Parlor in The Round Turns It Up A Notch
By Robert Foran III
When night fell upon Anchorage last Thursday the 21st, an oversized moon hung brightly upon a clear sky, receding from February’s Snow Moon two nights prior. Looking up at the contrast of the glowing stars and moon scattered across the dark universe, I started feeling like it was a predestined setting for what I was approaching. Walking down 7th Avenue toward the side entrance of the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, I anticipated the concert I was about to see — the monthly musical event known as Parlor In The Round (PITR).
If you are not familiar with PITR, 2018/2019 marks its fifth season delivering a different sort of show that involves host and musician Kevin Worrell presenting and interacting with three musi-cal guests. The description from PITR’s website describes the spectacle as, “Feels like dinner theater. Sounds like a house concert. Looks like improv comedy.”
It’s an unpredictable live show to be witnessed to define and explain its charms. It’s arranged to follow a series of rounds that involve an array of topics where no two shows are the same. I’d call it professional and collaborative artistry at work while simultaneously demonstrating a taste of shenanigans from the host and musicians, creating an intimate and interesting range of music and connections with the audience.
PITR has grown to become one of Alaska’s most sought out concert series. With the capability of bringing in national acts like Joan Osborne and Matt The Electrician sharing the same stage with local favorites like Emma Hill for February’s program – PITR is rising to higher levels.
Worrell said, “It was the culmination of several conversations between the Anchorage Concert Association (ACA), Alaska State Council on the Arts, and Alaska Independent Musicians Initiative (AKIMI).”
“PITR ended up being a good fit because of our mission to elevate a local artist.” said Worrell. “I had been talking about my plan to take this show into a nationally syndicated broadcast for a few months and it just seem like a fit for the mission of both organizations to feature Joan Osborne.”
Bringing in recognized names to the PITR lineup is a win-win for all. It’s an opportunity for per-formers to challenge their own songwriting skills in perhaps an unfamiliar but welcoming setting. Local audiences get a chance to see big artists performing next to their beloved local artists, drawing in good crowds for the venue.
With Emma Hill for example, watching her enjoy the music of Osborne and performing her music – she looked to be both nervous and in ecstasy at times. Watching everyone’s chemistry together last Thursday, I got a sense that all involved knew something special was happening and understood that shows like this are rare.
Worrell introduced Hill as the first performer, who was collaborating with multi-instrumentalist Bryan Daste. Hill has a strong presence within the Alaska music scene with soon-to-be seven studio albums under her belt. Soon she was strumming her song ’12 Seconds Flat.’ Her voice was warm and occasionally slipped into her signature growl. Once the song was complete and greeted with warm applause, Worrell approached her saying, “Welcome back Emma,” being a performer of PITR lineups since the first season.
The second performance came from Matt the Electrician, who also has a long history of performing and is no stranger to the format of PITR. Matt was brought into this lineup through his meeting with Worrell at last year’s Folk Alliance International Conference. Matt has a 20-year tenure in Austin, Tex., making a living as a working class folk musician.
His name is Matt Sever, but has acquired his ‘electrician’ stage name from his previous work with the occupation. He would play music to crowds in his work clothes after shifts and feel the need to introduce himself, saying, “Hi, I’m Matt the electrician” to explain his appearance. It got to a point where everyone just knew him as such.
Next was Joan Osborne’s first time in Alaska. She was in town for two shows: PITR and at the Performing Arts Center promoting her album of Bob Dylan covers. Both shows were sold out. She released her debut, “Relish” in 1995, which was nominated for Album Of The Year at the Grammys. She has recorded over 10 studio albums and still continues to tour and make music.
Interpretation is nothing new to Osborne, releasing ‘The Songs Of Bob Dylan’ in 2017 and collaborating with The Waybacks for an album of Bruce Springsteen songs. She told the audience that she aspires to keep recording cover songs by her favorite songwriters, inspired by a series of albums by Ella Fitzgerald.
She covered one of Matt’s songs that claims has lyrics that she wished she’d written. Osborne told Matt, “That’s when you know you’re good you got something — when you’re making other songwriters jealous.”
Worrell returned to welcome to the stage Hill’s “secret weapon,” pedal-steel guitarist Bryan Daste. He not only came to back Hill’s music but the others’ original versions of the songs that were covered the previous round.
The second half of the show accelerated starting with the prompt round. The song prompt that was chosen for this show was “early to bed.” It served well and is open to interpretation. Then there was the Lightning Round where the artist makes songs up on the spot based off of cards collected from each table. The audience wrote down random phrases that the guests may use for a fast and unusual song.
When Worrell began mentioning that the show was nearly coming to an end, Osborne murmured, “Thank God,” which the audience clearly heard and triggered laughter, leading Worrell to make a mental note to add that quote to PITR’s website.
The conclusion showcased many thanks to all those who made the night possible and a final tune from the musicians. They all took a verse singing a weather themed song where the chorus sang “Sing-along little children, get your hands-a-clappin’, Here’s the story of a snowstorm that never happened.” The nights’ reception was preceded with a large round of applause.
Thinking back to my initial setting under the stars and moon that lit my way to the occasion — Joan, Matt and Emma were three of the brightest stars I saw that night, shining amongst a small sea of onlookers who were fully entertained. A huge amount of gratitude goes to Kevin Worrell and the PITR staff for bringing such a stage to our community every season.
For all Parlor In The Round information and future events visit parlorintheround.com.