Hoping for the start of something good

Published 5:19 pm Saturday, December 6, 2014

Charlie Parr talks to the crowd during his first set at the Austin VFW on Nov. 27. Herald file photo

Charlie Parr talks to the crowd during his first set at the Austin VFW on Nov. 27. Herald file photo

I went to Charlie Parr’s Nov. 26 concert at the Austin Veterans of Foreign War Club excited for one reason and left excited for several others.

Initially, I enjoyed the possibility that Parr would record a live album at the performance, which he’d planned to do that night. Maybe it’s music fan snobbery, but I was excited at the prospect of being in the audience for something that would be chronicled and released.

However, Mother Nature intervened. A snowstorm kept Parr’s sound engineer from coming down, but the folk/blues musician still returned home for a cozy concert in the recently remodeled VFW.

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But the show was still successful for Austin for a variety of reasons, and it proved to be a win for everyone involved.

First off, it was great for the VFW, which attracted a large, young crowd of more than 130 people — with ages ranging from the low 20s to people in their 80s. Along with a high number of younger people in the audience, the concert drew a crowd at people from Albert Lea and the Twin Cities, even though the snow caused several accidents on area roadways.

Parr, who now lives in Duluth, has earned a robust fan base across the state, and people in his hometown of Austin are always excited to come out and support the musician when he returns to town.

Parr’s demeanor at shows is always endearing. He chats with fans, he sells his own records, he poses for photos, and he tells humorous stories between sets. In this case, he talked about he and his son’s failed attempts to make cookies, which ended up ruining their toaster oven; he spoke about the best thrift stores to find cheap jeans, and he told of his failed story to play a game with his son on the drive down (it turned out his son had headphones on the whole time).

I also hope to see opener Jesse Smith play another acoustic show at the VFW or somewhere in Austin. He returned to play the VFW on Nov. 28 with his band Cosmic, but his acoustic set before Parr was fantastic. He mixed in original songs and covers, several of them from the soundtrack to “Inside Llewyn Davis.”

The concert also showcased the new VFW and showed it’s a worthy place for small concerts. Large venue like the Paramount Theatre are great for Austin, but some shows are simply better suited for smaller venues like the VFW or other bars around town.

Perhaps more important, the concert raised more than $1,000 for Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, a group that provides resources and volunteers to help veterans and active service members. Reichel Foods of Rochester is sponsoring the six winter shows, allowing proceeds from tickets for each show to go to a charitable cause.

Next up, the Starlight Lounge Band, which features former Austin residents, will play in Austin at 8 p.m. on Dec. 20 with the Austin High School Jazz Band will opening the show 7 p.m. Tickets will be a freewill donation for the AHS jazz band.

Will the next concerts in the VFW’s winter series be able to draw as many people as Parr? Maybe, maybe not, but I hope it was the start of something good.