It wouldn’t quite be Arts Fest without a fast-rising, roots-based band coming to serenade the sun-drenched crowds absorbing the culture in downtown State College. Parsonsfield is the ideal act to carry on this proud central Pennsylvanian tradition as they take the stage July 10 at The State Theatre with their Americana musical approach and energetic live show.
“We just played Smoked Country Jam, which isn’t too far away from State College, so we’re really excited to get back to the area,” said Chris Freeman, who is the band’s vocalist and banjo player. “It’s always so much fun to play live and we try to take advantage of it every time we can. We’re going to do our best to bring it.”
After changing the band’s name from Poor Old Shine last summer, the quintet from Connecticut used the alteration as a fitting excuse to forge new ground.
“We are working on all new material right now for this new album that we’re recording,” Freeman said. “We have been experimenting with a lot of our sounds and expanding our repertoire. We’re not really being stuck to just bluegrass instrumentation at all, which is kind of what we were only doing under our old name. We’re using our old instruments in new ways and trying to make sounds that aren’t tied to your typical acoustic instrument.”
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What’s maybe most interesting about Parsonsfield is that in addition to their music being pure, organic and free of frills, their formation followed the same path that has come to define them.
“We started the band in college and we played some bluegrass songs, traditional American folk songs and some Irish songs and English ballads, so it was a real combination of those genres,” Freeman said. “Then when we started playing together as a band, it just felt natural because it was something that all of us were already doing anyway.”
In the past decade or so, there seems to have been an influx of folk-and-blues inspired music creeping its way into the mainstream. With bands like The Lumineers and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros crossing over with their “heys” and “hos,” the time couldn’t be more perfect for Parsonsfield to make a solid name for themselves with their well-worn, but immaculately tailored music.
“I think that people are wanting to move away from a lot of the electronic music that’s out there,” Freeman said. “I also think that there is this innate thing that people have from the time when they were growing up where they hear traditional sounds, like our rootsy music, and it just really hits home. It’s really accessible music and that’s why I fell in love with it and continue to be in love with it.”
While the rise in popularity of this sort of music has been an obvious plus for the band, Parsonsfield has gone out of their way to make sure that their sound doesn’t become too generic. With each passing album and tour, their writing has naturally matured and can withstand any thoughtless and lazy comparisons to their peers.
“There is no question that we have been influenced by a lot of our contemporaries and most bands usually start out trying to be something that they’re not,” Freeman said. “The five of us in the band are all bringing in these different influences, which is only helping us move further and further into our own sound. We can go in any direction and we’re trying to embrace that more and more as we go along.”
Like any respectable musical act, Parsonsfield is able to back up their music with a fantastic live show. The band members pride themselves on being able to connect with the crowd and seeing them in concert truly showcases their incredible talents in the most impressive way.
“Whenever we perform, I try to put every single ounce of energy that I have onto that stage,” Freeman said. “It’s a time to let loose and we all feed off of each other and try to be as energetic as possible. We play every song like it’s the last one that we’re ever going to play. Our shows are very musically dramatic and a lot of fun.”