms
The band has done musicals, films and live concerts
August 8, 2017
Parsonsfield, who will play the St. Regis Big Starts, Bright Nights concert at Deer Valley on Saturday, started in a folk-music club at the University of Connecticut.
Singer and banjo player Chris Freeman met mandolinist Antonio Alcorn during one of the meetings.
"There were 10 or 11 people who would come to the club," Freeman told The Park Record during a phone interview from somewhere on the road in Ohio. "We would meet and jam once a week on folk songs and we did that for two and a half years, until one or my friends mistook us for a real band."
The friends asked if the band could open a show at one of Connecticut’s hot spots, Toad’s Place.
"It was a legendary place and we wanted to play there, so we didn’t tell him we were just a music club," Freeman said with a laugh.
After that first show, which was comprised of traditional folk tunes, Parsonsfield
played around campus and did small gigs around Connecticut.
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"Five years ago, we narrowed the lineup into our regular touring crew," Freeman said.
The band’s lineup today features guitarist Max Shakun, bassist Harrison Goodale, mandolinist Antonio Alcorn and drummer Erik Hischmann, and Freeman said they have learned a lot in the past half decade.
"We’ve been figuring out how to tour and how to make a living, but what we really have found (is) that it’s all about getting into a routine about not having a routine," he said with a laugh. "While we are running a small business and dealing with personnel issues, we’ve learned what an agent does. We’ve learned what a manager does, and we’ve learned how to write songs: create something from nothing that becomes meaningful to people."
Freeman sees the band’s ultimate job is to lead a party and have fun.
"You can’t complain about anything really, especially when we get to go to Park City and see this incredible town that I haven’t played before," he said. "It’s unbelievable to me."
Parsonsfield is touring in support of its most recent album "Blooming Through the Black," which was released in late 2016.
"Blooming Through the Black" is the follow-up to the band’s 2013 full-length album "Poor Old Shine."
"The name of the album and the songs’ subject matter came from our first tour of the West two years ago," Freeman said. "We played some festivals in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and Montana."
The tour was the first time the band had left the comforts of the Northeast.
"While driving across the country, we saw these totally different landscapes," Freeman said. "Being New Englanders, we never thought about these places before."
The band also learned just how different the rest of the country was, especially when it came to people.
"We saw how isolated some of the people were who lived in Montana," Freeman said. "We saw how that isolation provided different experiences and affected their views on things. We saw all of this in a very visceral and tangible way."
The song ‘Barbed Wire’ was written about living through the 2016 election, while visiting Montana.
"We saw a lot of places," Freeman said. "We saw a lot of Trump signs. We saw a lot of Hillary signs."
Parsonsfield recorded the album with producer Sam Kassier.
"Sam, who is an incredible piano player and has a great knowledge of theory, worked on our first record and has an understanding of who we are as a band and where we want to go," Freeman said. "For this record, he nurtured the new ideas we had and helped us make the album a part of our story."
As far as that story goes, Parsonsfield already has a few meaty chapters under its belt.
The group wrote and performed an original soundtrack to a live musical theater production called "The Heart of Robin Hood" that toured Cambridge, Winnipeg and Toronto in 2014 and 2015.
In addition, the band’s song "Weeds of Wildflowers" was featured on AMC"s "The Walking Dead" in 2016.
Later that year, Parsonsfield wrote and performed an original score for the 1922 silent documentary, "Nanook of the North."
"That was commissioned by a nonprofit foundation called FreshGrass that runs a film festival at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MOCA)," Freeman said. "As part of the festival, they hold a silent-film composition segment, and we wanted to do this because of our experience with the musical theater.
"We wanted to show that we can be part of something bigger. It was fun for us and we hope to do more of that in the future."
The Park City Institute will present Parsonsfield, Laney Jones and The Spirits and Jeffrey Foucault at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 12, at Deer Valley's Snow Park Amphitheater. Tickets range from $44 to $79 and can be purchased by visiting http://www.bigstarsbrightnightsconcerts.org.
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