Presented as part of American Byways.
At only 24 years of age, Oklahoma native Parker Millsap is quickly making a name for himself with his captivating live performances, soulful sound, and character-driven narratives. He recently wrapped up a banner year that included his network television debut on Conan, an invitation to play with Elton John at the Apple Music Festival, a taping of Austin City Limits, and an Americana Music Association nomination for Album of the Year, as well as winning Artist of the Year at the International Folk Music Awards. Millsap’s most recent release, The Very Last Day, has received praise from The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, The Austin Chronicle, and Rolling Stone, to name a few.
Millsap grew up in the tiny town of Purcell, Oklahoma (pop. 5,952), where he attended a Pentecostal church with his family three times a week for most of his youth. Though Millsap doesn’t consider himself to be very religious these days, the experiences engraved upon him inform his songwriting. Blending that fire-and-brimstone preaching with rock, country, blues, and Waits-ian imagery, he has created a sound uniquely his own.
Millsap first picked up an acoustic guitar at age nine, then plugged in and went electric after getting into Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan, eventually starting a cover band, Fever in Blue, with classmate Michael Rose, who still plays bass with him today. After graduating from high school, he moved to Northern California, where he interned at Prairie Sun Recording Studio—the studio in which Tom Waits recorded Bone Machine and Mule Variations. Returning to Oklahoma, Millsap put down the electric guitar and got into songwriting, releasing an indie album in 2012, Palisade, which he sold from the back of his van.
A trip to Nashville found Millsap playing at the Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival, where his performance impressed Old Crow Medicine Show’s manager so much that he invited Millsap to open a string of dates for the band, later leading to a slot on their New Year’s Eve gig at the Ryman Auditorium. Millsap has also opened dates for Jason Isbell, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Lake Street Dive, Lucinda Williams, and Shovels & Rope.
“I like to set goals for myself that are impossible to reach,” Millsap explains. “That way, I always have something to aim for—a better song, different characters, new stories. I just want to pay the bills and feed my dog, and maybe buy a new guitar every now and then. That’s all I need. I don’t want to be Elvis Presley, but I wouldn’t complain if a million girls screamed for me either. Just don’t tell my girlfriend that.”
Parker Millsap is ready to share his Oklahoma roots with the rest of the country, and, hopefully, the world.
Rosanne Cash is one of the country’s preeminent singer-songwriters, earning four Grammy Awards and 11 nominations, as well as 21 top-40 hits and 11 number-one singles. Her latest release, The River & the Thread—a collaboration with husband, co-writer, producer, and arranger John Leventhal—received three Grammy Awards in 2015. That same year, she was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Cash is also an author of four books, including her memoir Composed—a New York Times bestseller—and many essays that have appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Oxford American, The Nation, and more. She was awarded the SAG/AFTRA Lifetime Achievement Award for Sound Recordings in 2012 and received the 2014 Smithsonian Ingenuity Award in the Performing Arts.
Cash currently serves as a creative partner in programming with Carnegie Hall and as artist-in-residence with SFJAZZ. She and John Leventhal are currently writing the music and lyrics for a musical. She also plans on releasing an album of new material in 2018.