Fierce Compassion: Charlie Parr Delivers at the Bluebird

Fierce Compassion: Charlie Parr Delivers at the Bluebird

April 7, 2024 Off By Billy Thieme

Photos by Billy Thieme

While there was mild conversation, a little laughter, and the usual fan banter bubbling up from the evenly packed Bluebird Theater as we waited for Charlie Parr, the night’s headliner last Thursday, the stage stood uncharacteristically empty. All there was was a low, well-set-in and tattered stool, a couple of guitar cases, a mic stand and a bottle of water, and anticipation. As Parr shuffled out onto that sparse stage, after a quick holler and applause, the entire theater fell totally silent, and Parr began to play.

Charlie Parr graced the Bluebird Stage Thursday night (Photos: Billy Thieme)
Charlie Parr graced the Bluebird Stage Thursday night (Photos: Billy Thieme)
Charlie Parr graced the Bluebird Stage Thursday night (Photos: Billy Thieme)
Charlie Parr graced the Bluebird Stage Thursday night (Photos: Billy Thieme)
Charlie Parr graced the Bluebird Stage Thursday night (Photos: Billy Thieme)
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The first notes of “St James Infirmary Blues” rung out from his acoustic guitar, followed by Parr’s unforgettable voice, over a silent but palpably excited crowd, giving them exactly what they expected: Beautiful guitar work, traditional Americana-infused folk, the Blues, a shade of bluegrass, and rock ‘n roll. He followed on with a 22-song set and never once lost the rapture of his audience, leading them through stories both intensely personal and political. 

Charlie Parr played music that might have come from a supergroup including Woody Guthrie, Paul Westerberg, and Billy Bragg.

Charlie Parr graced the Bluebird Stage Thursday night (Photos: Billy Thieme)

Parr, dressed in the workclothes of a troubadour and swimming in the vibe of apex gen-X philosophers, harbors a kind of anger that seeps into his music sometimes – but it’s a warm, kind sort of anger. The anger of a compassionate empath with loads of talent, seemingly trying to wake up those around him to what’s just so damned beautiful about this place – despite the chaos and maelstrom of noise constantly pushed down onto us. At least that’s how I interpreted it.

He played a style of music that might have been written and recorded by a supergroup including Parr, Woody Guthrie, Paul Westerberg, and Billy Bragg. The fierce sloppy rock of the drunken Replacements, the folk union anthemics of Guthrie, and the beautiful love-struck emotion of Bragg, fueled even more by Parr’s unique hobo ethos and limitless brilliance across the guitar – this kind of mix seems to bring the traditional into the now, and recycles it into an even more powerful mix. 

“Portland Avenue,” from Parr’s latest record Little Sun, and “Over the Red Cedar,” from 2015’s Stump Jumper, both told stories of the fleetingness of life, and the endless stories that arise. “Cheap Wine” and “Boombox” painted pictures of everyday life in streets of both small neighborhoods and skid row, vividly. “817 Oakland Avenue” brilliantly expressed the need to spread around our childish compassion, for all of our own sakes, and paired so well with his cover of Grant Hart’s broken-hearted love song “2541.” These were just a few off the setlist, all of the rest were as good, or better.

I keep alluding to Parr’s guitar skills, and they’re more than impressive. But the thing is, when he played in that huge, empty space on the Bluebird stage, every song filled it up as if there were a full band. Somehow he plaid the parts of piano, bass, drums, and guitar, just with two hands. And sometimes, humbly, he would bury his face into the side of the guitar, eyes closed tight behind his round glasses, seemingly melting into it, one with the music – and pulled the crowd into that intimate space with him.

It’s a privilege, and a humbling experience, to be in the presence of a real-life troubadour, and Charlie made all of us there feel welcome, at home with him, telling stories and swapping memories on an unforgettable evening.

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  • Billy Thieme

    Aging punk rocker with a deep of all things musical and artistic, enough to remain constantly young and perpetually mystified. Billy has journalistic dreams, but of a decidedly pastoral, Scottish nature.