By Georgianne Nienaber
We didn't fly into Spring thunderstorms in Atlanta last week solely for the flowering landscape, but it was stunning nonetheless. Iris, swelling alder, cherries, tulip poplars, Bradford Pears and sweetgum competed with red oaks in full bud to delight the eyes as we wound our way through the narrow streets of a darling little town called Decatur in search of the legendary Eddie's Attic and rising folk music star, Ellis. Founded in the early nineties by current talent buyer, Eddie Owen, the club is known as a premier venue for well-known singer/songwriters as well as local Georgia talent. John Mayer, Shawn Mullins and Sugarland got started there.
One of my colleagues over here at MOSQUITO beat me to the punch on a review of Ellis's CD, Break the Spell so I will try to one-up his accolades by describing a live performance that left everyone, well, HAPPY.
Image Copyright © Ramcey Rodriguez, Nashville
We first caught Ellis at a showcase at the 2009 Memphis Folk Alliance, and our surprise and delight was enough to encourage an excuse to visit with music friends in Atlanta when we learned she was playing Decatur. This 32 year old woman is a very old soul. You get the feeling you need to listen very carefully, and the end result is wanting more. We certainly left Folk Alliance wanting more. Sometimes described as a cross "between Texas charm and Minnesota nice," Ellis lives up to the compliment and now makes Minneapolis her home. She is on a very heavy, extensive touring schedule, but she's not a complainer and seems grateful for the opportunity to meet her fans and just play her music. You won't hear any of the "woe is me" lament in her songs that seems to be de rigueur with so many of the singer/songwriter "stars" these days.
We boomer survivors realize something went horribly wrong with music and optimism in the sixties. Ellis brings it all back with a meditative twist of true loving kindness.
Ellis reads Buddhist monk Pema Chodron, can quote her, and there is a definite Zen-like theme to her music. Writing with compassion about love and loss, her lyrics suggest the moment is all we really have. The future is potent with possibility, but embrace where you are now. Ellis's stage presence is beyond compare, and one of the people at our table remarked that you could probably "turn off the stage lighting and still see her." Ellis positively glows in performance and "gives everything" in the words of another notable singer/songwriter who was sitting with us.
One of Ellis's fans on her MYSPACE page suggests that she would be the best possible representative of the human race if we were forced to send an emissary to an alien civilization. I thought about that for a minute and realized the guy had a point. It really wasn't an over-the-top idea.
OK. So what about the music? No sense reinventing the wheel -- none other than Performing Songwriter Magazine said (and we agree), "Her music comforts like a caress. The style may have originated with others -- Janis Ian and the Indigo Girls come immediately to mind -- but now Ellis can confidently claim it as her own."
Image Courtesy of Ellis-music.com
On top of it all, Ellis is a consummate performer when it comes to that sometimes-awkward chatter that singer/songwriters throw in between songs. She would make a great stand-up comedienne, and proves it as she deftly weaves hysterical commentary into her introductions. At other times, the audience knows she is speaking from the heart as she introduces a more somber composition. When Ellis fixes her blue eyes on the crowd and says "I mean this with my whole heart," you believe her. That is an honest, true connection between audience and performer.
Nashville "sound guy," Ramcey Rodriguez shared this audience recording of Ellis singing "Red Light" from her CD, Break the Spell. It is a nice window into the "Ellis as performer" experience -- recorded the night we were in attendance.
Eddie's Attic and Ellis are made for each other.
Current owner, Bob Ephlin, stresses, "It is important to present the singer/songwriter in a listening environment," and this is a blessing for folks who are intent on listening to the music in an intimate environment. Talking is discouraged, with audience and performer appreciating the quiet.
Ephlin noted in a phone conversation a few days later that the focus is on the music and not the food and drink at Eddie's. "It is not in our best financial interest to present the music in a listening room format. People generally stop eating and drinking when they hear the quality of the performers here."
Ellis certainly lived up to the "quality" label.
The food at Eddie's Attic is simple and good. We tried the avocado/crab salad and chili before the show and were not disappointed. The wine selection was great, acoustics superb, and the club's system of reserved table seating fit perfectly with our desire to hook up with some old friends while we were in town. Tickets are offered on a will-call basis for out-of-towners, and you can request and obtain a table front and center if you reserve early enough.
Check out Eddie's Attic if you are in Atlanta. If you live anywhere on this planet, find Ellis's performance schedule and locations. Alien civilizations will have to wait. Earth is claiming her as its own.