Ellis Paul doesn’t just write songs; he’s like a reporter, albeit one armed with an acoustic guitar, who covers the human condition and details the hopes, dreams, loves, losses and innermost secrets of those he observes, turning their stories into luminous and thrilling pieces of music that get under your skin and into your bloodstream. And much like the artists who have influenced him, everyone from Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Paul Simon to the singer-songwriter who is undoubtedly his greatest inspiration, Woody Guthrie, Paul weaves deeply personal experiences with social issues and renders them as provocative works that are as timely as they are timeless. “There’s a craft to what I do, and I take it very seriously,” Paul says. “At the same time, I look at it as a calling, too. I tour quite a bit, and that allows me to come into contact with so many people of all walks of life. I hear their stories, and I realize that they could be telling me my story, too. So I try to make sense out of it all. I try to get to the heart of what we’re all feeling. That’s at the root of what I do – capturing the humanity we share with some kind of grace and integrity.” Born and raised in Maine, Paul attended Boston College and became a fixture at the city’s open mic nights. After winning a Boston Acoustic Underground songwriter competition, he caught critics’ ears with the release of his indie album Say Something in 1993, which led to a deal with Rounder Records and the 1994 album, Stories. Through a steady succession of albums – a remarkable 20 releases so far – and almost constant touring, Paul’s audience grew into a loyal legion of fans. Along the way, he picked up an impressive number of awards, having been cited 11 times by the Boston Music Awards for Folk Act of the Year, Outstanding Male Singer-Songwriter and Outstanding Acoustic Folk Album, honored with Gold and Silver awards by the Parents’ Choice Foundation, and chosen by the Maine Music Awards to be among its Hall of Fame inaugural class in 2014. “I feel as though every album is a chance to get inside the human spirit in some way,” he says. “Whether it’s something I’m going through or stories I hear from friends or even people I meet on the road, they’re all part of a common bond we all share. Whether I’m recording something personal or doing a children’s album, or even if I’m writing about something more political, they all tie together as learning experiences and an honest source of songs.”
COURSE #1: The Songwriter as Storyteller (Songwriting Course)
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive. Cold Missouri Waters. Some of my very favorite songs are story songs - narrative tales of people at a crossroads. Whether they are fictional or factual, they take me to a place, a scene, a time, and most importantly, a feeling, with characters moving through important moments in their lives. A good story song is believable, compelling, insightful. In as little as a couple of minutes, the listener gets a sense of not only where the character exists in their life, but where they have been and where they are headed after the song has finished. There’s an element of voyeurism for the listener that makes witnessing these very personal histories very compelling. We apply their stories to our own. In this course, we will dissect some of these songs and look at their elements. What exactly makes them so great? We will explore our own biographies in class and mine our own pasts for story song ideas. We'll be on a quest for things like setting, plot, and character. We'll look at ways to bring out more tension, emotion, humor, and drama, to have the greatest impact on the listener. You'll leave this class with a strong start on a brand new song of your own.
Antje Duvekot has solidified her reputation as one of Boston's top singer songwriters. Antje has extensive touring experience, criss-crossing the US and Europe for over a decade. She is a compelling live performer and has played some of the top events of the acoustic scene including The Newport Folk Festival, Mountain Stage, TEDMED Conference, Celtic Connections Festival in Scotland, the Tonder Festival in Denmark, Philadelphia and Kerrville Festivals and many more. Duvekot's four studio albums have been produced by Seamus Egan, as well as Richard Shindell and feature many folk favorites including John Gorka, Ellis Paul, Richard Shindell, Anais Mitchell, Shawn Mullins, Kris Delmhorst, Lucy Kaplancky, Mark Erelli and more. She has also won numerous awards including the Grand Prize in the John Lennon Songwriting Competition, the prestigious, Kerrville (TX) "Best New Folk Award" and in one of the nation's top music markets, she won the Boston Music Award for "Outstanding Folk Act", three of the top prizes in the singer songwriter world. In December of 2007, The Bank of America featured Antje's song "Merry Go Round" in a national TV advertising campaign seen by millions, including a Super Bowl audience. Antje's loyal fan base, the viral spreading of her music and a track record of sold-out shows are a testament to her popularity. Neil Dorfsman, the producer of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Sting says, "When I first heard Antje I knew I was witnessing something very special. She creates an entire, detailed world in verse, and takes you there with beautiful and understated melody. Her songs are stunning paintings of color and shade and always generate the heat and light that real art should. In an unpoetic and 'in your face' world, she is lyrical and subtle."
