MACHIAS, Maine — If you talk to enough people who knew Ian Parker, pretty soon you notice some of them are saying the same thing: “He was an old soul.”
There’s no doubting the prodigious musical talent that Parker embodied before his untimely death at age 27 in 2011. By all accounts, he astonished people with his ability even as a teenager. By the time he left his Machias home to attend the University of Maine-Augusta, where he briefly majored in music, he already was an accomplished musician. He had played professionally with his father, John, a drummer, all over the state in a band called Rumble Strip.
Parker became a fixture in the vibrant local music scene of Hallowell, which became his adopted home until his tragic death from a drug overdose. He was a gifted guitarist and vocalist, recorded with his own band, The Returnables, and as a session musician for other artists, and performed with other bands.
The people in his adopted community collectively took him into their hearts, forming a foundation that memorializes him — the Ian Parker Foundation. The foundation gives financial aid to musicians in need as well as providing other help for music-related causes.
Musicians from as far away as Lewiston and Gardiner came to Machias on Saturday afternoon and evening for a tribute in Parker’s honor to benefit the foundation — musicians who played with him in the Hallowell area and elsewhere as well as those who had a formative influence on him in his teenage years in Washington County. It was hosted by Skywalker’s Bar and Grille, which is owned and operated by his father and his father’s wife, Danielle.
“There was definitely a bond between the music community of Hallowell and Ian,” Mark Walker, mayor of Hallowell, said Friday. He and fellow attorney Doug Jennings did the legal work to create the foundation in the wake of Parker’s death and serve as foundation officers.
“You couldn’t go anywhere [in Hallowell] without being somewhere where Ian had an influence,” Teresa Zardus, 43, of Gardiner recalled Wednesday. Zardus, who performs with Valerie Bennett of Lewiston as the Plaid Dragonflies, became friends with Parker during the time they each lived in the community, and he performed on a CD that she and Bennett recorded. Zardus served on the foundation board of directors until recently.
Richard Boghosian, 55, who lives in Belgrade but has been part of the Hallowell music scene and performed with Parker, recalled his youthful talent. “He was playing classic rock and folk songs like nobody was doing. He just had a powerful voice and a great attitude and stage persona … Just a real natural.”
“It was special when you saw him,” Boghosian, who also serves on the foundation board, said Wednesday. “You said, ‘Wow.’”
Parker had a great fondness for — and played — the music of the 1960s and ’70s, noted Boghosian. Some of his young friend’s favorite artists were Elvis Presley, Gordon Lightfoot, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.
The music united him with people who were much older, like Boghosian. “That was so interesting and special … about him,” he recalled. “Here was this kid, coming into this community of musicians where everybody else was pretty much … 10, 15, 20 years older,” although Parker also performed with people of his own generation. “He connected with a lot of the seasoned people and played with them just as much.”
“He had an old soul for a young person,” said Boghosian.
Zardus talked about Parker while the tribute was underway. “Ian created a magnetism in the room that just really drew people in. It wasn’t just when he played his music. It was when he entered a room. People wanted to be around him. And a lot of times what he did was, he wrapped himself around that individual and made them feel like they were the only one in that room. Musically, he got up on stage and he just emanated the entire space. You knew when he was playing because there was a vibration throughout the entire area that he was in. He knew that people were there to enjoy the music, and it wasn’t really about him. It was about what he could give to those people who were there to listen.”
Doug Colbeth of Machias, who also performed at the tribute, recalled the first time he heard Parker perform. “The first time I saw him he was 14, and he sounded like some old black dude from Alabama,” recalled Colbeth, who has been playing music for 40 years, another member of a much older generation who fondly remembered the young man as “an old soul.”
Steve Peer, 59, of Ellsworth, whose band, the Crown Vics, also performed at the tribute, recalled being in a band earlier with the young Parker, whom he called a “fabulous musician.” They played together throughout Down East, elsewhere in Maine, and the Canadian Maritime region.
“Ian was tough,” said Peer, who talked Saturday about Parker before playing with the Crown Vics, a band known for their rollicking rockabilly performances. “Built for speed, and nothing scared him.”
“He touched so many people in the time he was in Hallowell … We were very happy to remember him by doing this,” said Walker, referring to the work of the foundation. The foundation came to the aid of a musician who was sidelined after a heart attack, helping to pay his rent while he was out of work, said Walker, and has helped other musicians similarly. It has awarded scholarships, donated money for school music programs, bought equipment, purchased time in a recording studio. It has raised and distributed about $3,000 to $5,000 annually, according to Walker, although the figure has been higher in some years.
For Boghosian, it was more than the music. It was personal. “I love Ian,” he said. “I think about him every day. I miss him.”