TuneTrek in Asheville: MikelParis visits the Thomas Wolfe Memorial

MIkelParis on the steps of Old Kentucky Home, the boarding house where Asheville author Thomas Wolfe grew up.

MikelParis, the touring keyboard player for O.A.R., wanted to maximize his time on the road. “How can you go to all of these cities and just sit on the tour bus?” he asked himself. So, armed with a video camera, a guitar and his own inquisitive nature, Paris set out to capture a little bit of the towns he was traveling through. Inspired by shows like Les Stroud’s “Survivorman” and “Live from Daryl’s House” by Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates, Paris created his own series, “TuneTrek,” in which he shares a lesser-known tourist spot and performs his original music on location.

On Monday, Nov. 10 (in advance of an O.A.R. show at The Orange Peel), Paris visited the Thomas Wolfe Memorial and filmed an upcoming “TuneTrek” episode. Xpress visited the shoot.

Entering the hallway of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial
Entering the hallway of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial

Mountain Xpress: How do you choose a location? I’m imagining you can’t do one of these at every stop.

MikelParis: I booked about 10 for this run, which is about three and half weeks. That’s ambitious. I’ll look at our tour schedule a couple of months ahead of time. I’ve got some good historical databases. Even Wikipedia is a good place to start as far as historical landmarks. I need a performance spot — that’s equally as important as it looking cool. I compile a list for each city and then I start making phone calls. …This is my 27th one of these.

You learn things along the way when you’re doing it by yourself. I didn’t read a book on how to do this type of thing, which is fun for me — I’ve always loved jumping in and figuring out how to do something.

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Setting up a camera shot

The fact that I’m touring in a band that a lot of people do know is a good way for me to break the ice. [I tell them] I have this traveling solo show called “TuneTrek” where I find cool historic sites and try to tell the story of these places with pictures, video and music. I like to go to more off-the-beaten-path places. I narrow the list down. I’ve found that 95 percent of people are like, “We’d love to have you. This is great! Usually we’re on the phone fighting for funding to not be shut down. To have somebody call and want to help spread awareness of this site — absolutely.” So then it comes down to me figuring out which place am I most excited about.

You come to Asheville and everyone just talks about the Biltmore Estate. Then there’s the Moog Factory, which I’ve been to. [At the Wolfe Memorial], I asked about the piano in the parlor. [Director Tom Muir] was telling me that Tom’s sister played it. I love to be in a place where music has already filled the halls.

How do you decide what song you’re going to perform in a place?
Part of my selection process is songs that I’ve recorded that are available for download or that you can buy, because the underlying thing in these episodes is music. That’s what drives me the strongest. It’s a way for me to get my music out to people in an indirect way. [Initially] in each location I would do three to five complete songs and later figure out which one I performed the best and which seemed lyrically and tonally to fit the location.

A glimpse into the Old Kentucky Home sun porch
A glimpse onto the Old Kentucky Home sun porch

For [more recent episodes] I actually thought about it more up front. I thought about the place I was going to be and the lyrics and the feel and tried to anticipate what I thought would work in the location. It means I don’t have to record as much music in the performance segment. Even with the underscoring music, I’m trying to incorporate songs I’m going to be releasing on an upcoming record. I want people to be able to watch an episode and be able to click a link and own the song.

Do you do any of the processing and editing of the episodes while you’re on the road?
I try to have all the folders organized on my drive. I’ll look through and flag some stuff or organize some photos that I took. I don’t know 100 percent what the story is until I get there and interview someone and see the place. Then it’s an evolving process in how am I going to edit this all into five minutes or seven minutes and make it interesting and cohesive.

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Musician/filmmaker MikelParis with Thomas Wolfe Memorial director Tom Muir

How did you get started with “TuneTrek”?
I went to a park by my house in New York and tried stuff out. I went to my parents house and did a test episode. I discovered that this was really cool. Those first phone calls that I made when I was figuring out how I was going to pitch it were really nerve-racking, [but I discovered] that everybody seemed really interested and excited about it.

It’s a learning thing for me. History class in high school was not my favorite class, but the concept of history and old buildings and architecture, and seeing a place for the first time, the excitement of that, was something that I’ve always loved. I’ve always been an adventurer since I was a young kid. As soon as my homework was done and I’d practiced my scales, I was out in the woods exploring. That’s what these are — these are adventures.

What song did you perform at the Wolfe Memorial?
I performed a new song called “Every Day.” I finished those lyrics last week.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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