COURSE #2: The Poetry of Metaphor (Songwriting Course)
There are so many trails to take a song down. Really, the possibilities and techniques are infinite. I find something moving in almost every song I hear. I have been slain by songs with not a single metaphor in them, yet I admit to being partial to the visual and emotive qualities that metaphors can bring to a story. Big and small. Metaphors may feature as the main thread through a song and tell a story on multiple levels or they can enhance a single line's imagery. Either way, a well-placed metaphor can skip to the essence of a thing and circumscribe a relationship to lend emotional salience and originality to a story. It can tease out the shared and the universal while also surprising us and cracking through the expected to the unexpected where feeling originates. I find that often people think they don't know how to use metaphors, feeling more comfortable in less abstract terrain. In this course, we will discover that metaphors are all around and can be wielded in various ways to enhance an otherwise grounded story. I love metaphors as a tools for adding emotionally vibrating layers to lyrics, while simultaneously keeping them from lifting off into abstraction. Metaphors are simply a way to reinforce the core narrative, emotion, and imagery—to grant them a parallel life, at once larger and smaller than the literal domain of any given story. I tend to revel in their richness and am eager to share the ways in which I approach them, as well as the tricks that I use in thinking about metaphors and locating them, and to encourage students to trust theirs.
Sam Baker makes people happy. The characters in his songs face many challenges—alcoholism, car wrecks, racism, drug addiction, a mother’s abandonment—but they persevere. Much like Sam himself. In 1986 Sam got in the middle of someone else’s war. When a terrorist bomb exploded in the his train compartment, he went from being a young, healthy, tourist enjoying Peru with friends to a broken man surrounded by death and dying. Given his injuries, he too should have died. But through a series of miracles and coincidences he survived. There were lots of surgeries, and the requisite pain pills. His leg was saved by a successful femoral arterial graft. When the cranial bleed in his brain healed, he had to relearn nouns, and after his right eardrum was replaced, he regained some hearing. With the top of his left hand gone, it seemed that his formerly skillful hands had been transformed into blocks of wood, but eventually those hands learned how to play an upside-down guitar. Physically, Sam was recovering, but his life was filled with pills, booze, and rage. Then came the voices and messengers that helped him see that the greatest gift is life itself. He learned about forgiveness. He needed to tell his story. Songs started to come from that upside-down guitar. Before he knew it, there were CDs, tours around the world, an interview with Terry Gross, and awards in Rolling Stone. Sam feels compelled to tell his story—through his music, art, or any means possible—to one person at a time, or to thousands from a festival stage. A Sam Baker show is a celebration. Some songs tell of everyday people who survive life’s daily challenges; others are stories of growing up in a small Texas prairie town. All his shows are an acknowledgment and appreciation of the pure joy that comes with people gathering to listen to live music. Sam’s fans travel to see him, often driving hours to experience the powerful performance. After the show, they tell Sam their stories. At the end of the day, we all go in peace.
COURSE #3: Writing the Wave (Songwriting Course)
I write from an emotional wave, an emotional response to the world around me. Then I work toward aligning all parts of the song so that each reflects some element of the wave. The tools are basic: rhyme, meter, musical feel (major vs. minor, etc.), verse, chorus, bridge. We will explore the intuition of song, and work toward simplicity, which of course is a function of reduction. And reduction is a function of edit. There are a million ways to write songs; there as many ways to write songs as there are writers. But all generally build their songs from a foundation on basics. We will explore what works for each writer at the Retreat, and will use tools to most effectively convey what EACH writer wants to say.
