Vail Valley music: Lyrical poet ‘unfurls the flag’ at the Vilar Center
November 10, 2009
VAIL VALLEY, Colorado –Boston-based singer/songwriter Ellis Paul, who performs in the Vail Valley Thursday, is praised as an indisputable leader on the live music scene in his hometown. But the reaches of his career go far wider than that. He’s released 12 albums, tours tirelessly with upwards of 200 dates per year and is closely followed by a diverse fan base that are borderline cultish in their devotion.
He makes his debut at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m.
According to many fans, critics and fellow artists alike, it is Paul’s deeply insightful songwriting that sets him apart.
“Since his early start in Boston coffeehouses and open-mic nights, Ellis Paul has held his own in the thriving folk scene,” wrote The Washington Post. “The key? His lyrics, which are as detailed and well-conceived as poetry. Paul’s lyrics don’t bludgeon home the point the way most folk music does – instead they dance around the heart of the song, revealing it gracefully.”
When asked how he would classify his own sound (a nebulous question for any artist), Paul states that it’s the content that drives his style.
“It’s the subject matter of the songs that often draw the classification as folk music,” says Paul. “They’re deeper songs, story songs. I don’t think they’re entirely different than what you might expect to hear from from James Taylor and Neil Young – a folk rock-pop mix. It’s definitely not your father’s folk, though.”
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Paul cites Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie as his “big three” musical inspirations, and explains how their artistic styles influenced his own.
“It’s about telling stories and using lyrics and guitar for a poet effect,” he says. “It’s a combination of being a storyteller with the songs, and also setting up the songs and interacting with the audience so it’s more like a conversation.
“When I’m up there on stage, I’m just myself. There’s no posing going on. The difference between a rock star and a folk musician is that a rock star wants to create a character that’s bigger than life, while a folk musician wants to be as real as possible. I’m a real person, and I just want to connect with the audience in that way.”
And especially in small venues, such as the intimate Vilar Center, Paul says he can do just that.
“I can use my facial expressions to the greatest extent when it’s a smaller room, and I don’t have to do the big swooping arm movements to get my point across,” he says. “Especially when I’m playing solo, that’s meant for an intimate audience. It’s so much harder to connect with 20,000 people. With a smaller group, you know who to begin with, it’s as though everyone is captured in a bell jar.”
Paul is on tour in support of his latest studio album, “The Day After Everything Changed,” which is scheduled for release in January.
“The music on this album is flavored in a cool way, since we recorded it in Nashville,” Paul says. “It’s more accessible. The lyrics are more conversational, there’s not a lot of room for misinterpreting a line. We also incorporated some band songs, the rock and roll is happening a little bit more on this album.”
Paul said Thursday night’s show will feature tracks off the new album as well as some of his older tunes.
“I recognize that some of the audience here in Vail may not be as familiar with my material,” he says. “I see it as an opportunity to unfurl the flag of my art in front of a new group of people.”
An opportunity which comes with it’s own set of unique challenges.
“My curiosity starts at whether I’ll be able to sing without an oxygen canister by my side,” he jokes. “It’s always interesting at altitude. You have to sing the songs a bit differently, you have to catch a breath between lines where you’ve never had to do it before. But it’s always a lot of fun.”
Sarah Dixon is the marketing and public relations manager for the Vilar Performing Arts Center.