‘Hipster Hillbilly’: Young Mary finds work, pleasure in promoting good art

Mary Sparr runs the blog “Young Mary’s Record.” From travel to fashion to movies to music, Sparr said her aim is to “write about the best stuff I know about at the time.” (Mike Clark/HERALD)

Mackenzie Pirtle

Sitting in her living room, Mary Sparr is surrounded by memorabilia. Scattered records, leftover tour merch, a mannequin clad with backstage passes ranging from Adele to Bowling Green’s Starry Nights, a Maker’s Mark certificate dedicating a barrel of the Kentucky bourbon “to Young Mary’s Record.”

These pieces from days gone by aren’t just eclectic home decor, they’re proof of an already budding career for Sparr. 

Her success, however, hasn’t just happened. While she was at WKU, Sparr had a string of switched majors—six in all— before combining her many interests and creating an ideal career.

“I was a PR major for a period of time, I was a philosophy major at one point,” the Liberty native said. “The one thing I had consistently moved forward in was my English classes, while I’d dabbled in all those other things because I was interested in them.”

Sparr, who spends her time running a high-traffic blog, promoting local artists, touring the country with traveling musicians and managing the estate of the late country legend Waylon Jennings, kind of does it all.

With the self-made title of “creative project manager,” she said she uses her time at WKU — some marketing classes, some journalism classes — to build a career that allows her to promote talent she believes in.

“I started using the term ‘creative project manager’ to describe myself because I had so many things going on that when I met someone that was a potential client, I was finding myself explaining for a really long time what I did,” Sparr said.

“I found out if you don’t have a term…then you sound like you’re all over the place, even if a lot of those things have a lot to do with each other.”

She said her various projects tend to have unifying characteristics because, at their core, they center on one thing: the making of good art.

Take, for example, her blog. Titled “Young Mary’s Record,” (the name a nod from The White Stripe’s Jack White), its banner claims to be a log “of wild and beautiful things.” From travel to fashion to movies to music, Sparr said her aim is to “write about the best stuff I know about at the time.”

“The whole concept was that I just wanted to put the best great stuff that I knew about at that moment,” she said. “There are people that I write about constantly because I just think they’re doing a good thing.”

Some recent appearances on her blog include Billy Don Burns, an outlaw musician that Sparr raves is “the best songwriter you’ve never heard of,” a guest post by Ohio County artist “Kentucky Prophet,” her personal musings on NBC’s The Office, and a trip to Eastern Kentucky.

To be the subject of Sparr’s professional promoting, however, it isn’t necessary to be her “cup of tea.”

“I consider myself very open-minded and I can get behind an artist if I can see that they are making something of value in the art community,” she said. “I get a lot of messages from different people asking me to listen to their stuff, and I pride myself on giving them at least a moment of my time.”

Before “Young Mary’s Record,” Sparr worked as a writer and photographer for Offbeat magazine in New Orleans, as marketing agent for the Bowling Green art group Print Mafia, and as editor for Skye magazine by local creative agency Yellowberri.

However, she credits her first substantial endeavor in the creative writing field as co-creator and editor for “Rise Over Run,” an online magazine she started on WKU’s campus.

“We were just really frustrated that Western had a yearbook and they had a paper, but they didn’t have a magazine,” she said. “So we started one.”

Sparr said running a student-led magazine honed skills she now uses in her career. “We were taking people from the Herald, or people that weren’t involved in anything, and taking people that didn’t even go to Western, and saying ‘Come write for us,’” she said. “It was the first time I had to manage a team of people and work with a lot of different kinds of people and have a deadline.”

Associate professor in the School of Journalism & Broadcasting Mac Mckerral, who served as advisor for the online magazine during Sparr’s tenure as editor, attributes her success to her natural talent.

“I think when people are successful it’s because they’re good,” he said. “They find an audience and they’re able to write to that audience, and that’s how [Mary] is able to compete with all the other blogs on the internet.”

Contributors for Rise Over Run included the publication’s designer Michael Puckett, who currently works as a programmer for Apple, and former art editor Saeed Jones, now the LGBT editor at BuzzFeed.

Fast-forward five years and Sparr is continuing to expand her career with undertakings like her most recent project— manager for Waylon Jennings.

“I met Jessi [Colter], Waylon’s widow, and met his son, Shooter,” Sparr said. “And at first I thought it might be bizarre to have a client that’s not living, but I read his biography and felt really connected with him.”

Sparr, whose boyfriend manages Shooter Jennings on the road, said she has taken over Waylon’s website and plans to use her new position to continue the star’s brand.

“Some of Waylon’s music was just featured on the new Grand Theft Auto game,” Sparr said, “and my goal is to make sure his music is still being used and to carry on that legacy.”

Shooter Jennings said Sparr was an easy choice as manager of his father’s estate. “We tapped into her not just to update the website, but to connect my father’s music with this younger generation,” he said. “When you’re working with some big corporation you have to deal with people that won’t call back, or don’t pay attention to details, and it isn’t like that when you work with someone like Mary.”

Jennings said Sparr brings a fresh perspective to the task of keeping his father’s presence relevant. “She’s kind of this hipster hillbilly,” Jennings said. “She’s so smart and so funny and she has all these great ideas and has the most unique perspective on things.”

Whether it be keeping a legend alive or supporting a local unknown, Sparr said she finds fulfillment in her work.

“I can’t ask for a better living than being able to showcase people that have talents or are geniuses or have done something that has made a big difference,” she said. “I love the guy that’s in a suit and tie every day and then goes and plays rock-star at nighttime,” Sparr added. “As long as I can help make their vision a reality, that’s enough for me.”