Parker Millsap reflects on an eventful year as he prepares for his headlining show at Sooner Theatre 

click to enlarge 2015 LAURA E. PARTAIN
  • 2015 Laura E. Partain

It has been smooth sailing for Parker Millsap since releasing his apocalyptic and much-celebrated record The Very Last Day in March 2016.

The Purcell-born Americana and roots singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist rode a fresh wave of popularity on the success of his last release, taking him to new heights, including his late-night debut on Conan in July and a January appearance on Austin City Limits, one of television’s most prestigious musical showcases.

Millsap spoke with Oklahoma Gazette fresh off a weeklong residency on the Cayamo cruise — essentially a music festival onboard a giant cruise ship. The cruise, which included performers Emmylou Harris, Rufus Wainwright, American Aquarium and Patty Griffin, took Millsap from Florida to Cozumel, Mexico, and then Roatán, an island off the coast of Honduras.

Now back at his current home in Nashville, Tennessee, Millsap is preparing for a homecoming show with mentor musician and Oklahoma folk maven Travis Linville Thursday at Norman’s Sooner Theatre.

Oklahoma Gazette: So how did you get booked on the Cayamo cruise?

Parker Millsap: Well, we had a bunch of people coming to our shows saying, “You’ve got to do Cayamo.” Then I guess they had people vote for who should come on the boat and they let us on. That was great.

OKG: When you weren’t performing, you had some time to relax, right?

PM: It was 90 percent relaxing. I think we did four shows over seven days. There were a lot of piña coladas involved. It felt like a paid vacation. We can add this to the list of strange gigs we’ve done. I hope they invite us back.

OKG: Speaking of great experiences, how was performing on Austin City Limits?

PM: It was great. It’s funny; it was almost like a normal show. You’re in this theater and there are people there, but then there’s a bunch of cameras. There were these ninja-like guys on stage who had their whole bodies wrapped in black so you couldn’t see them with cameras. Then there was this weird 15-foot gap between us and the audience because they had these cameras on these tracks that went back and forth. The crowd was great and it sounded great in the room.

OKG: Do you have memories of watching ACL in the past? Was it a goal for you to eventually get on the show?

PM: I grew up watching that show. I remember seeing Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen on it when I was young. It was absolutely a goal, but I don’t know if it was a goal that I specifically set. But when they approached us to do it, I was pumped. I think for most musicians, it is kind of a rite of passage.

OKG: What’s it like behind the scenes as a performer on ACL?

PM: Well, you go in during the day and you run your set in front of the producers and you soundcheck and all of that. They’re running cameras around. A lot of the fun stuff, apparently, happens during the show. My tour manager was sitting backstage in the production office, and there are like three guys with microphones and a bunch of TV screens. They’re yelling at people like, “No. 3, what are you doing? What are you doing? Get off the stage! No. 4, zoom out! Zoom out!” I was performing while a lot of the real action was happening.

OKG: That sounds pretty intense.

PM: Apparently, it was. But they do it right.

OKG: It’s been almost a year since The Very Last Day came out. Looking back, is there a particular compliment or reaction to the album that sticks out? 

PM: The thing that comes to mind isn’t really a compliment; it’s actually someone kind of making fun of me, but I love it. Elton John came to a show of ours in Atlanta. He says, “Are you going to do that song that goes, ‘Save up all my moneeey?’” He was doing this weird voice, and I said, “‘Pining.’ Is that the song?” And then again, he was like, “Save up all my moneeey!” So whenever I do that in a set, I think of him doing it that one time.

OKG: Are you excited to perform in front of the home crowd again? PM: Yeah. We’ve played [at Sooner Theatre] before as an opener, but headlining is kind of a big deal.

OKG: You’re playing with Travis Linville in this show. Have you had a chance to hear his new album Up Ahead (released in February)? What did you think of it?

PM: Yes, I actually just got it. I went and saw him at Nashville just two weeks ago. I love it; I love anything Travis does. I took guitar lessons from him when I was younger for about three months. I think he’s a songsmith; he knows what he’s doing.

OKG: How old were you when you first met Travis? How did he become your teacher, and how was he as a teacher?

PM: I was probably 13 or 14. He was a great teacher. I took lessons from a lady in Lexington just south of Norman, but after three years, I thought, “OK. Maybe it’s time to move on to someone else.” I went to a place in Norman, and Travis was teaching there. I took lessons from him for about three months, but then he got an offer to go on the road for somebody. Then they sent me to Terry Ware, and I took lessons from him for quite a while. … I love [Linville]. We get along really well. He’s hilarious.

OKG: What are your other plans for 2017?

PM: I’ll be making a new record in April and May. That should be out early next year. This year, we’ll be touring, and there’s a chance we’re going to tour in Europe later this year. I’m excited.

OKG: A lot of people are eager to see you at Sooner Theatre.

PM: Yeah. Actually, one of the first shows I saw there was a Terry Ware show with a surf rock band. It’s a great room, and there aren’t many rooms of that size to play in central Oklahoma that aren’t a bar or something like that. … You’re up on a stage; it feels like a show. The music doesn’t feel secondary to what’s going on onstage.

OKG: It’s not exactly a tropical cruise, but it will still be a great show.

PM: I’m excited. I’m glad to be back on solid ground.

Print headline: Running deep, Fresh off his first cruise, Okie folk and roots star Parker Millsap returns home for a show with mentor Travis Linville.

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