Every Spotify user has those one or two bands/artists on their top-played lists that they stumbled upon somehow, not really sure how, and you don’t know if they still exist, if they’re something that happened a few years ago, if anybody else has ever heard of them, or if those 25,000 listens to their top song is mostly just you. None of your friends have ever heard of them, nor do they really ‘get it’ when you force them to listen.
For us, 2 of those acts are Charlie Parr, a picker of the Piedmont Blues from Minnesota; and The Ghost of Paul Revere (GoPR), a harmony-driven pop-bluegrass ensemble from Portland, Maine.
Both sides of the duo have been on the verge of making it big. Parr’s song 1922 was used in a television commercial for Vodafone in Australia, and has had music featured on a few movies and TV shows. GoPR appeared on Conan on TBS in January of 2018 as the musical guest – after releasing 4 albums.
Charlie in particular has been a bit of a White Whale for us. We’ve been to his usual haunts and touring grounds of Minnesota and Wisconsin half-a-dozen times since we found him, and every time we were there, he was somewhere else. When we left on this trip, we committed that we would find a way to cross paths with him somewhere (which we figured might not come until our current end-point of Minneapolis next summer). But, checking in on his schedule every once in a while, we noticed he would be in Pittsburgh, of all places, while we were here, and…he’d be playing with The Ghost of Paul Revere!
It’s like when you have two friends who are already friends, and it validates everything you’ve done in life.
For those who attended our wedding, Charlie is a lot like Jaik Willis, who played there (Jaik and Charlie know each other, play a lot of the same circuit). Charlie is an unbelievable song-writer, an effortless instrumentalist, and a voice that you won’t be able to get out of your head once it’s there. At 51-years old, he’s been doing this for a long time, and it shows in his deft lyrics.
The Ghost of Paul Revere is like Avett Brothers before the Avett Brothers dropped the banjo (bad move), and, in my opinion, with better songs.
On Thursday, we went to see the two (for only $15!) at a small music club, mostly standing-room-only, called Club Cafe on the South Side here in Pittsburgh. Charlie was the opening act, and had a friend with him on stage.
He was at the merchandise table pre-show, and we walked up and said hello, got a shirt, got him to autograph the shirt…twice. He was exactly who I thought he’d be after reading his Facebook page and Instagram for so long.
Me: “Charlie, we’ve been chasing you for years trying to catch a show, big fans.”
Charlie: “Oh…then I guess I’ll try to play good tonight.”
So Charlie goes first, and the thing about Charlie is that a lot of his songs are recorded on first-or-second take. So, seeing him live, unsurprisingly, a lot of them were different. I loved some of the changes, some of the changes I liked the recorded version better. But all were well-performed, and that’s what’s so cool about him. He wrote a really profound Facebook post a few years back about how he used to be anti-YouTube, and then he stopped and thought about it, and what he realized is that YouTube was the best thing that had happened to Folk music in 70 years since records dominated became music’s dominant force. What YouTube allowed for was different artists to take songs and put their own spins and twists on it, which is a crucial piece of the Folk music movement. Once a record is laid, that’s what the song sounds like, and people really learn one exact version of the song, one set of intonations, one cadence, one rhythm, and the music doesn’t evolve.
Hadn’t heard this one before, and it really spoke to me. We often treat each other better after we’ve died than when we’re alive. “When I go down that funeral road, there’s gonna be followers everywhere. All my friends are gonna send some just to show each other how much they care. I ain’t dead yet, let me see them flowers right now. Ya know I sure can’t smell ’em locked in that box underneath the ground.”
So that’s what Charlie’s about. And it was awesome. His live version of Cheap Wine was way better, in my opinion, than the one on his album. He played most of my favorites, some I’d never heard before, but missed out on the soul-pounding Ain’t No Grave, but that’s ok.
And people were singing along! We’re not the only ones who know Charlie, who love Charlie! We’re not even the only ones in Pittsburgh right now! We found our people!
And then The Ghost of Paul Revere went up on stage, and, SURPRISE, they were no longer a trio, and are now touring as a quartet with pianist and accordionist (and many other thingsist) Ben Cosgrove, who is a world-class instrumentalist. He’s a bit of an odd duck, but the Harvard grad tours the country and writes music about landscapes. At one point he made the comment about how half the room being sitting and half the room being standing made an interesting topography, and the other members of the band were joking about how he writes songs about landscapes, and…it turns out…he really does.
So, out with the harmonica, in with keyboard and accordion, phenomenal addition.
The music was full of harmonies, banjos, strummed guitars, slapped guitars, and fun. Those guys play HARD, and as much as we fell in love with them on Spotify, seeing them live wasn’t even a comparison. They were incredible.
In between songs, The Ghost of Paul Revere was talking about touring with Charlie and how great it is, and how he really pushed them to reimagine old songs, to take risks on playing new songs. They wound up playing a couple of brand new songs, a couple of versions of old songs that were totally different, and one called Dirigo (the state motto of Maine) that had never been played before in front of anyone but themselves, ever. When that song goes big-time, we can say we were there, at Club Cafe, in Pittsburgh, the first time it was ever played in front of anyone.
And the coolest part is that they’re all just dudes. You can talk to them before or after the show. They’ll stop and have a drink with you before they go on stage or after they come off stage. The only access to the stage was through the crowd, so you’re literally rubbing shoulders with these musicians that you’ve known just through their voices and their social media accounts for so long.
This is how we love to travel – the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty don’t really do it for us. We chase a unique experience that intrigues us, that hooks into your mind’s eye and won’t let go.
So, I guess the takeaway is that if you have one of those bands, pull up their tour schedule, find them, and go see them. It’s totally worth it, it’s a whole different experience than seeing the mega-concerts in the basketball arenas. where they’re lip-syncing to the same version of the song you’ve heard 6000 times on Top 40. You never know when you’ll hear a first, a new, something you’ve never experienced before, and that makes the whole trip worth it.