by Carole Verona
If you’ve ever read articles and reviews about Parsonsfield, you’ll find the band’s sound described as bluegrass, rock, Celtic rhythms, acoustic folk, punk energy, and pop. So, how does Chris Freeman, one of the band’s founders, describe what the Pastorius Park audience will hear and see?
“I would describe Parsonsfield as Americana folk rock,” he said. “It’s like old music with a new spirit. We are influenced by old songs but we write new songs that sound like old songs. We’re from today and we’re ourselves. We’re influenced by everything around us. We bring a lot of energy to our shows.”
Parsonsfield will perform for the first time at Pastorius Park at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 19. Once again, the free Pastorius Park series is produced by the Chestnut Hill Community Association and is sponsored by Chestnut Hill Hospital. The Parsonsfield performance is sponsored by Weavers Way.
The members of Parsonsfield, based in western Massachusetts, are looking forward to returning to Chestnut Hill. The last time they were in Philadelphia, performing at World Café Live, they took a jaunt through the neighborhood, led by their drummer Erik Hischmann, who lived in Chestnut Hill for a little while.
In addition to Hischmann, members of the band are Harrison “Whale” Goodale, bass; Antonio Alcorn, mandolin and banjo; Max Shakun, pump organ, electric guitar, accordion; and Chris Freeman, banjo, guitar, keys, accordion, and saw. The group is known for its spot-on five-part vocal harmonies.
The band members met while they were students at the University of Connecticut. When they finished school, they just continued with what they were doing. They gathered at a folk music club once a week and played old-time music, mostly Irish, bluegrass, and folk songs. They were asked to play a show at Toad’s place in New Haven, Conn. They weren’t really an established band at the time, but rather than correcting the owners, they went and played.
“It was me and Antonio,”Freeman said. “We loved it and decided that we wanted to keep going and just started to form a band slowly. They were later joined by Max, Harrison and – last but not least – Erik. They have been together for five years.
Freeman describes their songwriting process as a long one.
“Everybody contributes,” he said. “It’s really about someone bringing in the skeleton of a song. Then we flesh it out together. The process could be based on instrumentation or lyrics. There’s no formula on how it works.
“Sometimes it’s a guitar lick that ends up making a song. Or somebody wrote a song that isn’t really working until an instrumental piece comes in and ties it together. Then it all works out. At other times, it’s like a written-out poem that’s set to music. Often, by the time we finish a song we can’t even remember the genesis of it!”
Parsonsfield has two full-length albums: “Blooming Through the Black” (2016) and “Poor Old Shine” (2013), and one EP, “Afterparty” (2014).
“Blooming Through the Black” was inspired by a trek through Hell Canyon in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
“The area had been decimated by fire and we were witnessing the regrowth of this forest out of the ashes,” Freeman said.
In a way, the album title is a metaphor for life.
“You have to break through from stuff in order to grow,” he added. “You gotta get a little space,”
In 2015, producers of the play “The Heart of Robin Hood” asked the band to compose original music for a new production.
“Our first record somehow got passed along to the Broadway producers who put on the show,” Freeman said. “They liked it and wanted to try something different. The day our first album came out was our first day of rehearsals for the play, so we canceled our tour and jumped on board.
“There were a few songs we had already written that we adapted to the show. At other times, they would tell us to write a song about some concept and come back with a version of it the next day. That was interesting to be writing during the rehearsal process and to be adding into a show that was not quite complete. That was fun and exhilarating and kind of scary but it was cool.”
Band members appeared and performed as themselves on stage, doing eight shows a week for a total of 300 performances at The Royal Alexander Theater in Toronto, the Royal Manitoba Theatre in Winnipeg, and the American Repertory Theater in Boston.
For more information about Parsonsfield and to listen to its music, go to http://www.parsonsfield.com or follow the band on Instagram and Facebook.
Pastorius Park is two blocks west of Germantown Avenue at the corner of Millman Street and Hartwell Lane. Rain venue is the lower auditorium at SCHA Cherokee Campus. More information about the concert series is at www.chestnuthill.org or call 215-248-8810.