What goes around: Parlor in the Round gives musicians and audiences a chance to play

Read more at The Alaska Dispatch
By Chris Bieri -- The Alaska Dispatch
December 18, 2014

The audience roared and cackled with laughter between the verses as they joined a trio of musicians in counting down the “12 Days of Alaskan Christmas,” through “nine fat-tire bikes” and “eight cars a-crashing.”

On stage, Tatiana Agnew grabbed her trombone and belted out a few notes of the melody as the song came to a rollicking conclusion with “an ounce of recreational weed,” subbing for “a partridge in a pear tree.”

So ended the third installment of Parlor in the Round, a new musical performance series developed by Wasilla native Kevin Worrell and produced with the help of the Anchorage Music Co-op and Tap Root Public House.

Before people connected on Facebook, shared videos on YouTube or challenged each other to games on PlayStation -- even before the dawn of recorded music -- there was the parlor, where family members, friends and neighbors gathered to entertain and socialize.

Worrell, who also serves as the show’s amiable host, drew on the parlor and campfire song-sharing traditions, as well as some of his favorite shows, like "A Prairie Home Companion," when he created the program.

“I tried to capture that feeling of comfort that we get from being in our home,” Worrell said. “It’s the kind of interaction and dialogue that you’d have if you had a guest traveling through.”

The Anchorage Music Co-op has been featuring “round robin” performances for a few years, with songwriters sharing the stage to swap songs and tell stories.

Parlor in the Round is a monthly round-robin format music program with a rotating cast of musicians. This month, Kyle Harrington (left), Tatiana Agnew, and Michael Howard performed at Tap Root Saturday, Dec. 13. Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News

Parlor in the Round’s first act includes many of those same elements, but throws some curveballs at the three featured artists after Worrell delivers his opening monologue. The second act uses improvisation and audience input, provided in the form of cards filled out at intermission. Previous performances have featured the musicians playing each other’s songs or being challenged to play an unlikely cover song.

“You get this variety and interaction that produces something really unique with these three musicians together,” Worrell said. “Where we’re really entertaining in the second half, we’re introducing the best of these guys to the audience in the first half.”

The most recent holiday-themed episode featured Agnew and fellow local musicians Kyle Harrington and Michael Howard, who forged the “12 Days of Alaskan Christmas” from the audience submissions.  

“I’m fine doing things by the seat of your pants and doing some comedy and just being relaxed,” Harrington said. 

Before that, the crowd was treated to Harrington’s punk-emo rendition of “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” and the trio’s spirited version of Wham!’s “Last Christmas.”

“It’s a lovely thing for a host to help people find their limits and push them a little beyond those limits and watch the creativity blossom,” Worrell said.

Prior to each edition of Parlor in the Round, Worrell invites the performers over to his house to get acquainted and share their strengths and weaknesses.

That, he says, provides an icebreaker and an opportunity to build rapport, and puts the musicians in the driver’s seat for how the performance plays out.

“(With) the development dinner, you have to commit a couple of nights,” he said. “I really want it to be their show. If they take ownership in it, they’re much more willing to really invest and take the time to prepare well.”

According to the AMC’s Laura Oden, the series has taken the Co-op’s mission to a new level.

“We thought the round robin series was the recipe for success,” she said. “With the rapport on stage and the audience participation, Kevin took that and bumped it up another notch … This is the most successful round robin series I’ve seen in this city.”

Worrell admits to a healthy dose of wanderlust. He spent parts of his formative years studying at Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan and traveled back and forth between Alaska and New York City to the attend the The New School, where he studied jazz and cut his teeth playing with Latin bands.

Later, he embarked on a weeks-long motorcycle journey from Seattle to Mexico, supporting himself as a musician along the way. In the ensuing years, Worrell became a single father, and his creative focus shifted.

 “What I didn’t discover on the road is community,” he said.

Worrell taught himself to play upright bass and became a member of the local music scene, lending his talents to a number of bands. He became more interested in working as a producer and expanding the community he’d already seen developing in projects like Arctic Entries.  

“Moving into an accompaniment role (playing bass) and making sure I was laying a foundation, that led me to where I’m at,” he said. “It made me hungry for that vibrant and rich community I saw coming up in New York and building a community I’d seen in recent years.”

While the format has plenty of flexibility, Worrell is focused on delivering quality entertainment every time.

“Some of the shows are going to be wily and some will be more somber,” he said. “We have to give our audience enough consistency that they know they’re getting the Parlor in the Round experience. We have to be consistently entertaining and engaging.”

Parlor in the Round has three more monthly performances scheduled over the winter and will likely incorporate themes in the same vein as December’s holiday show. Worrell said he’s had some feedback from surrounding communities that might like to host a show and is hoping to build enough interest to renew the series for second season. He also plans to integrate traveling musicians into the slate of performers.

“We had our best night (last week),” he said. “We’ve had increasing buzz. I believe if people come to this, especially in winter, it’s an enriching experience and it’s a community-building event.”

Parlor in the Round

Featuring Emma Hill, Chad Reynvaan and Lou Nathanson

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 22

Where: Tap Root Public House

Tickets: $10 at the door or taprootalaska.com

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