With nearly every inch of the Cedar Cultural Center occupied by either a standing or seated body, the Charlie Parr CD-release show did much to combat the plummeting temperatures and howling winds outside. The Cedar has always had sort of a church basement vibe, and that feeling was magnified tenfold on Saturday night as Parr and a group of fellow Duluth-based folk musicians tried their hands at a set of gospel music in honor of his new cover album Keep Your Hands on the Plow.
“I’m going to play a few more, and then you don’t have to get up for church tomorrow morning,” Parr joked. “Let me know if you need a note.”
Parr’s set started out sweetly with just him and his wife, Emily, singing a few duets and bantering back and forth, Emily rolling her eyes and needling her husband every time he took too long to tune or forgot which guitar he needed. “It’s like being at our house, isn’t it?” Charlie laughed, and their hilarious exchanges indeed kept the packed room rapt between songs and created a sense of intimacy. After a few songs together Emily and Charlie welcomed Brandy Forsman and Tom Maloney of openers Four Mile Portage to the stage, and their banjo and fiddle helped to pick up the pace and move the set into more foot-stomping territory.
Part of the crowd had clearly come to the show for a traditional Charlie Parr experience, and the band made the wait through the slower songs worth it as they strummed away on more upbeat songs like “Jesus Met the Woman at the Well” and “Jesus is on the Main Line (Tell Him What You Want),” which ended with one particularly eager dancer extracting himself on the crowd to shuffle away on the edge of the stage.
Toward the end of the set Parr invited another Duluthian, Dave Simonett of Trampled by Turtles and Dead Man Winter, to play acoustic guitar and add another layer of harmonies, and the five musicians blended together powerfully, especially on the bright melodies of trad standard “I’ll Fly Away.” Stomping set closer “Ain’t My Grave (Gonna Hold My Body Down)” got the crowd so worked up that they stayed on their feet while Parr and his bandmates filed off stage, and he had no choice but to return for more. With his set list spent, Parr re-emerged solo to play a pair of original tunes, “Mastodon” and “1922,” and the audience was still so amped from the energy of the night that several dancers crashed the stage and swarmed behind Parr as he played.
Prior to Parr’s set, Simonett warmed the crowd with a selection of songs from both of his bands as well as a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Buckskin Stallion Blues,” ending with the Trampled by Turtles hit “Victory.” Backed only by pedal steel and guitar player Erik Koskinen, Simonett marveled at the appreciative audience, who hung on his every note. “I can’t speak for the other acts playing tonight, but I’m used to a much more disrespectful crowd,” he laughed. His set was followed by a short performance from Four Mile Portage, who made up for their lack of polish with plenty of charm, playing a few Martha Scanlon covers, a few originals, and even a cover of one more Duluth act, Low.
When I Get Home I’m Gonna Be Satisfied
Daniel in the Lion’s Den
Walk Around My Bedside
Jesus Met the Woman at the Well
All the Good Times are Past and Gone
Blessed Be the Name of the Lord
Jesus on the Main Line (Tell Him What You Want)
God Moves on the Water
They Hung Him on a Cross
Let Your Light Shine On Me
I’ll Fly Away
If I Had My Way
Ain’t No Grave (Gonna Hold My Body Down)