Ellis adjusts her capo at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival - Credit: Jake Jacobson
"Ellis was a standout at the Memphis Folk Alliance. Besides her obvious talent, youthful enthusiasm and charm she was a breath of fresh air in a business where record companies stifle creativity by promoting formulistic songwriting. Ellis follows her own muse and it has served her well as she is in the vanguard of youthful singer songwriters who have infused hope and optimism into what amounts to a rebirth of folk music. Folk is cool again."
-Georgianne Nienaber, member, Memphis Chapter of the Recording Academy (Grammy) and pro bono publicist and producer for NOLA musicians hit by Katrina, including Susan Cowsill and Kim Carson
Who is Ellis?
Her full name, Ellis Grace Bergeron, didn't quite cut it on the concert circuit, too many mispronounceable syllables. So she simplified her performing name to Ellis, and the rest is history.
Raised in Texas but based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota since she was sweet sixteen, Ellis knew she was destined for the limelight, and began composing and singing her own songs at open mics while still in high school, even joining a rock band then and founding her own record label, Rubberneck. In 1996 at the age of 20 or so, she cut her first solo CD, Soft Day. I imagine Garrison Keillor must be in love with such a lethal combination of Texan, Minnesotan and songstress, guitarist, lyricist and composer, all rolled into one! I assume she must have been on his show, Prairie Home Companion, at least once by now.
She is hot locally, in Minneapolis that is, as well as nationally, her credits including the Club Passim, Caffe Lena, P.A.C.E., Outpost in the Burbs, to name just a few prominent gigs, and in 2006 she was voted "Most Wanted to Return" at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, no small feat. Other festivals have included the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival, the Michigan Women's Music Festival, the Loyalist City Folk Festival in Canada, and Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
Ellis at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2007 - Credit by Terri Mazurek
In 2007 she was a showcase artist at the Northeast Regional Folk Alliance Conference, and in 2008 had a double whammy as a showcaser at both the North American Folk Music and Dance Alliance Conference and Susquehanna Music and Arts Festival.
But enough about accolades! Let's talk about her music, in particular her sixth and most recent, also most innovative album:
BREAK THE SPELL
Break the Spell, released in 2008, begins by weaving a lovely little instrumental, acoustic guitar piece called "Lake Calhoun", so simple and clear that one can easily imagine oneself gazing upon glistening, sparkling lake water on a warm Spring day. This is Ellis's musical signature, her acoustic guitar, and she is just warming up with this piece, for the guitar work throughout this album can be expressively dynamic in her hands. When she gets fired up, she isn't just accompanying with guitar, she is pulsating guitar as she sings, lucidly, nimbly and dramatically. With a freedom of style and rhythm reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, her chords soar and fade, leap and dance, grow quiet and whisper, or suddenly explode again, defying that rigid structure and boring repetition we often hear in so many Top 40 melodies. Dramatic range is particularly telling in three of her songs on this album, Hurricane, Blackbird and Red Light.