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Charlie Parr At Higher Ground

Doug Collette By

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Charlie Parr
Higher Ground Showcase Lounge
South Burlington, VT
October 3, 2019

Assuming the stage alone and without any introduction, beginning almost surreptitiously with "CC Rider," Charlie Parr quieted the noisy crowd in this venue's smaller room within roughly sixty seconds. He faced similar challenges throughout his roughly ninety-minutes in a Showcase Lounge filled with Thursday night early weekend rabble, but the Minnesota bluesman acquitted himself in high style before the evening was through.

Parr planed through his single set in a somewhat different manner than his previous appearances at this venue the last couple years. Perhaps the unfortunate shoulder injury to which he alluded at one point has shaken something loose in him: he didn't seem to need to warm up early in the performance. Instead, he hit the ground running, maintaining a measured pace within which the material he chose was of a piece with his between-song repartee. After twenty years of performing, Charlie's clearly developed sufficient courage and confidence not to allow the wavering attention span of the attendees to throw him off his game, much less dictate the course of his show(s).

Once he started, he hardly stopped. When conversations threatened to drown out his own self-effacing witticisms, he proffered tunes like "Mag Wheels" to directly (if via insinuating fashion) confront the audience at large. Parr rightly trusted the fine details of such songs as that and "Cheap Wine" would hit home with those who became rapt as they crowded the stage and, in short order, perhaps even permeate the consciousnesses of those further back. And following his preference to construct his sets in an impromptu fashion, his instincts proved true; hard as it may have been to discern at time, his hold on his listeners was turning more sure with each passing selection.

And sure enough, when he whispered of the image detailing the haze in "To A Scrapyard Bus Stop," the floor was as quiet as the sound of snow falling. The subdued atmosphere wasn't to last long, but indicative of Charlie's easygoing demeanor, he didn't so much become frustrated, but simply distract from it as he switched back and forth between what he called his heavier and lighter guitars. Rather than seeming to become possessed in performance, as in concerts here the past two years, Parr was the definition of self-possessed in both his singing and his playing.

This cool, wet autumn night, Charlie Parr radiated the self-assurance of a man and a musician who knows how to navigate challenges far more serious than the comical one he recounted about getting his old gas grill into the neighbor's dumpster. Or "On Stealing A Sailboat" for that matter: the European crowd he mentioned may have hated it, but the one in the Green Mountains loved it with a passion (whether or not lubricated just enough to yell and applaud at the right moments).

This deceptively frail fifty-two years has a right to trusting at least a few seeds of his singular approach will take root this fall of 2019. Charlie Parr continues to play this smaller of the two Higher Ground rooms, but crowds are growing incrementally, if not by leaps and bounds and while their responses this evening were occasionally off the mark—the festival mentality whereby performances are merely background is now a common occurrence even at such otherwise intimate shows—the ones coming near the end were largely honest and hearty.

Almost as much so as the artist's own offerings. Fellow "Spider john Koerner's "Running Jumping Standing Still" served as a springboard to an even more frenzied "Jubilee," and if it seemed Parr was only doling out what the people wanted, that is, an extra tune the house wasn't likely to forbid (though Charlie asked!?), he then brought virtually all of them up short with "Ain't No Grave:" his stirring a cappella rendition of the defiant traditional gave those remaining at least a split-second of pause before an explosion of acclaim Charlie smilingly ) accepted....and deserved.
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