A swelling audience packed onto the floor of The Sinclair for headliner Parker Millsap on Thursday night, pushing as close to the stage as possible as Millsap and his band rolled out a vibrant set blending blues, country rock and folk.
But before Millsap got on stage, a smaller crowd of about 50 people drifted around the room as the opener, Molly Parden, played a series of haunting, emotional folk songs to the tune of a solo acoustic guitar.
Parden has been a prominent figure in Nashville’s indie music scene since she first moved there in 2013. The singer, whose first exposure to music was through church hymnals in Jonesboro, Georgia, has spent the past eight years in Music City touring with indie and country stars like Faye Webster and Sam Outlaw while also sporadically releasing her EPs.
In an interview with The Daily Free Press last Monday, Parden — calling from the road on her trip from Toronto to Buffalo — was casual and comfortable. When asked how musicians like Faye Webster, Sam Outlaw, and David Ramirez — artists she had spent extensive time touring with — had influenced her, her response was joking and circuitous.
“Faye [Webster] kept my lingo pretty current,” she said. “I learned what words like ‘sus’ and ‘facts’ and ‘no cap’ [meant] . . . She kept me hip with the lingo. That was pretty influential. Sam Outlaw introduced me to a lot of ’80s and ’90s country music.”
On stage Thursday night, Parden brought the same lighthearted and laid-back attitude to her performance. In between songs, she enthusiastically showed the audience the overcoat she had just picked up from The Garment District in Cambridge, and Parden said everyone in the band tried it on.
Aside from her 2017 single “Sail on the Water” and a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” most of the songs she played on Thursday night were from her latest EP, “Rosemary,” released in 2020.
Parden is not shy about admitting she takes her time releasing new music. After playing “Sail on the Water,” she told the audience that the song had taken her three years to complete.
Laughing at the concert, she said that a new album was probably eight years away. She took five years after her first album, “Time is Medicine,” before putting out her second EP, “With Me in the Summer,” in 2016.
In an interview, Parden said she hadn’t had her musical career in mind when she moved to Nashville, and in some ways, she still doesn’t think about it as a career.
“I made a pledge to myself and to the gods of music to always have a job outside of music,” Parden said, “so that whenever I was blessed with a song, or songs, or the gift of touring … whenever that happened I could keep that a sacred space, and not try to monetize it.”
Right now, however, Parden’s in one of the periods she called a “wave crest,” where after the success of her most recent EP, music is a full-time gig. She’s playing back-to-back shows across Canada and the United States, on tour as an opener for Parker Millsap’s new album, “Be Here Instead.”
Parden said her music has evolved considerably since her first album. She said that her newer songs — which didn’t appear on the 2020 EP — are less focused on heartbreak, trying to connect with other universal themes and emotions. Another way she said she’s noticed her own growth is in how the instrumentals in “Rosemary” became more diverse.
“My first album in 2011 is very acoustic guitar-heavy because that’s what I play,” Parden said. “I had a very narrow idea of how acoustic guitar fit into a band setting. As I’ve performed with other musicians on stage, or in the studio, I’ve gotten a much clearer idea of how our instruments work together … I’m just more likely to lay back in my own track.”
The upshot, the album “Rosemary,” is difficult to pigeonhole as strictly folk music. Instrumentals blend seamlessly to produce tunes that feel disembodied, all serving as a backdrop to the tenor of gently sad melodies.
On Thursday night, though, Parden’s only instrumental was her acoustic guitar. She finished her performance with “These Are the Times,” the last song on “Rosemary.” People listened quietly from the shadows of the hall, and a few couples put their arms around each other as Parden’s last lyrics — anguished and yet uplifting — peeled out into The Sinclair.