Tag Archives: Don Conoscenti

Ellis Paul with Laurie MacAllister

Saturday, December 29, 2018

One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine

This was my 50th Ellis Paul show! I saw him for the first time at my alma mater, Bowdoin College, back in 2002. I actually had to pass on a few of his shows in Maine over the last year so I could see my 50th show in a venue I really like, and One Longfellow Square fit the bill perfectly. Ellis and his friends have been warming up for their annual Club Passim New Year’s Eve shows at OLS for a solid decade or more, and that festive year-end energy felt like the right time for a milestone 50th show. I’d had a vision that I’d get to sing a song on stage or at least get a shout out from Ellis, and even though neither of those dreams came true, this was the best Ellis has sounded in a couple of years, so my 50th show was still an understated success.

I arrived early at OLS because this show is usually sold out and grabbed an extra seat for Colin in the front row. Ellis’ girlfriend, Laurie MacAllister of Red Molly, opened the show with Red Molly’s bassist, Craig Akin, on upright bass. Laurie put out The Lies the Poets Tell earlier in the year–a record of cover songs about love–and she played a handful of songs from that album for us. She told us that she hadn’t been able to write a song in many years, but her friend and collaborator, David Glaser, who we’d seen play at this very show last year, passed away unexpectedly, and “Out of the Darkness”–a song for David–poured out of her. She covered “Vertigo” by Mark Erelli and Antje Duvekot and “Ten Year Night” by Lucy Kaplansky. Laurie has a pretty voice and is humble and a bit shy on stage. I’d love to hear her singing her own songs in the years ahead.

Laurie MacAllister

Ellis Paul took the stage with Radoslav Lorkovic, Craig, and Laurie, and they entertained a warm crowd with a variety of Ellis’ songs spanning many years. Laurie sang lead vocals on “Home,” which she also covers on The Lies the Poets Tell. Laurie is a great support for Ellis on stage. It’s clear that his voice has struggled to hit the higher notes of his older songs given his rigorous touring schedule, and Laurie is able to supplement his vocals nicely, though it does feel like more of a duet act than a solo singer-songwriter one these days. The quartet dazzled with three covers in their annual end-of-the-year cover songs portion of the setlist–David Glaser’s lovely “Concrete River,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” and “Africa” by Toto. Ellis joked that Don Con nearly quit the band years earlier the first time they tried to cover Toto, but that they’d worked it out.



I think Rad was “Kicking Out the Lights” in this one!

The band took an intermission after playing ten songs, and I decided to say hi to Ellis in the lobby and let him know it was my 50th show. I really don’t like talking to musicians for the most part because I’m weary about being an annoying fan, but I did want him to know. I said hello and told him it was my 50th show and he very kindly pulled me in for a hug and said a genuine thank you for the ongoing support.

After the break, Ellis and the gang played seven more songs for us. Ellis showed us his beautiful guitar made by George Krakat with Ellis’ signature on the headstock. He charmed us with the story of his family in Aroostook County’s Washburn, Maine, and the incident at the 1979 family reunion that inspired “Five Alarm Fire on the Fourth of July.” He laughed while he told us that he hadn’t changed the names of any of the people in his family in the song, and that “every generation of my family since the Civil War has produced a potato farmer until now–because everyone knows the big money is in folk music.”

Ellis told us about his upcoming album, The Storyteller’s Suitcase, which is funded by supporters. On his website, Ellis writes–”The music will be a collection of stories I’ve gathered from around the country. The Storyteller’s Suitcase will be an autobiography of songs. It’s about love, heroes, and family across the decades of my life. In the past five years since my last album Chasing Beauty I’ve left a marriage, a business partnership, a booking agency. I’ve lost my voice and regained a new one. I’m looking at this project as a new start, after a few years of regrouping and healing.” He told us that the album comes out early in 2019, and I’m eager to listen, especially after hearing “Afterlife,” which is a song Ellis wrote about explaining the death of his father to his then 5-year-old daughter. It was incredibly touching, and I had tears in my eyes while he played it. He did make us laugh, too, when he told us that this had been the “first profound conversation” he’d ever had with his daughter, but that “she’s 14 now, so our conversations are more often profoundly awkward these days.”

