[Note: This is an excerpt from this article]
The Folks Festival has a knack for attracting performers from certain select areas, varying from year to year. A couple of years ago it was inundated with Canadian troubadours. This year, a fair share of performers comes from Minneapolis, a great folk and independent rock scene.
Ellis is a Twin City resident. Though born a Texan, she most accurately represents the working class in this year's Folks Festival. She placed third in the songwriter's contest in 2005.
In high school, Ellis joined a rock band while setting up her own record label to record her first solo album. She began touring full time in 2000 and has sold 30,000 of her five CDs independently.
A festival regular on both the women's circuit and folk circuit, she performs more than 130 dates a year. Last year, devoted Minneapolis fans embraced her release "Coffee Song." It was the result of a Rift Magazine contest where the musician is told the subject of a song they must write and perform 36 hours ahead of time — one of those rare, local, college-radio, grassroots gems that usually ends up in a city's folklore.
Ellis's perseverance and recent work with producer Ben Wisch — the results of which are due in February next year — are sure to increase her visibility.
Ellis: I hope for more people to hear my music. I feel fortunate in the community and the collaborations I have been a part of so far. It's sort of selfish because it fills me with such joy. I have such a drive for it because I really do care. The non-competitive aspect of the Song School guarantees community with your peers.
BW: Will you bring a lesson plan or do you plan on winging it?
E: I will be teaching with Ben Wisch about the production process and the cooperative nature of it. We ran through it once. More concretely, it is about the process of releasing a CD and how to tell when you need a producer.
BW: What do you personally get from teaching at the Song School?
E: It's more like what do I have to add? There are so many different ways to learn something, from past experience [or] workshops at colleges. I think I have something to offer, especially from a woman's perspective. For me, though, it's humbling. It's great because there is still lots to learn, and [there are] so many talented teachers. I am always looking to get better.
BW: Do you have any exercises to stay fresh or deal with writer's block?
E: It's really not a block. It just means that you are not writing. You have to remember to keep writing. It could be crap, but you usually find something useful in it.
BW: How does geography affect your writing?
E: Geography plays a part in how something comes about. It gives the listener a sense of place. Even imagining being somewhere to achieve voice is good. Colors and descriptions can be pooled from that environment.
BW: Have you ever experienced fear in your career?
E: Oh, yeah! It's a human thing. I think it is the result of really wanting things to go well. I experience it to some degree every time I take the stage. I want people to connect, so I guess I have made friends with fear.
BW: What would your advice be to someone who has written a great deal of lyrics but can't play a lick?
E: There are so many ways to accompany yourself with the computer or a Casio. Partner with someone who plays. There is a place for anyone who is excited by music.
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In the end, this might be what Song School is really all about, finding a place for everyone who is passionate about music.
Those desperate MySpacers who are trying to get into the program have noble motives. They know that song-writing instruction from Peter Himmelman will be constructive, more fun than a barrel of monkeys and something that will last forever. They understand that information harvested from Ellis and Ben Wisch concerning the production process will be of great value. They are aware that they'll grow creatively from the nuggets of truth that lie in Zoë Lewis's elective on "the little things."
Furthermore, attendees also get a three-day pass to Folks Festival. And, as many will tell you, that's the greatest reward of all.
Educating the Souls: Students tune in to the Folks Festival's Song School (2007)