While performing at a Minneapolis benefit event in 2013, singer-songwriter Ellis was excited to see the event’s headliner in the audience: It was none other than Garrison Keillor of “A Prairie Home Companion.”
“I love Garrison Keillor,” Ellis (who goes by one name) said during a recent phone interview. “I pretended I was on ‘Prairie Home Companion.’”
She received an email the following week asking if she’d like to stop by with her guitar at the historic Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, where the nationally syndicated radio program is often staged and recorded. Since then, Ellis has performed on “A Prairie Home Companion” on two additional occasions, most recently in October.
This weekend, she’s returning to the Moab Folk Festival for the third time, after twice winning the festival’s People’s Choice award – which means an invitation to return the following year. Ellis will perform both Friday and Saturday night at Star Hall, along with Moors and McCumber, a multi-instrumentalist duo who once opened for Ellis in Minneapolis.
“Ellis has a great sense of humor; she tells stories that make you laugh,” festival assistant director Cassie Paup said. “She really captivates the audience.”
Ellis picked up the guitar at 16, after teaching herself to play piano by ear. She was writing songs long before she considered herself a songwriter, she said.
“I was drawn to making music,” she said. “It was natural for me to make up words, sing along; say something.”
The three-day music festival where she’s appearing includes a slew of other musicians, performing outdoors Saturday and Sunday at the Moab Ball Field; During the evening, musicians will be performing intimate, indoor concerts at Star Hall and Grand County High School. The nighttime venues swap schedules and artists the following evening so that ticket-holders can see all the artists over the course of the weekend.
Saturday’s ball field lineup begins with the Shook Twins, identical twins based in Portland, who play an eclectic mix of traditional instruments, such as ukulele and banjo, plus several percussion instruments. Katelyn and Laurie Shook will be backed up by Niko Daoussis on electric guitar, mandolin and electronic drums, and Phil Einsohn on bass.
Laurie plays banjo, guitar, and percussion, sings bebop and shakes a “giant, magical golden egg.” Katelyn plays guitar, ukulele, mandolin and a xylophone-type instrument called the glockenspiel.
“We’ve been singing together our whole life,” Laurie Shook said. “We consider our voices our main instruments.”
Following the Shook Twins, is Birds of Chicago, an Americana, indie-folk soul duo from Chicago, known for their “amazing harmonies,” Paup said, as well as “echos of mountain gospel, doo-wop, and classic soul, with backporch instrumentation,” according to their Facebook page.
Closing the afternoon is Taarka, an Americana and gypsy jazz string band led by husband-wife team, David Pelta-Tiller (mandolin, tenor guitar, vocals) and Enion Pelta-Tiller, an award-winning classically trained violinist, who also performs vocals. The band also includes guitarist Ross Martin and bass player Sam Grisman.
Hardin Burns (Andy Hardin and Jeannie Burns – of the Burns Sisters) kick off Sunday’s outdoor music, followed by Grammy-nominated artist John Fullbright, who tied last year with Ellis for People’s Choice award. Austin, Texas-based singer-songwriter Kevin Welch will close the Sunday show.
Nighttime performers include Ray Bonneville, Richard Epperson, Kris Delmhorst, Kim Richey and Richard Thompson. A three-day pass gets you into the ball field and a nighttime venue both Saturday and Sunday.
Moab Folk Festival founder and director Melissa Schmaedick said she created the annual music gathering to “create the music and sense of community” she experienced growing up attending music festivals.
“Music is an avenue for expressing how we all feel,” Schmaedick said. “To bring people together to share that experience has always been my goal.”
The nonprofit Friends of Moab Folk Festival sponsors both the music festival and the Moab Folk Camp, held the week before the festival. Guitar, mandolin, banjo, songwriting and other classes are offered to the public all this week.
Additionally, free workshops highlighting artist interviews and performances will be held both Saturday and Sunday morning, from 9-11:30 a.m. On Saturday, the band “3hattrio” will be featured, followed by singer-songwriter Ray Bonneville.
On Sunday, a Gospel singer-songwriter concert-in-the-round starts at 9 a.m., followed by an interview and performance with Boston-based singer-songwriter Kris Delmhorst.
And if you’re not ready for the music to end, come join late night jam sessions Friday and Saturday nights at Eddie McStiff’s, 57 S. Main St. Anyone is invited to play.
Moab Folk Festival begins Friday; events outdoors, indoors all weekend-long
What: 12th annual Moab Folk Festival
When: November 7-9
Where: Moab Ball Field; nighttime concerts at Star Hall and Grand County High School
Tickets: Various ticket packages available online; at the door; or Canyonlands Copy Center, 375 S. Main St. (435-259-8431), or Back of Beyond Bookstore, 83 N. Main (435-259-5154)
Information: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 435-259-3198; or www.moabfolkfestival.com
Music is an avenue for expressing how we all feel … To bring people together to share that experience has always been my goal.