Called "a musician and singer of dazzling versatility" (No Depression), Tracy Grammer is among contemporary folk music's most beloved artists. Renowned for her pure voice, deft acoustic guitar and violin work, and incantatory storytelling, Grammer has recorded and performed with Joan Baez and Mary Chapin Carpenter, headlined several of the nation's top folk festivals, and enjoyed 12 consecutive years as one of folk radio's 50 top-played artists, both solo and with her late duo partner, Dave Carter. Following Carter’s death in 2002, Grammer became the de facto curator of his work and songwriting methodology, and has dedicated much of her career to promoting his legacy. This fall, Grammer will embark on a three-month tour throughout the United States in support of LOW TIDE, her 11th release and the first album to showcase her emotionally potent, poetic songwriting. LOW TIDE was the 9th most-played album on folk radio in 2018 and appeared on several year-end top ten lists, including FolkAlley.com and Fish Records UK.
“A brilliant artist.” -Joan Baez
"One of the finest singers and musicians anywhere in folkdom." -Boston Globe
“Potent songcraft that reflects the tender and stubborn heart that got her here, and a way with words and images that … marks the beginning of a new path to glory. A bold and beautiful collection.” -coverlaydown.com
COURSE #4: Tuning In to the Heart of the Practice (Songwriting Course)
Songwriting is a heart practice. It is a conjuring, a magic trick, sweat and tears, a thing of joy. Sometimes we write to share what we know, but more often than not, we write to learn, to expand our sense of self and make sense of the world around us. The late Dave Carter, a mystical, prolific songwriter whose songs have been covered by more than 100 artists, thought of songwriting as a shamanic journey and believed that a songwriter’s deepest longing is for access to their own secrets, their own wisdom. But where do we reveal ourselves, knowingly or unknowingly, in song? Where do we hide? Why, when we set out to say one thing, do we often veer and say another? I am interested in helping songwriters build authority, burn their language, write beautiful melodies, and express their truths uniquely, musically, and concisely. But I’m also really intrigued by this business about secrets. So we’re going to jump into the sandbox and work on it all. Through stories, songs, writing exercises/games, meditations, discussions, a bit of cheerleader-y empowerment-speak, and teachings from other disciplines, we will take a close look at process. In doing so, I expect we’ll find that our whole lived experience—our personal history, our catalog of songs, AND our present-moment writing practice, including the language we use to talk about said practice and how we refer to ourselves as writers—is pulsing with wisdom inseparable from the art we are making. When we tune in to the heart of the practice, and internal/external conditions—aware of comfort, discomfort, health/wellness, which pen, what time, and the language we choose to describe what's blocking us—we not only gain access to our “secrets” but discover valuable, actionable direction for our songs, too. So: Bring your whole self and prepare to write. And play. And dream. And write. Because this is why you came.
Abbie Gardner is a fiery dobro player with an infectious smile. Whether performing solo or with Americana darlings Red Molly, her acclaimed tales of love and loss, both gritty and sweet, are propelled by her impeccable slide guitar chops. Her live show is truly unique - as both an award winning songwriter and interpreter of folk styles, a captivating vocalist, and a world class lap style dobro player, she has an unmistakable sound all her own. Her latest CD, Wishes on a Neon Sign was released in January 2018, and features twelve original songs, including a co-write with Chris Stapleton. She has opened for Lori McKenna, Hot Rize and Martina McBride. "Not only a first-rate Dobro player, but a songwriter to be reckoned with." -John Platt, WFUV
COURSE #5: Learning How to Co-write (Elective Course)
We’ll go over the ground rules, expectations, and do’s & don’ts of this popular writing technique. We’ll define important terms like “writing up” and the two main styles of co-writing, how to land a co-write in Nashville, legal issues to be aware of, and how to be someone professional writers will want to work with. Most of all, we’ll work through hesitation, have fun and work the techniques right here in class. Even if you prefer writing alone, co-writing is a useful technique that will expand your mind and help you listen to yourself better. No experience needed. If the idea of co-writing is intriguing but a little scary to you, that means you should definitely try it!
