Parker Hamilton was sitting in the back of his Chevrolet Silverado drinking a cold beer in the small city of Morgantown, Kentucky on the afternoon of September 27. A Saturday, he was hanging loose with guitarist Jacob Dockery and some friends before taking the stage for the first time in over eight months to play a benefit country music show in front of a live audience.
Not really knowing what to expect coming in, Hamilton was still ready regardless, having spent weeks preparing for his return. It had been a nice break away from music and playing shows and everything that goes with it, but he was itching to get back on a stage, and playing in a small town for a small-town crowd was exactly what he needed to get his spark back.
“It felt great,” Hamilton said when thinking back to his return show. “When I played in Morgantown, I played with someone else for the first time. I was doing solo shows for a long time, so it felt good to play with Jacob. Along with my friends, he was someone who got me back playing music again. He was kind of the event planner for the Morgantown show.”
Even before the Morgantown event took place, Hamilton had already scheduled an October 9 show at Spillway Bar and Grill in Bowling Green. That was going to be his return show, but he had met Dockery shortly after the show was planned and the two discussed playing together — and both were all for it. But before the Spillway show was going to happen, Dockery mentioned the Morgantown event and told Hamilton that he should be the singer and Dockery would play the guitar for him.
Crossing paths with Dockery really couldn’t have come at a better time for Hamilton. Everything just fell into place.
“I had scheduled the Spillway show and told him about it, and he said that he had the show in Morgantown and we could have a little practice run before Spillway,” Hamilton said. “It was a blast. We had a little backstage area and pregamed it a little bit — and it was a lot of fun. Then, the big Spillway show came up, and it was my biggest show ever. I knew it was going to be big, and it was big — and it was awesome.
“It just felt natural again to be playing for people, and people enjoying what you’re putting out there.”
Music has always been a part of Hamilton’s life.
He grew up in Louisville listening to classic rock with his father as he would scroll through all the radio stations, but it wasn’t until his sophomore year at Western Kentucky University when he first began playing.
“I brought a guitar from home, which was my uncle’s,” Hamilton said. “It was an old guitar, and it wasn’t a good guitar at all because it was real cheap. But I put new strings on it and I taught myself how to play off of YouTube videos and such.”
Hamilton played every now and then, but it wasn’t anything serious. At that point, it was just something he would occasionally do leisurely while getting his undergraduate degree at WKU. And once he finished his degree, he didn’t even have a guitar or music on his mind. It was time for him to go to work.
Earning a bachelor’s degree in sports marketing while working as an intern for WKU Athletics for three of his four collegiate years, Hamilton left the sports-side of the marketing field and took a job back home in Louisville working for Total Quality Logistics, which is a freight brokerage company.
“It was like day trading with semi-truck companies,” Hamilton said. “It was super fun and fast-paced, and I did it for about eight or nine months until some unfortunate things happened in the workplace and I had to reevaluate my entire life.”
Hamilton was diagnosed with anxiety when he was 14 years old and has been taking medicine for it ever since. It wasn’t that serious when he was a young teenager, and everything was going great for him while he was working in Louisville. He was on salary and making great money and living a fast-paced lifestyle, so he decided to stop taking his medicine.
That’s what his world was flipped upside down.
“In July 2017, we had a coworker — he was 28 years old at the time — he passed away in the office, and it was super, super traumatic to witness and go through. Then, maybe a week and a half later, we had another coworker, who was sitting next to me at the time, have a huge seizure — and it was terrible to witness,” Hamilton said.
“All of this had happened to me in two weeks, and it really halted the brakes on this fast-paced life I was living and the money I was making. It really brought things to a stop, and for the first time since I was 14 years old this anxiety just crashed upon me again. For three or four months I went on a leave of absence from that job just to try and get myself right again. Every time I would step out in public I would have a panic attack because I couldn’t be around people. It took a long time to get right again.”
Hamilton sat inside his home for those three or four months with nothing to do. What could he do to occupy himself? Well, he had taught himself how to play guitar back in his WKU days, and this was the perfect time for him to really start playing.
That’s what he did. And that’s probably what saved him.
“I would post videos of me playing, and it led to me learning about an open-mic night at a local bar a mile and a half from the house I grew up in,” Hamilton said. “I told myself that I was going to do it for me, for therapeutic reasons — proving to myself I could be out in front of people and also play in front of people. I loved it, so the next week I did it, then the next week I did, then the next week I did it — and I became a regular playing open-mic nights there. I can remember practicing all week just to play three songs at a time.”
Starting to get more and more comfortable being out of the house and around people and playing music, Hamilton decided it was time to get back to Bowling Green.
Although he was from Louisville and back living in his hometown, he thought of Louisville as what he calls “a bad time because of my mental health”, and Bowling Green was a place he really enjoyed during college and he didn’t have anything negative going on there. Similar to a drifter, Hamilton packed his bags and made his way back to his college town with no plans — just to get a fresh start.
“I didn’t care if I took a crappy job because my career wasn’t the focus anymore. I just wanted to feel OK again,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton indeed took a not-so-special job, picking and packaging orders for Inked Brands at $10 an hour. But that didn’t matter. He was getting better and better mentally each day, and was able to spend a lot of time working on his music.
It’s clear that Hamilton has a sharp focus on his music today, but he also has a successful job working for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet maintaining the upkeep of roadways in the Warren County area. He even works part-time at Boot Barn in Greenwood Mall just to make extra money — and because it makes him feel good.
It hasn’t always been an easy road for Hamilton, but he’s the person he is today because of what he’s experienced.
“You wouldn’t be where you are today if you didn’t go through something,” Hamilton said. “Those are some dark, dark times, but when you look back on them, maybe it wasn’t so bad. The situation was terrible, but now looking back maybe it wasn’t so, so bad. I’m grateful for it, and I wouldn’t be playing music where I am today without it all.
“Over anything, I’ve made a lot of great memories playing music, and I’ve met a lot of great people and made a lot of great friendships.”