Ellis Paul celebrated his 57th birthday last night with a few dozen friends. Pretty standard old guy stuff. Except Ellis was on a stage, at a small theater, and his friends were in the audience.
Ellis Paul is a singer-songwriter. A folk musician. A traveling minstrel, really. He’s been doing his thing in similar settings for three and a half decades.
No strobe lights, no smoke machines, no flash pots, no video projections. Just Ellis and his acoustic guitars. Here’s the thing: Ellis Paul doesn’t need all the rock star stage frippery to blow an audience away. It’s the songs, the stories, the music… connecting with the audience at their souls, instead of on the surface. That’s what really matters. And Ellis Paul delivered in spades last night, as I’m sure he does every night.
He’s a kid from rural Maine — potato country, apparently — who went to Boston College on a track scholarship, hurt his knee, picked up a guitar, and never looked back. All those open-mic slots on the Boston folk scene decades ago helped him hone his craft. It’s great that artists like Billie Eilish can release albums from their bedroom, but they’re not learning the nuances that can only come from a live setting. Mic technique, vocal dynamics, the pacing of a set, when to throw in a joke, when to break out the most popular song.
Toward the end of his set last night, Ellis unplugged and wandered out into the audience to sing “Annalee”…. so simple, yet simply amazing.
It was Ellis Paul’s 57th birthday, but the folks in the audience are the ones who got the unforgettable gift.
I went to the show with my buddy John Sandman, who often will go up to the artist at the merch booth and give them some cash, saying “I listen to your music on Spotify, so here’s some cash to replace what I would’ve spent on your albums.” Not a bad philosophy – if Spotify isn’t paying much in royalties (and they aren’t), we can!
Touring and merch sales are how indie artists survive, and gigs have been few and far between these past couple of years. So if you go to a show and love it, give the artists some “certificates of appreciation.”