I am always happy to hear Ellis play Mark Erelli’s beautiful and timeless “The Only Way.” They dedicated the last song of their set–“The World Ain’t Slowin Down”–to their friend David Glaser and we sang along. We asked for an encore and Ellis and the gang unplugged and sang “Annalee” from within the crowd on the floor. It was the best Ellis show I’d seen in awhile, and a nice one to mark 50 Ellis Paul shows with, too.




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Ellis Paul and Friends with Betty Soo

Friday, January 1, 2016

One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine

When I went to this show—my 45th Ellis Paul show—I knew my two-year-long relationship was essentially over (I respect that this is minor in the scheme of the universe), and I was feeling all the feelings. I also hadn’t really shared this information yet, so I was trying to hold it all together. I’m someone who doesn’t have a lot of interest in major holidays, but I’ve always loved the clean slate that comes with a new year, and I really wanted to make this night—the first of 2016—as happy as I could muster. I am so grateful for dear friends and the comfort of music. If ever there was someone I’d want to see perform while tending a broken heart, it’s Ellis Paul. His songs are vignettes—stories from many people’s lives—full of love and loss and change. Seeing an Ellis show, for me, is like being home wherever I am, despite whatever is going on. This was a well-timed night for this very uplifting show. I left feeling much better than I did when I arrived. That’s pretty high praise.

I had a lovely dinner at Empire with my friend Megan and her parents. She’d gifted them dinner and their first-ever Ellis Paul show for Christmas, and I got to tag along with them for the night. Colin, my steadfast concert friend, joined us and we filled in the middle of the second and third rows at One Longfellow Square. It was already pretty full when we got there fifteen minutes after the doors opened, so we were lucky to get such good seats at cozy OLS.

Austin, Texas’ Betty Soo opened the show. She was personable and seemed glad to be with us. She told us some of the gross band names she’d seen written on the walls downstairs in the green room (I’ll spare you). I particularly liked the song she wrote for her husband (who is her roadie and merch guy, too), “Whisper My Name.” Betty is a celebrated songwriter and was even named Kerrville New Folk Winner at the Kerrville Folk Festival.

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Betty Soo

I was so glad to see Don Conoscenti and Radoslav Lorkovic take the stage with Ellis Paul. From that moment forward, I soaked in the familiar songs, the friendly banter, and the opportunities to sing along (when invited). It was the best I’d heard Ellis sound in a while. Laurie MacAllister from Red Molly joined the gang for about 1/3 of the songs, including a heart wrenching cover of “To Make You Feel My Love” and a cover of Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush,” which Massachusetts-based folk singer-songwriter Lori McKenna co-wrote and won a Best Country Song Grammy Award for. Colin kept track of the night’s set list, which is helpful now that I’m finally emerging from hibernation and writing this four months later. I was grateful to hear some of my favorite “older” Ellis songs like “3,000 Miles” and “Martyr’s Lounge,” peppered with great covers by the whole gang (Don sounded awesome on “What a Fool Believes”), and Ellis reading his book The Night the Lights Went Out on Christmas. This show gave me exactly the escape I needed and helped me feel at least a little glad to see 2016, after all.



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Don Conoscenti and Ellis Paul

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Ellis and Radoslav Lorkovic

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The Nights the Lights Went Out on Christmas

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A Happy New Year with Ellis Paul and Friends!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine

Rad, DonCon, Ellis, and Michael

I love Ellis Paul. No one who knows me will be surprised to hear that he is my favorite musician touring today. I first saw him at Pickard Theater at Bowdoin College (my alma mater) in Brunswick, Maine on March 30, 2002 at the recommendation of one of my friends from Bowdoin’s Residential Life staff. I was hooked. Ellis is a phenomenal songwriter. He writes in a narrative style that makes listeners feel like we are right there living in whatever vignette he’s exploring in his song. I knew immediately that I wanted to see Ellis again and again, and I discovered that he plays back-to-back New Year’s Eve shows every year at the incredible Club Passim in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I’ve attended his New Year’s Eve show there seven times with fabulous friends. It’s surely been one of my favorite traditions in my life.

