Parsonsfield is a five-piece alt/folk band from Northampton, MA that infuses a rowdy, rock-’n’-roll spirit into its bluegrass and folk influences, blowing away any preconception of what you think banjos and mandolins should sound like.
Parsonsfield—Chris Freeman (vocals, banjo), Antonio Alcorn (mandolin), Max Shakun (vocals, pump organ, guitar), Harrison Goodale (bass), Erik Hischmann (drums)— has toured steadily since their debut in 2010. In 2013 they recorded their debut album Poor Old Shine(Signature Sounds Recordings), produced by Sam Kassirer (Josh Ritter, Lake Street Dive). The critics were impressed, with David Vescey from the New York Times noting, “I fully expect to hear more from this band as the years go on” and the U.K.’s Maverick Magazine calling it “A blistering energetic debut.” During the winter of 2013–14 the band wrote and performed an original score in the acclaimed production of The Heart of Robin Hood at Harvard’s American Repertory Theater, and they will continue the production for a four-month Broadway tryout in Canada in winter 2014–15.
They weren’t always called Parsonsfield (the band started out as Poor Old Shine, but changed in July 2014). The new name was born of the inspired experiences recording two albums in beautiful, rural Parsonsfield, Maine, at Great North Sound Society, Kassirer’s farmhouse studio/retreat. It was there they met current drummer Hischmann, who was working as Kassirer’s assistant engineer.
“We owe a lot to what happened there,” said Freeman of their time at Great North. “Our sound really changed when Erik joined … it pulled us from being a more traditional string band to something that felt much more uniquely ourselves. It made us the band we are today.” As for the name change, it was certainly unusual—and a difficult decision (they learned that, to some, their old name carried an association with an antiquated derogatory expression). But it also sparked an unexpected creative musical leap.
“It gives us more freedom to explore different genres and styles without having the burden of expectation,” says Freeman of the change. “Many people thought Poor Old Shine was a reference to moonshine, and thus assumed we were an Appalachian or bluegrass band. It’s an opportunity to explore our own music with greater clarity.”
Afterparty, their latest EP (also produced by Kassirer and released on Signature Sounds), does just that. Its six songs, five covers and an original, crackle with that newfound clarity. Among the covers is an accordiondrenched take on Mississippi John Hurt’s “Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me”; “Strollin’ Down The Highway”, a funked-up Bert Jansch cover kicked into gear by drums, bass and banjo; a version of Huey Lewis and the News’ “The Power of Love” like you’ve never heard before; and “Hang Me”, a punk-grass take on the traditional song made famous by Dave Van Ronk and the Grateful Dead. The original, “ Anita, Your Lovin'”, is an ode to a love that left for Providence, Rhode Island, sounding like a ’50s boy group at a front porch sing-a-long.
Parsonsfield has certainly traveled many miles since their early days of making handmade CD packaging from old cereal boxes, to currently wowing crowds at prestigious festivals including Edmonton, Ottawa, and Philadelphia Folk. The band formed at the University of Connecticut, where agriculture student Freeman met paper artist Alcorn in a folk music club on campus. An early version of the band landed its first gig by accident. The folk music club was mistaken for a band, and asked to open for friends at the legendary Toad’s Place in New Haven, CT in 2010. With the addition of Shakun and Goodale, the band began writing music influenced by old American songs, and bands spanning The Carter Family to the Avett Brothers. They also began adding unconventional and sometimes homemade instruments to their stage arsenal (electric fan, gourd piano, salt shaker, saw, and bike wheel, to name a few). The band cemented its lineup by adding Hischmann in 2013 when they recorded their first album in Parsonsfield, Maine.
“The last few years feel very surreal and it’s hard to imagine what’ll come next,” says Freeman. “We’re just really excited with the opportunities we’ve had and the people we’ve gotten to meet. We just want to keep living this dream.” Parsonsfield will be releasing their next full length album in the fall of 2016.
- When: Saturday, August 6th
- Time: 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.
- Location: Belmont Abbey College Island
- Cost: Free and open to the public
- Weather: This event will proceed rain or shine