Matt Parsons was still a student at Berea College when he met Dale from Texas, the man who would help inspire his new project, the Parsons Cowboy Suite, a series of stories and songs celebrating the myth and mystique of the old west.
“That's what he introduced himself as, Dale from Texas,” Parson recalled, and though they would talk again, he never learned his last name.
He was having lunch at an outdoor cafe with his friend Sean Nylund when a man in a ten-gallon hat randomly walked over and started talking to them. He wanted to know if either of them were in the arts programs, and then started telling them stories of his life in North Texas. Dale spoke with them until his wife was finished with her shopping, then he said to them, “Well boys, I guess I'm just going to wander on back to Texas.”
“I remember thinking what a wonderful life this guy must have, if he can just 'wander on back to Texas,'” Parsons said.
But Dale didn't wander on back to Texas right away. Parsons ran into him again when played at a jam session at Shortline Pike Stables, and the two began corresponding. It turned out that, in true outlaw fashion, some sort of legal trouble was keeping Dale from returning to his beloved Texas.
“He was in Kentucky for a little while,” Parsons explained. “But as soon as he had the opportunity to go back to Texas, he did.”
The tall tales that Dale told Parsons help form the heart of the show, but it's just as much inspired by the western movies he and his brother grew up with.
“I inherited a love of westerns from my dad,” said Parsons, who builds mandolins and works with his father on a family farm in Aden when he isn't writing.
The show is the kind of thing that Parsons hopes will make people muse on the stories we tell ourselves and our children, and the way we create the narratives of our own life. He recalled a piece from Malcolm Gladwell where he discussed the “life of the world's most famous harmonica player,” who told absurd stories that couldn't possibly be true, including a torrid affair with screen legend Ingrid Bergman. When confronted about the truth of his tales, the harmonica player responded, “it may not be true, but that's the way I remember it.”
He said it's much the same for the stories he got from Dale. The truth of his life, he said, isn't as important as the stories he used to define it.
“He lived his life telling these larger than life stories,” Parsons explained. “When Dale was toward the end of his life, we went to visit him. (So) a couple of the songs toward the end of the show get pretty sad.”
“It's the sort of thing that people have to sit down for,” Parsons said, comparing it to the old time productions that people used to gather around the radio for in the days before television.
“It's sitting down and listening, but in a theatrical sense,” he explained. “I'm kind of obsessed with radio. As a folk and country musician, radio was their bread and butter.”
He calls his show a musical drama, in the style of those old radio dramas, and says it's perfectly suited to the Trail Town Stage venue.
Parsons wrote all of the stories in the show, and the music was written by himself and his father, Will, and brother, Billy, who he performs with as Whistle & Fish.
“We're typically a bluegrass band, with dad on banjo, Billy on bass and mandolin, and me on guitar,” he said. In this production, however, Parsons will be playing acoustic guitar while his father plays telecaster and his brother bass, giving the show a classic country music feel.
The Parsons Cowboy Suite is a Trail Town Stage production, at the Olive Hill Center for Arts & Education, 120 Comet Drive in Olive Hill. The show is scheduled for Saturday, September 28, with doors open at 6 p.m. and the show beginning at 7 p.m. The show lasts about an hour and a half, he said, but he and the band will be hanging around after the show at the Ethereal Brewing pop-up pub on site, “as long as they will let them.”
Cover charge for the show is $5. For more information contact the Trail Town Stage on Facebook @thetrailtownstage.
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