Sydney Macfarlane, keyboardist and backing vocalist for the Utah-based indie folk pop band The National Parks, never thought she’d find herself up on a stage in front of thousands of people.
“I’d always dreamed of being in a band, but I thought that would never be me,” Macfarlane said. “I just thought it would never happen — I’m so shy.”
“Deathly shy,” she calls it.
Even as she and lead singer/guitarist Brady Parks were forming the band back in 2013 — a band which also includes drummer Cam Brannelly and fiddler Megan Taylor Parks — Macfarlane didn’t know if she could actually do it.
Although Macfarlane has been playing the piano since she was 4 or 5 years old, she was less confident of her singing voice. But after she started harmonizing a little with Parks, her bandmate wouldn’t let her slip back into her comfort zone.
“He was — oh my gosh — he really brought me out of my shell,” she said. “He forced me out, really, and I’m grateful because singing has brought me so much happiness.”
Macfarlane says she could always hear harmonies, and hum along to the radio.
“But if anybody heard me, I’d just stop,” she said.
There’s no stopping Macfarlane and The National Parks now.
The band, which has gained a loyal following along the Wasatch Front, will perform on Thursday evening, Dec. 5, at the Syracuse High School auditorium, in Syracuse. The event is a benefit concert for the AJU Foundation, a nonprofit organization started in 2016 by then-teenager Alec J. Unsicker, of Syracuse. Unsicker’s idea was to provide “Smiles Packages” to others struggling with cancer. He died Sept. 30, 2018, following a 10-year battle with cancer.
“Every year we try to do some sort of event or show as a way to give back to fans and the people who support us,” Macfarlane said.
Macfarlane, who grew up in Kaysville and attended Davis High School, said Thursday’s concert will be more of an intimate, stripped-down set than they usually play. Audience members “can ask questions, make requests, break the barriers between the band and the crowd.”
The National Parks play upbeat, feel-good folk and pop, according to Macfarlane.
“We try to leave people hyped up and feeling better than when they came,” she said. “It’s all about the fans for us.
Parks is the songwriter in the group, and Macfarlane says he’s written a number of holiday songs — like “Far Away.” They may play a few at the concert.
The band is releasing a new holiday song, called “Christmas Magic” the day after the concert.
“We probably will do that one at the show,” Macfarlane said.
Macfarlane, who has a 5-year-old son and another who is almost 1, says like most mothers, she feels guilt when she’s not home for her children and husband.
“Every day I question: Is this worth it? Is it the right thing I’m doing?” she said. “With the mom part, you don’t hear about a lot of moms out on tour. So I think, ‘I probably shouldn’t be doing this, because no other moms seem to be doing it.’”
But Macfarlane says her husband and extended family have been incredibly understanding and supportive. And in the long run, she thinks playing in The National Parks has actually made her family stronger.
“It’s so good for me to have that thing that’s for me,” she said. “When I’m gone, I fill up my cup, and when I’m back home it helps me be a better mom.”
Macfarlane said she and her bandmates are “humbled and amazed” to see how far they’ve come as a band in the last five years. And while they’ve yet to be able to ditch the day jobs and focus on music full time, that’s still the goal.
“We have huge dreams — we want to reach as many people as we can,” she said. “I don’t really know exactly what that means and looks like, but we’re all along for the ride and we’re not stopping.”
The band has released three studio albums, and while Macfarlane says she can’t give away too many details, they’ve been working on their fourth.
“We’re super-stoked. It’s the music we have all dreamed about making,” she said.
Not that they’re making any drastic changes to the band’s signature sound.
“I just feel like we really honed in on what The National Parks means to us,” she said. “It was such an easy album to make — it flowed so nicely and quickly, with a nice range of songs.”
Macfarlane encourages folks to check out Thursday’s benefit concert at Syracuse High.
“There are so many Black Friday deals or gifts at this time of year — and that’s all about the money aspect — but you can’t really buy experiences,” she said. “And this is not only a cool experience, but it’s giving back to the community.”