Music of the people, for the people

The well-traveled Charlie Parr reveals his experiences in soulful folk.

Jackie Renzetti

Charlie Parr grew up in the midst of the progressive and arena rock craze of the ’70s, but he would sit by his record player and listen to folk music from his dad’s expansive collection — everything from Woody Guthrie to Jimmie Rodgers.

“No one on the school bus had heard of Woody Guthrie,” he said.

Now, Parr has traveled the world with his friends, family and guitar. Since 2000, he has released 13 albums, the latest of which — his first fully instrumental album, titled “Hollandale” — came out in January. The Minnesotan troubadour will be playing at the Turf Club on Friday.

As a child, Parr’s love of folk music was instant. But in his early teens, he branched out to other music.

He decided to try out new bands and took a particular liking to the Clash. But in his exploration, he found that folk encompassed more than he’d realized.

“I’ve really been a cheerleader for the idea that folk music is a lot broader of a category than people want it to be sometimes,” Parr said. “[Folk] is a sincere expression of a lot of people … which is why it includes a lot of types of music.”

If there was a narrative folk song written about Parr, it would include dropping out of high school, getting a GED and eventually leaving his hometown of Austin, Minn., for Minneapolis. There, he earned a degree in philosophy from Augsburg College. He met his future wife, Emily, through his group of friends.

Somewhere along the line — Parr can’t quite remember — he started playing gigs.

“I was living in a house with a bunch of friends of mine; we were listening to old blues records [and] playing together a lot,” he said.

The idea of performing came naturally to the self-taught guitarist.

“The difference between playing guitar in the living room and playing in a bar somewhere didn’t feel like an abnormal thing to do at the time,” he said.

But Parr never set out to be a musician. For a while, his main occupation was with a homeless outreach organization, where he delivered food and necessities to about 500 people a day throughout Hennepin County.

“When I found the job I had, I figured that was it for me — I was happy,” Parr said.

After he and Emily moved to Duluth, Minn., Parr continued his homeless outreach work while falling in love with the vibrant, supportive folk music scene.

He ultimately decided to swap his day job for a music career, but his experience with homeless outreach hasn’t left him. He met his friend Mikkel Beckmen while working in Minneapolis, and the two still play music together.

“It looks like it’s coming natural to him, but he puts a lot of work into it,” Beckmen said.

Parr’s thoughtfulness shines in his relatable folk tunes derived from personal experiences.

For instance, the song “Just Like Today” from his 2013 album, “I Dreamed I Saw Paul Bunyan Last Night,” contains tidbits of a story about a man who Beckmen and Parr helped when he walked from Eau Claire, Wis., to Minneapolis after getting off his train at the wrong stop.

The song “1922,” inspired by Parr’s father’s experience during the Great Depression, was picked up in Australia for use in a Vodafone commercial. Since then, Parr has built a fan base in both Australia and Ireland and has been Down Under six times.

“He told me there are plenty of other good guitar players out there that deserve as much attention as he does,” Beckmen said. “He’s happy that somehow his songs have piqued some interest.”

Parr set out on his next big adventure by releasing “Hollandale.”

“It’s something he always wanted to do for a long time,” Emily Parr said.

Charlie Parr admires instrumental artists like Robbie Basho and sought to emulate that style of creating instrumentals with meaning.

“Instrumental music is challenging for me because I still want to convey something,” Parr said.

“Hollandale” was recorded in four days with the help of Low’s Alan Sparhawk. Like all of Parr’s albums, it’s simple, sticking to live, mostly improvisational recordings.

It’s an approach that embodies Parr’s outlook on folk music’s beauty.

“Everyone can do it — everyone can create music,” he said. “And that’s the essence of it.”


What: Charlie Parr with Matt Andersen and Corpse Reviver
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: The Turf Club, 1601 W. University Ave., St. Paul
Cost: $10
Ages: 21+