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Charlie Parr: 'You Have To Be Prepared To Give Something Of Yourself'

Nate Ryan

Minnesota musician Charlie Parr's 2017 LP Dog seems to have done the unthinkable. With the collection, Parr has outdone his previous, outstanding recordings with a collection of songs that paint portraits of Americans most artists miss when they cast their lenses toward the backyards and tree-lined streets of suburbia. Parr's characters often have less than most in terms of material goods yet have rich internal lives, the kind worthy of attention and affection.

With Dog, Parr also dealt with his own bouts of depression, weaving his feelings of frustration into songs such as "Salt Water" and "Sometimes I'm Alright." Those songs too speak to the raw emotions and experiences that fans have come to expect across the more than 12 records Parr has issued to date. Moreover, these songs stir emotions in first-time listeners that are instantly recognizable and deep.

Parr spends much of each year touring and 2018 is no exception. In addition to his current run of solo dates, he will share stages with Tedeschi Trucks Band and Mandolin Orange this summer as he winds his way to the esteemed Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island at the end of July.

Parr performs at Lucky's Everyday on Wednesday, May 9, with special guest Lacey Cruse.

Interview Highlights

Jedd Beaudoin: Since the last time I spoke with you you've released the album Dog. One thing I learned, in writing about the record, was that you used to work with the homeless population in Minnesota. What inspired you to do that?

Charlie Parr: At the time I was just looking for work. I was working in a warehouse and driving a delivery van. I was looking for something different to do. Honest to God, I answered an ad. In Minneapolis, there's a large homeless shelter called The Harbor Light. It's run by The Salvation Army. It serves between 700 and a 1000 people a day between all the services that they offer there. I met a Salvation Army envoy and really hit it off.

I didn't have any experience, I'm a high school drop out with a little bit of college here and there, nothing practical for that kind of job. He and I really hit it off and I got to work for many years as an outreach worker, driving a converted ambulance around the Twin Cities. Our job description was really to try to serve as many people who were forced to live outside as we could.

We were supposed to give them food, blankets, clean clothes, hygiene kits, first aid, referrals to whatever they need, VA, mental health services, cooperate with all the other services in the metro area. That's what I did. Honest to God, that's the best job I've ever had in my life. I did it in Minneapolis and I did it Duluth. After a time, I wasn't so much burned out as I was playing a lot of gigs and playing music and I'd just had a little boy. Things got a bit hectic.

I ended up taking a hiatus from the job when my friend Alan Sparhawk asked me to go to England and Ireland and open shows for The Black Eyed Snakes. I took a hiatus from my job and never actually went back. So, I'm probably still technically employed but I haven't been back to work in 15 years.

I would imagine that, in doing that work, you also developed these relationships with members of the homeless community, you're not just a guy who's driving a truck around, delivering goods and making referrals, you become a guy who has a story of his own.

Oh sure. A big part of that kind of situation, and it should be a part of life in general, is that you offer a little bit of yourself to get involved in another person's life and to offer something to them that's helpful. My entire self was out there doing that kind of work. You're asking people to put a lot of trust in you. When you're forced to be in a situation where you don't have a place to live and you're living outside and you haven't been able to change your clothes for a long time or get a shower and someone randomly comes up to you and hands you a shower and says that they can help you, that's a big thing to ask someone to trust you like that because of the way you've been living for so long. You have to be prepared to give something to them before you get that trust back.

Coming back to Wichita will put you in touch with your old friend Dustin Arbuckle. How did you two first cross paths?

Moreland and Arbuckle were playing a festival way up in the U.P. in Michigan that I was playing at. They were playing the music that I love. I said hi after the set just to tell them how much I enjoyed it and we got to talking. We hit it off and got to be friends. It's been a great friendship. They're both really great guys and Dustin and I have been pretty close since we've met and hopefully we'll get to play a little music together.

Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.