This year, though, my friends and I were not able to make the show together. Our friends Lizzie and Dave welcomed their first child into the world just weeks before the Club Passim show—welcome, Caroline! This year, Ellis on New Year’s Eve was not to be. Ellis and his friends Radoslav Lorkovic, Don Conoscenti, and Michael Clem have played at the intimate and fabulous One Longfellow Square in Portland, Maine on New Year’s Day for the last two or three consecutive years. One Longfellow Square is a beautiful, small venue and is now a non-profit and I’m a member. I was really happy to be able to see Ellis and friends at OLS so close to home to start off my year. Check out One Longfellow Square here. You won’t be disappointed!

My friend Michelle and I grabbed a great Thai dinner before the show and were joined at OLS by Jason, Max, and Sophie. We got there just after doors opened and were only able to get five seats together in the sixth row. The show was sold out and people arrived early to get a good spot. Ellis is a Maine favorite as he’s a Maine native living far from home these days. When Michelle and I found seats, the woman sitting in front of us with her family was quite chatty. She had also seen Ellis a month or so before at Slates in Hallowell, Maine (just four miles from my house)—a show Michelle and I had also attended. She was so excited to see Ellis and called herself his number one fan. At some point, though, it came out that this was my 37th Ellis Paul show. I was dubbed “Ellis’ number one fan.” Any Ellis fan reading this obviously knows I am not his number one fan. He has quite a lot of people who claim that title and I am happy to share!

Peyton Tochterman, who Ellis discovered playing at a wine bar in Virginia, opened the show. We’d seen him in November, too. He reminds me of Maine musician, David Mallett. He exudes country—songs of villain/heroes and love and loss. He was significantly more entertaining on this night—I think he’s hit his comfort zone touring with such seasoned professionals. He told a hilarious story about his neighbor who bought his daughter a rifle for her fourth birthday. I promise the story is funnier than alarming. He also said his neighbor (the same one, I think) has a tattoo of a JEEP with the word “JEEP” tattooed underneath it. He asked if Mainers could relate and a woman in the front row said she’d gotten a pink rifle when she was younger. Peyton also told the story of how he written the first part of his album while recovering from surgery after Kenny G’s piano fell on him when he worked as a roadie. Yes, really. He has a sense of humor about it now, saying it couldn’t have been Elton John’s or Billy Joel’s piano but Kenny G’s. He was in a dark place when he wrote his EP—good fodder for country/folk music, really—and when Ellis heard him at the wine bar, he offered Peyton songwriting help and really pushed him to record and mentored him through the creation of a full-length album.

Ellis, Rad, DonCon, and Michael Clem took the stage after seven shows in three days. They were no worse for wear and put on a great show. They played “3,000 Miles” and “Maria’s Beautiful Mess”—Ellis classics—but also a couple of new songs from Ellis’ just-released family album, The Hero in You. I really, really like the song about Chief Joseph and love the concept of intelligent songs for kids about important people like Rosa Parks and Benjamin Franklin. He also played a newer song about Johnny Cash called “Kick Out the Lights,” which is my friend Michelle’s favorite and has a great audience participation part.

Roy Orbison’s wife, Barbara, who recently passed away on the anniversary of Roy’s death, had asked musicians to record Roy’s songs. Ellis donned a pair of sunglasses and played a beautiful rendition of “Crying.” The band rocked out during the annual cover songs portion of the evening (last year included “Don’t Stop Believin’,” which was amazing!)—playing “Across the Universe” and  “American Girl.”

The ongoing story of the night was about an incredible and expensive guitar that Ellis had played for a couple of shows but decided it would be crazy to buy. Later, when he decided to go for it, the guitar he loved had just been bought by Neil Young for his wife.

Fast forward to another fabulous and expensive guitar in Oklahoma that Ellis played during his shows there. When the owner told him Neil Young was coming in soon, Ellis pulled out his credit card and bought the guitar (which he was playing at the OLS show). When Ellis broke a string and proceeded to fix it himself during the course of a song which he continued to sing without missing a beat, Michael Clem hollered out “I bet Neil Young couldn’t do that.” A lot of camaraderie on stage that night.

Ellis and DonCon in the Audience

As per tradition, Ellis and the guys unplugged and came out to play in the audience— they did “The World Ain’t Slowing Down” in the audience and wrapped up the night back on stage with “Annalee” and “Hurricane Angel” as an encore. It was a beautiful night, a great start to 2012, and I’m excited for my 38th Ellis show!



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