Friday, December 29, 2017
One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine
This was my 49th Ellis Paul show! I hope I get to sing on stage with him at my 50th show. I can sing, Ellis!
I started seeing Ellis Paul in 2002, so that’s 15 years of great music I’ve gotten to hear him perform live. He’s still my favorite singer songwriter, and I love seeing him live at his now annual warm up to New Year’s Eve show at One Longfellow Square. I used to ring in the New Year with Ellis and friends every year at Club Passim in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but Portland is so much closer!
I picked up my friend Hedda in the snow and we slowly made it to Portland on a slippery highway. We had a delicious dinner nearby at Mi Sen, but were squeezed for time and had to miss seeing my talented pianist friend, Ben Cosgrove, at Blue. We made it to One Longfellow Square right after 7 to get good seats up front, and there were easily already 25 people in the room. I know where the super fans sit (I am a fan, not a super fan), and decided I needed a couple of rows of buffer, so grabbed seats for Colin, Hedda, and me in the fourth row. We chatted for an hour and then Laurie MacAllister (of Red Molly) took the stage to start the show.
Hedda saw her first Ellis Paul show (my 46th) with me last year at Brunswick’s Unitarian Universalist Church, and Laurie sang with him then, too. We thought their chemistry was obvious, and wondered if they were a couple back then. They were, we discovered at this show. Laurie MacAllister has a very pretty voice and was so grateful to perform her first solo show in 14 years in front of such a polite audience. Her new solo record, The Lies the Poets Tell, is out in late January. It’s a cover album of songs from artists you may not know–including Shawn Mullins (one of my all time favorites), Mark Erelli (who Laurie called her favorite songwriter and urged us to see live), Antje Duvekot, oh, and some guy named Ellis Paul. She opened with Shawn Mullins’ “My Stupid Heart.”David Glaser joined her on guitar–she told us she’d heard him play last year during preparations for Ellis’ annual New Year’s Eve shows and asked him to be her guitarist on her new album–and Radoslav Lorkovic, the “Croatian Sensation,” accompanied on piano and accordion. Laurie told us she met Rad for the first time back in 2005 when they played at the same music festival. When she and her Red Molly bandmates told him they were off to New York City for a gig later that evening, he asked if he could come with them and play, too, which they all quickly agreed to. David, Rad, and Laurie were also Ellis’ band that evening. They are obviously friends and it was fun to watch them together.
Ellis Paul took the stage to a sold out crowd after intermission. He told us he wrote a song with a friend in mind that was supposed to be more of a joke, but turned into his love song, “I Ain’t No Jesus.” I’d never heard Ellis talk about dating Laurie before, but he talked about her saying “I’ll Never Be this Young Again” in reference to recording a new album, and he stole her line and wrote a song featuring it. Laurie interjected that she came down to the living room the next morning and he played it for her–completely finished overnight. He told us it was one of the first times he’d ever played it live.
Ellis also played another new song I hadn’t heard before, which is always exciting when you see someone play as often as I do. He projected a picture onto the screen behind him and it was of Ellis and his father in front of a huge fire. He told us about a family reunion that turned into a major fire house fire over the 4th of July weekend in 1979. He thanked his relatives in the crowd who were there to support him, and told us about a relative who’d fought for the Union Army in the Civil War and was injured at Gettysburg. They gave him a farm–150 acres in Wasburn, Maine–and every generation in his family has produced potato farmers since then until now. He joked that he went into the more lucrative folk singer business. His grandparents had 9 kids and 40 grandchildren. He laughed as he told us “none of the names have been changed because everyone who is guilty deserves to be in this song.”
Ellis told us he’d record an album in 2018, and I think I’m most looking forward to “Scarecrow in a Corn Maze”–a song about a soldier injured in Iraq who comes home from war and struggles. The chorus goes, “scarecrow in a corn maze, just trying to find some way out.” Ellis has always been an excellent storyteller. His songs are relatable because they tell real human stories. This song stuck out to me the most among songs I don’t know very well. We sang along to a song that Ellis wrote about all of the states he’s performed in called “So You Ain’t From these Parts.” The verse about Maine features the crazy names of places here from Damariscotta to the Cobbosseecontee.
Every year, Ellis and his friends play a medley of songs during their NYE shows. This year, they paid tribute to music legends lost in the last couple of years–Tom Petty, Glen Campbell, and Glenn Frey. Their cover of “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” was incredible. I’ll admit I’d never heard Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” before. Everyone came off the stage into the audience and sang “Seven Bridges Road” (famously covered by the Eagles) for us.
Ellis thanked us for our continued support and for coming out in the bitter cold. He told us his kid just got $3,300 braces, and chuckled when he told us that we’d paid for them. I figure my 49 concert tickets will pay for at least a year of a teenager’s car insurance when his girls start driving.
Did we all sing along to “The World Ain’t Slowin’ Down”to close the night? I think we did. I am sleep deprived from New Year’s Eve last night. Thanks for a lovely evening of music that always makes me feel like I’m home, Ellis and friends. I’ll see you soon!
Happy 2018! Let’s all hope for goodness and light in the year ahead!