Residential Address: Jenny Parrott's Cozy Nest of Songs and Stories at Hole in the Wall
The Austin folk experimentalist offers a free-entry Friday time portal
Walking up the Drag's ever-growing skyline these days, it's impossible to avoid that internal dialogue of cliches about the changing face of Austin.
But past the vacant storefronts of institutions long gone, you eventually look up to that last vestige of yester-rock, the Hole in the Wall, which has been famously dodging its own demise since 1974. Nestled softly between old pictures of legends and regulars every Friday from 5:30 to 7:30pm stands Jenny Parrott. The Austin folk experimentalist's tasteful crooning about lonely late-night walks on "Stalkin' Those Stars" created the perfect theme song for that time-portal moment on this particular July evening.
Behind the bar was Dr. Lynn Cowles, who would definitely get her own stained-glass window if Austin's music scene were ever to flourish into a religion. For nearly a decade, she's helped musicians navigate through the endlessly complex American health care system with HAAM and Foundation Communities, and even had a hand in recently securing major aid for the HITW's new lease (see "What Hole in the Wall's Freshly Inked 20-Year Lease Means for Other At-Risk Venues," Aug. 25). The advocate/bartender also booked Parrott in her free-entry Friday slot two years ago.
"She's just been a steady, rock star performer since then," Cowles remarked. "It's just been so awesome to watch the crowds grow with her and respond to her."
Ever evolving with Parrott's catalog, like her vocals-only pandemic album Pregnancy Choir, the residency offers a cozy crash landing into the weekend with original songs and great stories. After easing her way through a few songs like "Layin'" – which felt like a soft, red cloud of doo-wop thrown up against a dark, country-guitar skyline – Parrot unexpectedly announced with a big grin: "That's the last song of the Kerrville Folk Festival portion of the show."
The singer put down her acoustic and stepped over to her other instrument of choice these days, the Omnichord. Released by Suzuki in 1981, the electronic tool has been a foundation of synth music worldwide ever since, featured on songs by everyone from Eurythmics to Gorillaz. "That was a gift from Gary for the studio. I didn't know how much I would like it," Parrott shared later, referring to her partner and collaborator "Sweet" Gary Newcomb.
When bringing him up onstage for a few songs such as "In Love With You Again," and "Daughter," she affectionately referred to him as "the man who made me a MILF." The July gig marked one of Parrott and Newcomb's last before heading out on the road for a summer tour with their infant child.
You would think that going straight from acoustic ballads to an Eighties synthesizer would drastically change the entire environment, but as Parrott layered her own voice into a sequence that quickly became a melody – and then built that melody into a song – it all made sense by the second chorus.
Parrott's growth has not only involved experimentation with new sounds, but also her development as a storyteller, which can border on stand-up. Between songs, she told stories ranging from a tribute to her beloved "butch grandma" – about whom she wrote a book titled Famed Girl Athlete Now a Milkman – to the importance of voting. These personal accounts heightened the sense of camaraderie between Parrott and audience, turning the live show into an almost open forum for interaction.
An anecdote about coming to near fisticuffs with a man over trans rights at one of her own shows ended with them hugging it out in the parking lot. After, one crowd member commented, "You threaten people, and they thank you!" Another customer yelled, "the power of the Parrott" as warmhearted laughter filled the room.
Asking about that particular incident later, Parrott relayed, "People need to make it a priority not to be fascist, and not to be homophobic." Beyond telling stories, the queer singer has donated a percentage of every show on her summer tour to Transgender Education Network of Texas, an advocacy group dedicated to fighting transgender discrimination. This is no small task, as independent artists out on the road are lucky to break even. Parrott emphasizes: "I've come out; I have trans friends. I just think it's important to stick up for them."
Closing out the set, the soloist called on a newer track and instructed the audience on how to sing along. "All right, the chorus to this one is, 'Fuck your job, fuck your dad.'" Judging by the number of people who yelled out the second half right on cue, it was a new crowd favorite. Parrott ended the song with a symbolic middle finger.
After her summer tour, Jenny Parrott relaunches her free-entry Hole in the Wall residency on Friday, Sept. 15, at 5:30pm.