Warm and familiar, you know this tune by heart. Yet with twists in tempo, his story marches to its own beat. Meet Craig Akin, a versatile bassist whose 25 years of experience have afforded him the skills to play myriad styles of music with ease. Born into a musical family in the buckle of the Bible Belt and now attuned to the rhythms of the New York skyline, he’s a quick study, in demand, and giddy about playing since day one. Whether he’s playing his upright or electric bass, on stage or in the studio—jazz, pop, folk or rock, Craig Akin is comfortable and creative, and he consistently delivers the goods. With a degree in Music Education and formative years spent cutting his teeth in Kansas City’s jazz & blues scene, he currently tours part time with Americana harmony powerhouse Red Molly, and can be found playing and recording with various other notable East Coast artists. Craig has performed well over 4,000 shows, contributed to more than 70 albums and recently added a home recording studio to his artistic arsenal.
COURSE #6: Elevate Your Songs with the Circle of Fifths (Elective Course)
In this course, you'll learn about basic music theory and harmony. We'll be using the Circle of Fifths, which is the nuts and bolts of organized sound in the western hemisphere. We’ll talk about keys, key signatures, major and minor chords, chord relationships, basic music terminology and language, and much more. This course will give you concrete tools to take your songwriting to the next level!
It's hard to know where to start when describing Jim Henry. After 30+ years in the music business, he does a lot of things and he does them well. As a songwriter and singer, Jim has recorded 5 critically acclaimed solo CDs as well as an all instrumental guitar album with Brooks Williams. As an accompanist, he has toured the world with artists including Mary Chapin Carpenter, Paula Cole, Deb Talan, The Weepies, Susan Werner, Eliza Gilkyson, Tracy Grammer and countless others. As a multi-instrumentalist (acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, mandola, dobro, bass, baritone, lap steel) he has played on hundreds of tracks for as many artists. When he’s not on the road, he operates a small home studio, Rubytone, in Shutesbury, Massachusetts where he records and produces music for local and regional artists as well as teaching private music lessons. Jim’s latest endeavor is a podcast called “Pro Tips for Musicians,” available on iTunes, which features candid conversations with professionals from all aspects of the music business—players, songwriters, tour managers, engineers, etc., who offer useful advice, anecdotes, and wisdom for beginners and which music industry veterans find entertaining. Guests have included Tracy Grammer, Abbie Gardner, Cliff Eberhardt, Don Dixon (producer for REM, Matthew Sweet, Hootie and the Blowfish) and others. The podcast also spawned a companion book, “50 Pro Tips for Musicians: Practical Advice for an Impractical Business” written by Jim and illustrated by his daughter, Ruby, which was published earlier this year.
COURSE #7: Using Your Guitar to Tell the Story (Elective Course)
Songwriters spend countless hours crafting their lyrics but very few pay the same close attention to their guitar accompaniment. In this course, we will look at how the guitar can be used to help tell the story. This course will be student-driven, meaning we’ll delve into whatever participants want to explore. Topics could include: how to use bass notes effectively, how to select alternate chords, how to differentiate the verse from the chorus, basic music theory, adding emphasis at crucial points in the song. We may go into detail about certain important topics such as how to write a chart, as it’s important to know the structure, the bones of your song. Having a visual representation of your song makes talking about it with other people, especially players, much easier. Other guitar-specific topics could include: changing strings quickly, tuning, tuning with a capo, alternate tunings, guitar pedals (why, what, when, how), basic accompaniment techniques. Be prepared to bring: songs you’d be willing experiment with musically, questions about any aspect of guitar as it relates to writing or performing your song, guitar pedals you might need help with, and anything else!
