Outpost in the Burbs 30th Anniversary Concert
Featuring Marc Cohn and Valerie June
Ellis Paul opens
Friday, Oct. 20, 7-11:30 p.m.
First Congregational Church , 40 South Fullerton Ave.
Different levels of admission, including VIP (meet and greet). VIP parking also available.
By GWEN OREL
It’s a big deal.
Surviving for three decades is a pretty big achievement for any arts group, but for an all-volunteer organization that has seen lots of turnover, including in its performance spaces, getting to the big 3-0 is enormous.
To mark its 30th anniversary, the Outpost is holding a blow-out concert on Friday, Oct. 20, including a split bill of headliners Marc Cohn and Valerie June, with opener Ellis Paul.
Emcee John Platt, a DJ and communications director at WFUV, said the Outpost’s longevity shows that “this is music people want to hear. Being around for 30 years, the Outpost has shown there really is an audience for this type of music.”
And, Platt said, the organization is “putting it all together for this show.
‘It’s a major undertaking, to have three artists of this stature on one bill. Ellis Paul is one of the top-tier coffeehouse performers out there. Valerie June is creating new crossover Americana, getting interest not only in the folk world but also in the rock world. Marc Cohn’s ‘Walking in Memphis’ is one of the great rock songs of all time. He brings star power to the party.
“There are all different shades of the music.” And it’s more than entertainment, Platt said: “It’s so important to our world right now because there’s so much going on socially, and politically, and culturally. We count on artists to give us a little perspective.
ELLIS PAUL: THE LONG-DISTANCE SINGER
In 2013, Ellis Paul was inducted into the Presque Isle High School Athletic Hall of Fame.
Paul had been the Maine state champion in 5-kilometer distance running and went to Boston College on a track scholarship. Now he’s a musician.
“There’s some connective tissue there,” Paul said with a laugh. “There’s a famous book, ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.’ The loneliness of the long-distance folk singer… there’s a lot of solo time, a lot of perseverance. Lasting, keeping at it, keeping at it.
“I needed that when I was running, and I’m using it now, 25 years later.”
It was after he hurt his leg, during his junior year in college, that he picked up the guitar. He’d heard Bob Dylan and Neil Young on the radio (although it was the 1980s, some stations played classic rock, he explained). Today he tours about 200 days of the year.
To date, he’s released 19 albums and received many awards, including numerous Boston Music Awards, which are considered high honors in the folk music world. His most recent CD, “Chasing Beauty,” came out in 2014, and he’s working on a new one. He said he will try out some of his new songs at the Outpost.
Guitar, Paul said, “is an instrument that gives back a lot. It’s a healing instrument. It helps better me, and gives my life purpose. I interact with the universe with it. It’s been a calling card in a lot of ways, for friendships, relationships, adventures, money.”
Money? Money isn’t a word folk musicians say their music brings them, very often.
“Folk music money is a step above Monopoly money,” Paul said, laughing.
Paul describes his songs as “story songs, about people at some kind of crossroads in their lives.” He finds a song by “just keeping my ears open, being aware and engaging with the world. Hopefully songs slide by and I grab them with my butterfly net.”
The Outpost, Paul said, has been “an important cornerstone to my career. I started playing there in the late ’90s, and have played there every few years. I feel like it’s part of the backbone of my touring life.” On Friday, he will play at the Outpost for the eighth time. The fact that the Outpost has survived, he said, “shows that people care about it.”
VALERIE JUNE: MAGICAL MUSIC
Valerie June is diving into the music of Billie Holliday. “I’m trying to figure out why people gravitate to Billie’s work, why they love it so much,” June said from her home in Brooklyn, in her distinctive Tennessee accent.
Her voice doesn’t resemble Holliday’s, yet the connection makes sense: June’s voice is expressive, it dances around the notes, and is instantly recognizable.
NPR describes her voice as “an inviting, inscrutable drawl.”
