Photo by Laura Partain
Parker Millsap spent his 21st birthday in Nashville, watching Shovels & Rope play a sold-out set at the Cannery Ballroom. On paper, the evening looked a lot like a normal birthday, filled with music, the company of friends and the first legal sips of alcohol. Millsap wasn’t just a fan of the band playing the Cannery that night, though. He was a friend. A future tour mate, even. And days after that show ended, he hit the road himself, performing his own variation of the Great Americana Songbook — a variation influenced by everything from the Bible-beating fervor of Pentecostal church services to the dark drama of Bruce Springsteen — for a string of audiences that were a bit smaller, perhaps, but no less engaged.
Life can be slow in middle Oklahoma, but Millsap, who was raised in the railroad town of Purcell, grew up fast. He began landing gigs at 14 years old, playing electrified blues-rock at back-to-school bashes and neighborhood pizza joints. A year later, he bought a copy of Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker, whose rootsy stomp convinced the high schooler to ditch the guitars amps and start strumming an acoustic instead. He began writing songs, too. There wasn’t much of a music scene in Purcell, so the teens who did play — including upright bass player Mike Rose, who first reached out to Millsap via MySpace — became fast friends. For years, Millsap and Rose performed regionally as a duo, eventually upgrading to a three-piece when fiddle player Dan Foulks talked his way onstage during a gig in the nearby college town of Norman.