Parker Millsap, with special guest Molly Parden, will perform at Rumba Cafe on Thursday, September 30. Doors are at 7pm, show starts at 8pm. Tickets are $20 and can be ordered in advance or purchased at the door. Please note, proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test taken within 72 hours of the event is required. And, per the Sept. 10 mandate, masks will be required when not actively drinking.

2020 threw a lot of things out of whack. On a very minor level, it was the first time since 2012 that Parker Millsap did not release an album two years after his previous one. For many artists, Millsap included, releasing an album when you couldn’t go out and actively promote it via a tour seemed like a fruitless effort and delaying a release until 2021 was a much better idea. Millsap released his fifth album, Be Here Instead, in April and it didn’t take long for the Nashville-by-way-of-Oklahoma singer/songwriter to dip his toe into the touring waters. With a few short runs under his belt, Millsap has a three-and-a-half week tour kicking off Wednesday night in Cincinnati. He’ll stick around the Midwest with dates in Columbus, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Ferndale, Michigan to follow this week before heading to Canada and then down the East Coast.

For Be Here Instead, Millsap worked, for the first time, with producer John Agnello (Kurt Vile, Dinosaur JrSonic Youth) and the result has a sound that can best be described as “classic”. Since his start, Millsap’s been an Americana artist and he hasn’t abandoned that sound but, at times, you can hear some ’60s/’70s soul. I’d be just as happy seeing Millsap open for Jason Isbell as I would Durand Jones and the Indications and he’d leave both fanbases satisfied.

Just a few days before the start of this leg of the tour, I had a chance to chat with Millsap. There were plenty of laughs during this conversation even though the topic of touring during a pandemic is no laughing matter.

Touring in 2021 has to be unlike any other time you’ve toured. How do you approach booking shows and keeping everyone in the band safe?

This tour that I just finished up the first leg of, it’s my first time on the road since about this time in 2019. So, the longest period of my adult life that I’ve gone without playing a show. It feels amazing to be back. Certain things about it are what I’m used to and love about touring. I was able to fall right back into the schedule. Most of that has to do with that when I’m out on the road, I’m just excited to play a show. My favorite thing to do is go play guitar and sing through a PA for strangers. It’s a great feeling. The overriding feeling of the tour was everybody was pumped. It is different. We made sure ahead of time that all of the venues are going to be requiring some sort of Covid protocol. Most are requiring vaccination or negative test within 48 hours. The mask thing seems to be treated differently everywhere, which is kind of strange. There’s only been one or two venues that have given us any sort of pushback and we’ve been able to resolve that. We’re just being safe. We’re wearing our masks everywhere we go. We’re eating outside as much as possible. We’re not spending too much time in the gas station. I’ve got two or three various Vitamin C Zinc supplements that we’re passing around all the time.

Are you the type of person who hangs out at the merch table after a show, maybe take photos with fans? And, if so, are you still doing that during this tour?

It kind of depends, in normal times, or in the “before times” if you will, but I haven’t been going to the merch booth on this tour because if I get sick, the whole thing shuts down. And then, not only am I out the money I’m supposed to make, but then my band doesn’t get paid. The whole thing stops if one person gets sick. I’m just trying to be as safe as possible. I’ve been signing some stuff before the show. Some people like signed stuff so I’ve been singing some stuff and they can get that if they’re interested. But, I’m not going and talking to everybody, it’s just a lot of germs.

Have you started packing for this leg of the tour? I know you’ve had a week or two off but you’re hitting the road again on Thursday.

I stress about what I’m going to wear the few days leading up to tour and then I panic pack stuff and then the whole time I’m out, I’m wearing 4 of these items and rotating them. I did actually get some new clothes a few days ago when we were in Louisville, at some vintage and thrift clothing shops that were kind of a hit. I got some cool sweaters.

Over the years you’ve toured, what was something you used to take out with you and then, after the first or second tour, decided you didn’t need to bring along?

There’s a list a mile long of random stuff like that. This tour it was my Game Boy. I found my old Game Boy and was like, “Yeah, I’m going to take my Game Boy and play it in the van.” I didn’t touch it once. Other items have included humidifiers for the green room. Cooler chests, like little Igloos. Those always end up getting disgusting and taking up room.

You released Be Here Instead in April. Since you haven’t been on tour since 2019, are you looking at this as an opportunity to fill the set with new songs or are you playing older songs and fitting in a few new ones?

