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11 Apr 2019

An Americana Mix: Parker Millsap Brings His Blues, Gospel and Rock Blend to the Stagecoach Stage

Written by 
Parker Millsap. Parker Millsap. James Coreas

A while back, Parker Millsap tweeted: “I ain’t no son of Ronnie.”

Indeed, there’s no relation, and the names are spelled differently, anyway. Still, the men share some similarities; they were both influenced by gospel, blues and rock ’n’ roll—but Millsap’s sound is all his own.

He’ll be coming to Stagecoach on Sunday, April 28.

When Parker Millsap first started, his sound had more acoustic and gospel elements, but over time, he has added more of a rock sound—and his latest album, Other Arrangements, is almost entirely rock ’n’ roll. During a recent phone interview, Millsap discussed the evolution.

“A lot of that is based on the live show,” Millsap said. “I started out doing listening-room and house concerts, and I did an acoustic thing for quite a while. Gradually, as I made money and could afford to have more of a band, I really wanted the shows to move a little bit more. I got tired of singing all ballads. I wrote songs that would be really fun to play live with my band.”

Millsap was raised in a religious household in Oklahoma, and he was exposed to a lot of gospel music.

“I have a bunch of history with that music, given I grew up in church,” Millsap said. “A lot of my musical upbringing was getting to see live music on Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night every week for 16 years straight. It’s tied up with my personal experience, with music and spirituality.

“Church music isn’t made for the same reasons that commercial music is made. In the church I grew up in, none of the musicians were paid; you play for a higher power. … Music is a spiritual thing, not a religious thing, at least to me. The melodies, the rhythms and the humanity of gospel music transcend the lyrics for me most of the time. The feeling of the music is almost so true that you could be singing anything, and I’d almost believe it.”

However, gospel music wasn’t the only thing Millsap listened to as a kid.

“I grew up listening to a lot of blues, rock ’n’ roll, and a lot of Texas singer-songwriters,” he said. “(There was) not a ton of radio; radio wasn’t really a thing. My dad had a ton of CDs and tapes, so I got to listen to all kinds of stuff that not a lot of my friends were listening to.”

These days, he said, he rarely feels uncomfortable at a gig.

“I’ve done so many different kinds of shows, playing from county fairs to three people telling us to turn it down,” Millsap said. “I’ve played weird Hooters-type bars with 10 giant TVs playing a UFC fight while we’re playing the show—and it’s pretty hard to offend me. If people just want to sit down and listen, that’s great. If people want to dance through the whole set, even through the ballads, that’s amazing.

“The big challenge of the road is sitting in the van. Playing music, loading in, loading out, soundcheck—that doesn’t bother me. It’s just sitting in the van that’s the hardest part of touring.”

So how does Millsap spend his time in the van?

“There’s a lot of Instagram scrolling,” he said. “We’ve been doing a lot of audiobooks lately and podcasts, but a lot of it is just silence. All of us are pretty independent dudes, and because we are so close to each other, all day, every day, when we’re on tour in a van together, in a little green room together, then a little stage together, and then a hotel room together, we try to respect each other’s space.”

Millsap said he tours so much because it’s the best way to gain an audience.

“Touring is the only sure-fire thing I’ve found,” he said. “I own the label, and I pay for publicists. The best return on investment is playing a show for people, and them telling their friends. The next time I come to town, those people bring three friends, and then those three people bring their friends.”

Millsap said he’s excited to come to Stagecoach, because it’ll allow him to see other musicians take the stage.

“I’m always excited to go to California with my friends to play music and check out other bands,” he said. “Festivals are cool, because a lot of touring musicians get to play music, but don’t necessarily get to go see shows unless we’re opening for someone or unless someone is opening for us. I love going to festivals because I can catch up on a bunch of stuff that I haven’t seen.”

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