James Beaty: OPINION: RAMBLIN' ROUND: Parker Millsap; 'I'll still try not to start a riot'

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Mar. 19—Parker Millsap is a funny guy, quick with a quip and a laugh.

He will be in McAlester for a special ticketed event at Spaceship Earth Coffee as part of the Dancing Rabbit Music Festival Spotlight series, for a show set for 8 p.m. on Sunday night, March 19.

Millsap previously performed in McAlester on the outdoor stage during the Dancing Rabbit Music Festival's opening season in 2021. This time he's performing in advance of his new album titled "Wilderness Within You," set for a May 12 release

Millsap's already released two tracks from it, "Running On Time" and "What You've Shown Me." He said he might sing another two or three songs from the album during his McAlester show, giving those attending a preview of albums tracks yet to be released.

A native Oklahoman from Purcell, Millsap now resides in the Nashville area. He said there are some things he still misses about Oklahoma.

"I miss the sky in Oklahoma," he said, noting in the part of Oklahoma where he grew up, there were fewer trees than in Tennessee, with more of the sky visible in that part of the Sooner State.

"You get great sunsets in Oklahoma, pretty much every night," he noted. Millsap also mentioned something else he likes about the part of Oklahoma where he grew up.

"You can see a storm coming, but here it sneaks up on you," Millsap said during a phone interview from his home in Tennessee.

During our conversation, I mention a 2016 Facebook post and Tweet from Elton John about a concert Millsap performed with Texas singer-songwriter Sarah Jarosz.

"Last night in Atlanta I saw one of the best concerts I have ever seen... it restored my faith in music," John said in his social media posts regarding the Millsap and Jarosz concert he'd experienced that night.

When I asked how it felt to get such a compliment from Elton John, Millsap said "I'm honored. One, that he would even show up and two, he would say something like that."

Millsap paused a moment and then chuckled. "No pressure," he said.

I mention that the intro to his new song, "What You've Shown Me," reminds of the intro to Bob Dylan's studio version of "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" from Dylan's 1965 album, "Highway 61 Revisited."

Both feature a bluesy shuffle on an acoustic guitar for a few seconds before the rest of the band kicks in and joins the music. Millsap seemed to have an "aha" moment, when he said that had not occurred to him.

"I had not put that together," he said "I used to cover that song. It must have come out of my subconscious."

Millsap said he's looking forward to his show inside Spaceship Earth Coffee. He's bringing two guitars with him for his Sunday night gig — one is a Martin O-M 21 and the other is a Martin D-18, he said.

He grew up playing worship music in a Pentecostal church, then later played on a worship team in an Assembly of God Church.

I mention how many of the early southern rock and roll and rockabilly performers grew up around the music in the churches, including Elvis Presley.

"It's a great place to learn to play music with people," Millsap said.

Sometimes, when the worship is getting really heartfelt, the musicians may extend a song longer than they planned.

That in turn can lead to spontaneous musical and vocal interludes.

"It's a great place to jam," he said, noting musicians have to "catch ahold" and hold on to follow where the music takes them.

I ask Millsap what he's been listening to lately. "It's all over the place," he said, relating how some friends recently gifted him with some vinyl records. Such as?

He said there's some Duke Ellington and Coleman Hawkins, some Hungarian Gypsy music and other world music. He said one of the albums is a live album by Bob Dylan, with T Bone Burnett in the band.

I tell him I have the same album and the tracks were taken from live recordings made in Fort Worth, Texas and Fort Collins, Colorado.

"I was at the Fort Worth concert," I tell him, with a seat in third-row center. "How was it?" he asked.

"It's the best concert I ever saw," I said, adding that the lineup also included Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, Kinky Friedman and a special surprise appearance by Joni Mitchell.

"So when I listen to the album, you're going to be the guy I hear whooping and hollering?" Millsap asked. "That's right," I replied.

Millsap said he'd attended a Dylan concert at the Ryman Auditorium, the famed Mother Church of the Grand Ole Opry, in March 2022, as part of Dylan's "Rough and Rowdy Ways" tour.

"He's so good," Millsap said. "I've seen many, many shows at the Ryman," he said. "It was much louder and rawer than anything I've ever seen at the Ryman," he said of the Dylan concert. While Dylan primarily performed songs from his 2020 album, "Rough and Rowdy Ways," Millsap especially enjoyed Dylan's rendition of his 1979 song, "Gotta Serve Somebody."

I ask Millsap if he planned to play any cover songs at Spaceship Earth. He replied he's got plenty of material of his own.

"This record that's about to come out will be my sixth record," he said.

I wasn't suggesting cover songs, I said, but I asked because the last time we talked, he said he likes to toss in the occasional cover, such as ""You Gotta Move," a blues-gospel song by Mississippi Fred McDowell, later covered by the Rolling Stones.

The last time I spoke with Millsap the conversation turned to Woody Guthrie, an Oklahoma singer and songwriter who's inspired him.

At the time, Millsap had recently been involved in the "Home In This World" project after Grammy-winning producer and music supervisor Randall Poster contacted Millsap and asked if he'd like to become part of the album — a tribute to Woody's 1940 album, "Dust Bowl Ballads."

After Millsap came on board, he ended up doing Guthrie's powerful song, "Vigilante Man," with several music critics saying Millsap "stole the show" with his rendition. After listening to "Home in This World," I agreed.

During our previous conversation, Millsap related how he had some of Woody's recordings while growing up in Purcell, including some Woody recorded for the Smithsonian Institution.

I inquired if Millsap had ever come across the Smithsonian recording where Woody told about the time during his hard-traveling Dust Bowl days he'd been with a group of men outside McAlester who were kept from hopping a freight train by a bullying railroad bull, who'd been hired to keep hobos or anyone else off the trains.

Woody told how the railroad bull ordered a large group of men standing near the railroad tracks to disperse, leaving them all stranded outside McAlester.

"We went down to the depot," Woody said. Some of the men climbed on a soapbox and spoke of how they were jobless or homeless and trying to get to somewhere else. That ignited a fire under Woody, who was already steaming.

"I suggested we go into town and pick up some damn brickbats and break some store windows and just go in there and start grazing like a bunch of reindeer," Woody said. "If they want us to visit, they damn sure got to feed us."

Some of the others though, considered Woody's idea too radical, relating they didn't want to beat anyone up or tear anything down. Since there were more peacemakers than warriors among them that day, the peacemakers prevailed, Woody said.

"Thats the closest I've ever been to see a whole bunch of men start a riot," he said.

Millsap got a kick out of the story. He said when he came to McAlester for that 2021 concert, he would follow in the tradition of Woody and his traveling companions.

"I promise I won't start a riot," he said.

Woody's story about McAlester and what transpired to him there came up again in our latest conversation regarding his Sunday night show at Spaceship Earth Coffee.

"I'll still try not to start a riot," said Millsap.

Dancing Rabbit Music Association President Blake Lynch said there were limited tickets available for Millsap's Spaceship Earth show. Tickets are $16 in advance or $20 at the door. For advance tickets go to the Dancing Rabbit Music Festival's online site at dancingrabbit.live.