I’m playing the whole new record plus a few new songs plus, I think, there’s a song from every record at least. This a new album tour and since it’s been a minute since it’s been released, it’s kind of cool. The people who are committed enough to come to shows right now, they are big fans of whoever they are going to see. People aren’t taking a chance and going and seeing some cover band that they heard was good. So, the people who come to the shows know the songs. I’ve been kind of amazed at the amount of people singing along to the new songs, which feels so amazing. Some of these songs are 3-ish, some close to 4, years old, from the inception to the editing, editing, editing and then recording and then waiting for the record to come out. And then having to wait 4 or 5 months after the record comes out to get to play these songs, a lot of these songs, these are the first time they’re getting played to people. It’s been awesome. I’m so glad to finally get to play these songs for people.

I went on vacation to South Carolina this summer and spent a lot of time listening to Be Here Instead – not only on the drive but at the beach. I love the sound of it – it’s not following current trends, it feels very classic to me, and it worked well as a soundtrack to driving and to chilling out on a beach chair and soaking in the sun. If there was a hype sticker on the album cover that said, “The perfect place to listen to this is ….”, how would you fill in that blank?

I would say “on a hike” or “on a drive where you have some pretty scenery to look at”. I love when music fits the scenery. I have no idea what scenery this album fits but it seems like if you’re looking at a beautiful, natural setting, and listening to good music, then they do a thing. They meld into each other. As a songwriter, that’s the biggest compliment when your song gets entwined in somebody’s life. Like, whenever they see a certain person or they go a certain place, they hear your song in their head.

You moved to Nashville in the last couple of years. I get the sense that it’s a great community and all of the artists support each other. 

Yeah, there’s just such a high concentration of musicians here. The Americana scene, the metal scene, the hip-hop scene, and I’m not even just talking Nashville, but nationwide and, in a lot of cases, even worldwide, everybody knows everybody. Like, people who tour manage hip-hop artists also tour manager Americana bands. And the guy who plays guitar with this Americana band, he played on some big country star’s record. Everybody knows the same people and, for that, everybody has to be nice to each other because it’s a small town and a small industry. I do feel really supported here. Nashville’s unique in that it’s not New York or LA but it’s got the music and entertainment industry infrastructure that is very solid. There’s so many agents and managers and recording labels and publishing companies and recording studios. There’s so many here in Nashville and it is like a big family.

I have to ask everybody I talk to from Nashville if they know Aaron Lee Tasjan. He’s an Ohio guy who has done so well for himself and he seems to be an ambassador for promoting people and albums he loves.

Aaron was at my house like two months ago. He came over and we hung out. We’ve done a few festivals. We did Cayamo which is like an Americana cruise. Four or five years ago we were on that together. I love him, I love his songs, I love his guitar playing. He’s very positive and a big supporter of everybody in Nashville. I follow him on social media and I feel like most of his tweets are like, “Listen to Keshena’s new record”.

I like to look at artists social media accounts, like Instagram, and see who we both follow and have in common. People that you and I both follow that I thought were interesting are Aaron Frazer, who’s both a solo artist and a member of Durand Jones and the Indications.

I don’t even know how I got introduced to his music but I really like the stuff he’s made with Dan Auerbach.

When I listened to your record, it made me think a little bit of Durand Jones and the Indications. You both have this ’60s/’70s soul sound with, in your case, a mix of Americana. It reminds me of something a little more classic sounding. And you also follow Arlo Parks. Her record was one I listened to a lot while the world was locked down. It’s so chill and was great to throw on the turntable while working my day job in my basement.

I think what she’s got going on is really unique. When I hear it, I have a hard time even naming the references. I don’t know what to compare it to and I like that feeling. It’s comforting and also slightly disorienting for some reason. I really like it.

Coincidentally, she’ll be in Columbus on Friday night. So, I’ll see you Thursday night, Arlo Parks on Friday night and then, to show you my range of music tastes, I’m going to see Molly Hatchet on Saturday night.

My dad and my uncle are into Molly Hatchet. I fucking love their album covers!

Ohio is known as the heart of it all. Everybody seems to have some sort of Ohio connection or story. So, what is your Ohio connection?

I was like, “I don’t have one” but then I realized the obvious one. My wife’s parents are from Cleveland. They grew up in Cleveland in the ’70s. They live in the Bay area now but they are still very Cleveland. I personally am a big fan of the Cleveland accent. It’s comforting to me, in a way. My father-in-law’s name is Rob but it’s “Raaaaahb”. I love it.

[Read more of my conversation with Parker at BigTakeover.com]