It’s been 25 years since Ellis Paul, who grew up surrounded by the potato fields of Aroostook County, began touring the world to sing his songs.
During all his time on the road, he’s seen gas range from 50 cents a gallon to $2.50 or more, he’s seen people trade black coffee for espressos and lattes, and he’s watched the demise of printed Rand McNally road maps. During that time, he’s also had two daughters, now 10 and 13, which has changed the direction of his songwriting.
“I think, in my 20s, I wrote a lot of songs about exploring the world, but now because of my kids, I write a lot about relationships, but not romantic ones,” said Paul, 52, from his home in Charlottesville, Virginia. “I look at the days of my life, looking for something entertaining or some landmark event to write about.”
Paul will perform his folk-tinged songs, new and old, at One Longfellow Square in Portland on Friday. The opening act is Laurie MacAllister, his girlfriend and a member of the Americana trio Red Molly.
Paul mostly tours on weekends now, wanting to be home to spend time with his children during the week. He’s currently working on an album he hopes to release next year. One of the songs came directly from a conversation he had with one of his daughters, about death.
“My father had died and my daughter asked where do people go when they die,” said Paul. “So I wrote a song.”
Paul grew up in Presque Isle, where he spent time working on his grandfather’s potato farm. He played trumpet in high school and ran track. He’s forever grateful to the town for raising money needed to send him to a big out-of-state track meet one year.
“When I got back I got the key to Presque Isle,” said Paul. “I feel very lucky to be from there.”
Paul got a track scholarship to Boston College and started playing the guitar, then performing at local clubs. After graduating from college, he got a job working for a school in Boston, helping kids who had either been in the juvenile justice system or kicked out of public schools.
Here’s a live clip of Paul:
He did that for about five years before deciding to make music his primary vocation. He started touring in 1992 and became one of New England’s best-known folk performers, winning multiple Boston Music Awards. By the end of the 1990s, he was making his name known nationally and began singing his songs in major films. His song “The World Ain’t Slowin’ Down” was featured in Jim Carrey’s 2000 film “Me, Myself & Irene.” His “Sweet Mistakes” was used in the Jack Black comedy “Shallow Hal” in 2001, and “Heaven’s Wherever You Are” was in the 2011 comedy “Hall Pass” with Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis.
Besides releasing 19 albums during his career, Paul has also written two children’s books. “Hero in You” came out in 2014 and is accompanied by educational songs Paul wrote about various historical figures, from Jackie Robinson to Rosa Parks. He said he was inspired by the “School House Rock” vignettes that aired on ABC Saturday mornings during his childhood.
“The Night the Lights Went Out on Christmas” came out in 2015 and is about families who try so hard to outdo each other’s holiday decorations, they cause a power outage. Paul says he hopes to write another children’s book soon.
“I’ve got a lot of ideas, but I want to finish this next album for adults, then work on a book for kids,” he said.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 29
WHERE: One Longfellow Square, 181 State St., Portland
HOW MUCH: $25 in advance, $30 day of the show