Moments before Ellis Paul performed the Newport Folk Festival for the first time, he was thrown the biggest curveball of his career. In the form of Pete Seeger.
“The sound guy started screaming my name backstage,” Paul recalls.
When Paul turned around, he saw 93-year-old Seeger standing there with his banjo, ready to pounce.
“The sound guy tells me Pete wants to play. But it’s my turn at the Newport Folk Festival so it’s kind of a big moment for me,” Paul says. “I let Pete come on and I was never happier to be upstaged.”
Paul can’t remember what they played but it was the last time he saw Seeger before his death – the two went way back, sharing stages and running into one another at the National Folk Alliance Conferences.
“We had one really nice private moment when he just wanted to play music with me and we just sat down in the corner and played music for half an hour at Newport,” Paul says.
Like Seeger, Paul strives to write songs that are more than just songs. They’re open-ended questions, ideas and challenges.
“I want to be known as someone who helped deconstruct the world a bit to see a little clearer,” he says.
Take the title track off The Day After Everything Changed, a John Prine-Steve Earle conglomeration about Wabi Sabi – a comprehensive Japanese aesthetic centered on the acceptance of imperfection, dressed with images of decay: “Leaves they fall a clock is turning on the wall colors change.”
ELLIS PAUL performs at 7:30pm (7pm doors) Sunday, March 23, at Henry Miller Memorial Library, 48603 Highway 1, Big Sur. $25/door; $20/advance. 667-2574, www.henrymiller.org.