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Minneapolis musician returns to RF, hopes to open hearts with songs

November 9, 2006

Baring your soul to anyone who will listen at the risk of facing societal shame is not an easy undertaking to pound. But when the benefit is perceived to outweigh the hazard, it’s not so difficult.

At least it isn’t to Minneapolis-based singer-songwriter Ellis.

“I’m doing this to open people’s hearts,” Ellis said. “I just want to touch people.”

Crowned “Best Musical Artist” by Minnesota Women’s Press and “Best Musician” in Lavender Magazine for five years, the folk singer is commanding the Brandy’s stage at 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 10.

As an openly gay individual, the singer’s appearance is sponsored by the Diversity Awareness Community (DAC). Ellis returns to UW-River Falls following successful performances in the past.

“Ellis has historically been a very well-attended event, promoting diversity in a very unique way,” DAC President Ashley Olson said. “She consistently is a strong performer and good role model for the GLBT community.”

Aside from the positive attendance in years past, the nature of her act also reels her back by DAC.

“With her great musical talent and her good sense of humor,” Olson said, “Ellis has a way with audiences to, in a non-threatening way, share a diverse background.”

Acknowledging the position of influence she has as a successful performer, Ellis said she “loves” the opportunity to touch people through her music.

She said she believes she provides an example to people who have not yet come out.

“I don’t need to hide the fact that I’m queer,” she said.

Ellis said she recognizes her calling as a songwriter and likes to prove that people can do what they want, regardless of sexual orientation.

“I feel good knowing I’m just a normal person touching people with what I’m doing,” she said. “It’s super important for us to be visible.”

Still, her sexuality is not what defines Ellis as a performer, but rather her musical talents.

“Her music has been described as joyful, unpretentious acoustic rock with influences of folk and a slight hint of country flavor,” according to her press kit.

The musician is also largely focused on her fan base. That notion is visible in her performances.

“She really appreciates her fans,” fan Lacey Felmlee said. “She’s really interactive with her fans.”

While her solid fan base centralizes in the Minneapolis area, it is expanding to include a nationwide following.

Overwhelming the artist’s MySpace page are comments from fans all across the country wondering when she’ll schedule an appearance near them. Recent requests came from San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta and Kansas City, among others.

Noting her expanding following, Ellis said it is a really great excuse to see the country.

“It’s such a beautiful country,” she said. “I can see more how we’re the same all across the country.”

Ellis said she appreciates seeing fans that were “regulars” in one geographical location show up at an event after they have moved to a different region.

She rewards her fans by sponsoring essay contests with prizes including the production of an album and a personal guitar.

But it’s the sense of humor coupled with her musical flair that keep some UWRF fans returning to her on-campus performances.

Ellis is “known for her vibrant and open-hearted nature and   contagious sense of humor,” according to her press kit.

Personal accounts from fans agree.

“She’s really funny and tells personal stories,” said Abigail Cook, who has seen Ellis perform on campus twice.

“In combination with being an incredible singer and songwriter, Ellis has a uniquely unforgettable laugh and has a way with the audience,” Olson said.

Ellis said it wasn’t her original intention to be funny, and she was actually surprised when people started to laugh at her, but now realizes that her personality comes out in performance.

“I’m not political,” she said. “But I am who I am.”

Her songwriting aspirations began after she began flirting with the idea when she was just 16 years old. Following the suicide of a friend, she started writing songs. Events in her personal life continue to shine through in her lyrics.

“Definitely my life comes into my art,” Ellis said. “The only experience I have is my own. Songs are a medium to express life.”

Olson said the songs leave a lasting impression and provide an “understanding [to] the crazy stories behind them.”

Ellis said she aims to “write songs that everyone can relate to.”

Her attempts are successful.

“Anyone can relate to [her songs],” Cook said. “She’s really enjoyable; it’s fun to go and listen and just be with friends.”

Ellis started her own record label and has since recorded five albums.

For more information, visit her Web site at http://www.ellis-music.com.