Since the release of June’s 2013 CD “Pushin’ Against a Stone,” she has performed on “The Tonight Show,” “The Late Show,” at Carnegie Hall, and at the White House.
Her second CD, 2017’s “The Order of Time,” is, according to Rolling Stone, “near perfect front to back.”
The 35-year-old singer doesn’t let the ecstatic reviews faze her.
“I’m trying to get more present in my life about things like that,” she said. “I put my head down and move forward and focus on art.”
She once thought of going to art school to study pottery and painting, but couldn’t afford it, she said.
So she began playing music instead. “I was singing and writing songs from the day I was born. I was always making music.
“But deciding to be a musician and choosing it as a career path, to pay bills, and put food on the table… ” That didn’t happen until she was 27, she explained.”It was only after I became diabetic and couldn’t pay my bills, that I was forced to be in music, and dependent on music alone.
“I was laughing at myself the other day. I wake up every day and all I really have to do is make music. It’s a shocking thing to me to be an artist and wake up and be living that way.”
When she was a girl, she and her four brothers and sisters all sang together, creating the parts: “‘You do the low, I’ll do the high.’ I never thought of it as something different from other families.
“Somebody’s singing a song, putting clothes in the dryer, and someone started singing with them.”
She plays guitar and banjo, and her music incorporates pop, R&B, blues, country and roots. She doesn’t label it.
“To me, it’s the magical music that I make,” she said. “I try to be me in every song.”
MARC COHN: ‘I’M AFRAID I’M OUT’
Marc Cohn told his piano teacher at his first lesson, “Can you teach me to play ‘Hey Jude?’”
When the teacher replied “We have to do scales,” Cohn told her, “I’m afraid I’m out.”
“I wanted to learn songs from the very beginning,” he said. “I’m not saying it was a smart thing to do. Listen, I wish I knew more about theory and scales. When it comes down to it, what you’re not able to do, if you have some talent, informs your style.”
Cohn won a Grammy award for his ballad “Walking in Memphis” from his platinum-selling debut album, “Marc Cohn,” in 1991. The song has been covered many times, including recordings by Cher, and by performers on “The Voice.”
It was when he was in college, and heard Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell, that he realized a singer and songwriter could be the same person. Both of them played the piano, so he decided to learn it also.
He took his guitar into a practice room with a Steinway, and taught himself chords.“Within a couple of weeks, I started playing the way I still do today,” he said.
“But what was really important was the lyrics, how personal, poetic, and insightful they were. From then until this day — I wrote a new song this morning — until I have the lyrics I’m not all that interested.”
The Outpost audience may hear some new songs.
In 2016, to celebrate 25 years since his first album came out, he released his eighth album, “Careful What You Dream: Lost Songs and Rarities,” and the bonus album, “Evolution of a Record,” which includes demos of “Walking in Memphis.”
“Going back to [the songs on ‘Careful What You Dream’] was wonderful. It was a pleasant surprise. I had told myself erroneously along the line that I hadn’t found my songwriting voice until my first record.”
Revisiting them doesn’t make him feel old, he said with a laugh. “Having four children and two ex-wives makes me feel old.”
He’d love to have another song that breaks through in a big way so his younger kids “could have a sense of what it was like before they were born, and their dad had a hit.”
One thing that brought him back to recording new songs again was literally getting a hole in his head. In 2005 he was shot in an attempted carjacking. The bullet lodged in his skull, and he was released after only eight hours.
He praised singer Rosanne Cash’s Op-Ed in the New York Times about gun control, and wondered of those who are critical, “How many of those people were actually shot in the head? The guy who shot me was high on crystal meth. He was a great danger to himself when he took it. He only became a danger to other people when he got out a gun and shot through the windshield of my car.”
Like Ellis Paul, Cohn sees himself as a storyteller. If he weren’t a musician, he might be a therapist, he said. “I’m interested in people’s stories. It’s why I’m a songwriter.
“It’s another way to get at them.”