Wellfleet to the World
From playing for change in Provincetown to touring the continent, the Parkington Sisters recent success reveals lives of musical devotion.
In just a few short years, Wellfleet’s Ariel, Sarah, Nora, Rose, and Lydia Parkington have gone from busking on the streets of Provincetown to sold-out concerts and national tours. Today, this band of sisters hit the stage with violins and a cello. They are fearless, playing music that one can’t readily dance to, nor even really sing along with, yet they transfix audiences. They are bright, articulate young women. There’s just one question they can’t answer: What does their music sound like?
Rose hems for a few moments, then defers to Sarah. Sarah isn’t sure either. Nora is equally stymied. Giggling, she finally says, “Tell them we’re a cult Norwegian metal band, that’ll throw ‘em off.”
The sisters’ range is considerable, and their influences are not always apparent. They often close shows with a Radiohead cover. But at the conclusion of a recent performance at the Jailhouse in Orleans, even as sustained applause faded and the sisters began to file off stage, Rose playfully began the familiar keyboard intro to “Jump,” Van Halen’s pop-metal paean from 1984, an album that came out four years before she was born.
“They transcend genres,” says Chris Blood, an independent Cape Cod producer who recorded tracks for the Parkington Sisters’ debut Eagle and the Wolf EP. “I tell people what they’re not. They’re not classical, they’re not folk. Not pop, exactly. Their music has a timelessness that doesn’t sound traditional. That’s really hard to do.”
The sisters grew up in Wellfleet with music drifting in and out of the rooms in the house. Their parents are both accomplished musicians: their mother, Cheryl, is a singer-songwriter; father Daniel is more into avant-garde jazz fusion. Daniel’s band Andromeda once cut an album for Capital Records in New York.
Sarah describes growing up in a house with “a basement full of instruments, there were pianos, banjos, you name it.” They all play music and sing. Between them, they hold seven musical degrees.
A few years back, Rose and Sarah, seeking an outlet for their growing musical affinity, decided to drive up to Provincetown and wing it. They popped open their instrument cases to catch loose change and played on the streets, in the seaside festival of bohemia that is a Provincetown summer night. Rose admits they made “like 10 dollars or something,” but there was a thrill to performing, to connecting. They went home with excited stories. They returned with more sisters and the act began to take shape.
The Parkington Sisters played their first real show at the Wellfleet Public Library in 2005—just string instruments and celestial harmonies. Dad did the sound. The reaction was great. “That feeling of community involvement made us want to keep going,” says Nora.
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