Jan. 23, 8 p.m., $6, Cafe Nine, 250 State St., New Haven, (203) 789-8281, cafenine.com.
New Haven is a great town to be a musician. We have a number of live-music friendly establishments of varying size that often host all-local bills or feature locals alongside national touring acts. These places are also some of our favorite bars, so there's a good chance these musicians or their fans already pay them a visit often. Bands who leave town for a bigger city (Brooklyn is already home to many former New Haven bands and musicians) often make it a point to return to Connecticut, often New Haven, to play for the people who got them started. Following that same trajectory, New Haven native Jenny Parrott and her band Loves It! play Cafe Nine on Jan. 23.
"I try to hit New Haven three or four times a year," says Parrott while walking her dog in Atlanta, a tour stop. "I started playing music at The Space," she says of her start. "My high school boyfriend, who I'm still good friends with, would go to the open mic at The Space, and it was so magical," she says. "It was lots of tea, and people sang funny poems, and that's where I played my first public song." Parrott is currently planning to relocate to Nashville, Tenn., from Austin, Texas, where Loves It! got its start. "Austin is amazing, but in terms of touring it's quite far from everywhere. And there's so much business happening in Nashville," Parrott says. She and boyfriend Vaughn Walters, Loves It!'s other half, are "super excited to get there," she says.
The duo will fit right in in Nashville, with their acoustic Appalachian twang. Walters plays banjo and guitar, and Parrott plays guitar, fiddle and mandolin. And of course they both sing. Walters grew up in West Virginia, so the country/Americana thing comes naturally to him, but he started out in high school in a number of punk bands. Parrott credits punk as the reason Walters harmonizes so well, a fact that surprises her. "I don't think of punk bands as having beautiful harmonies," she says. It wasn't until he got a little older that he started to appreciate the musical traditions of West Virginia.
Living in Austin helped shape their sound and prepared them for life on the road as well. "Had I not moved there, I don't think I would have learned how to be a musician at all," Parrott says. After finishing college at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, Parrott and a friend chose Austin as their relocation destination of choice, not wanting to follow the herd of kids moving to Brooklyn. "I was just not interested, and I was like 'Dammit, everyone's going there,'" she says. "I think if I started out in New York or Nashville, my little pea brain would not have been able to handle" being a touring musician, she says. "I met people [in Austin] who wanted to play with me, and they were like, 'Let's go on tour!' and I was like, 'What are you talking about? Only famous people go on tour!' and they were like, 'That's not true!' and I was like, 'OK!'" she says. Austin, which is a great place for live music in general, is also a great place for country and western music.
Parrott and Walters are quite a busy duo. "We did 200 shows in 2012. We're trying to do the same this year," Parrott says. They wasted no time getting started in 2013, as this current tour started on Jan. 3. "We're kind of perpetually on tour," she says. Somewhere in there, Parrott found time to write a biography of her paternal grandmother, Beatrice Parrott, who played professional baseball during World War II. "She's pretty cool," Parrott says, adding that yes, Beatrice is still alive and well and living in Massachusetts. Parrott and Walters plan to start recording a new album soon, to feature drums and bass in addition to the two of them, the "core" of the duo.
Loves It! will play mostly original tunes when they hit Cafe Nine on Wednesday, but their set has been known to include some covers as well. Artists they've covered included George Jones and John Hartford and, "once in a blue moon," Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn. Wednesday's set will feature a cover by Jonny Rodgers, local musician and brother of Steve Rodgers, owner of The Space and its sister venues in Hamden where Parrott got her start. "Cafe Nine is the best venue for what I do," Parrott says. If that's not reason enough to check out the show, we don't know what is.