Though some may refer to Ellis Paul as a folksinger, he is more, for lack of a better word, a singular storyteller, a musician whose words reach out from inside and yet also express the feelings, thoughts and sensibilities that most people can relate to in one way or another, regardless of age or upbringing. He spent part of his award-laden career living in the Boothbay region and on Saturday, June 9 he returns to the Opera House in Boothbay Harbor for a solo performance for old friends and new acquaintances.
Paul has headlined stages near and far for more than a quarter century and has produced 19 albums and received numerous critical kudos (15 Boston Music Awards alone). “I’ve got a car with over 475 ,000 miles on it, and it’s my third road vehicle, ” Paul declares. “I’ve been doing 200 shows a year for over 20 years. There isn’t a town in the country where I won’t find a friend. I’m a nomad. And I’m gonna write and play until I’m gone.”
While he now tours the globe, his geographical origins couldn’t have been further from the world at large. He was born in the dead of winter in Fort Kent, Maine, a place nestled right up next to the Canadian border. He came from humble origins, a family of potato farmers who could count among their forebears a veteran of the battle of Gettysburg, whose heroism on that field of honor earned him the 140 acres of Maine farmland that his descendants would continue to sow. It was the place that taught Paul the meaning of hard work and self-reliance, and the values that accompany as much drive and determination any individual could muster.
No one ever told Paul he had to follow in his family’s tradition. He was a dreamer after all. He would write, paint, play trumpet and sing in the school choir. “I never had anyone tell me I had to be a farmer,” Paul insists. “I had plenty of people telling me how my hard work and talent could take me places. That’s enough to get you dreaming, And enough to make you believe those dreams are within reach.”
His first destination was Boston College, courtesy of a track scholarship. It was only after he suffered a knee injury which forced him to take a year off that he rebounded with a new form of expression, made possible when his girlfriend’s sister gave him a secondhand guitar. “A mysterious, lustful partnership with the instrument followed,” Paul concedes. “It became a marriage, a friendship, a lifelong bond that only comes when you find that one thing that becomes an extension of yourself. I played for hours, choosing to write my own original songs and sing instead of studying, socializing or exploring what the Boston streets could offer after hours.”
Paul also became infatuated with the music of Woody Guthrie, drawn to Woody’s social consciousness and the humanitarian streak that ran through his work. His commitment to Guthrie’s legacy eventually led to his inclusion in a 10 day celebration of Woody’s work held at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in September 1996, an event that included such notables as Bruce Springsteen, Billy Bragg, the Indigo Girls and Ani DiFranco and which was presided over by Guthrie’s daughter Nora.
Later, when Guthrie’s hometown of Okemah, Oklahoma hosted the first Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in July, 1998, Paul was tapped as one of the headliners. The connection with Guthrie continued into the new millennium when Nora Guthrie invited him to put music to a set of her father’s lyrics. He later participated in the “Ribbon of Highway” tour, a communal salute featuring such luminaries as Arlo Guthrie, Marty Stuart, Ramblin’ Jack Ellott, Nanci Griffith, Guy Clark and Janis Ian, among others.
Special discounted tickets are $20 or $25 at the door. Purchase them at the box office (86 Townsend Ave.), by phone: 633-5159 and online at http://boothbayoperahouse.com. Doors open at 7 p.m., Ellis Paul goes on stage at 7:30 pm. www.boothbayoperahouse.com