Laurie MacAllister held a quiet dream of being a singer since she was a young girl. Her voice finally came alive years later when, on a dare, she was convinced to sing spontaneously for a crowd in New York City, in Washington Square Park. A career began in that moment and led to a steady stream of nights at open mic stages around NYC. Laurie released her first album of original songs, "These Old Clothes" soon afterward. In 2000, she discovered a passion for harmony singing while touring the country with folk luminary Cliff Eberhardt. Eberhardt produced Laurie's next album, "The Things I Choose To Do" released by Barnes & Noble in 2002. In 2004, at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, Laurie began making music with campmates. In that shared moment, the Americana trio Red Molly was born. With a focus on beautiful songs, soaring harmonies, and a deep relationship with their fans, the band quickly became the darlings of the folk/Americana scene. Red Molly has shared their voices around the world for fifteen years, singing everywhere from Australia to America, playing 100 shows annually in front of thousands of fans. Along the way, in 2010, Laurie's voice was featured in a national television commercial for Folgers Coffee. In May 2018, she released a new solo album called "The Lies the Poets Tell", a collection of some her most beloved songs, all sung with the voice that a young girl dreamed of.
COURSE #8: Giving Your BEST Performance (Elective Course)
Using her over 20 years of stage performance experience, Laurie will share the most important lessons she’s learned about delivering a song in a way that slays your audience and leaves them wanting more. We’ll look briefly at key factors that influence the quality of your performance, including issues such as health, self-confidence, songwriting, arrangement, practice, stage fright, song starts and song ends, and emotional connection. Then we’ll jump right into live demonstrations! As many as five volunteer Students will play a song, on a real stage, with a real sound system. We’ll workshop each performance, noting what worked well, and noting what could be better. We’ll give helpful constructive comments, and will witness improvements before our eyes! You’ll leave this course with more tools in your toolbox for making your songs shine and captivate!
Elective Guest Instructor
In the art of story-telling, Jen Williams has earned media in some of the nation’s most prestigious publications and received national awards and speaking engagements. But most importantly, for the last fifteen years, she's been in the business of helping people. Jen's a marketing and communications consultant whose passion and expertise are deeply rooted in travel, sports, wellness and the arts. While New England based, she has worked across 48 states and visited 16 countries in her leisure time. She loves the industries she works in almost as much as she loves providing impeccable social media strategy and integrated marketing services to businesses and clients. From concept to tear-down, she spices up consumer and trade events with equal parts enthusiasm and attention to detail. Pun-loving and punctilious, she revels in developing content, design and soup to nuts campaigns – from Insta Stories to website re-do's and above-the-fold features.
COURSE #9: Social Media Hacks for ... Social Media Hacks :) (Elective Course)
Love or hate it, social media is an essential tool in every musician's and brand's toolkit. This has been true for years now, and it's looking like social media will only become more important as time goes on. Learn to befriend social media to help grow your musical career, without going down a daily rabbit hole of screen time. We'll explore quick (and fun!) tips and tricks to grow your social community of fans, and keep them engaged in and interested in what you are doing.
NESR "Pioneer" (I, II, III & IV)
Owner, Dirty Paws Studio
DIRTY PAWS STUDIO
Recording | Mixing | Producing | Mastering. Dirty Paws Studio is my home studio in Monroe, CT where I've been recording, mixing, and producing music for about 5 years now. Back in 2015, before moving to Monroe, I released "Chasing Daylight", my debut album which was recorded, mixed, and produced in my bedroom. All of the instruments and vocals on the album were recorded and mixed by me one at a time, take after take. It's a labor of love and I've continued on that path since then and have worked on a few projects from local and not-so-local musicians, mixing, producing and mastering their work for them. I'm now working on my new album "Early Morning Firefly" which I'm very excited about. One of my top goals is to help you deliver the emotions you feel when writing and performing your music. I look to enhance your music and its mood, and portray your song just as you imagine it.
COURSE #10: Home Studio Recording (Mini-Course)
In this 30-minute session, we're going to dive right into my home recording process, starting from the moment pen hits paper, through arrangement, production and recording. We'll talk about GIRATS (Joe Gilder's "Get it Right at the Source" mantra) and how important it is to get the best sound up front, so you don't have to rely on fixing it later in the mix. I'll touch upon some common home studio myths, as well as recommended gear and terminology. I'll also be talking about what to do before heading to the studio and how to keep things organized while you are there, to make the whole experience as stress-free and productive as possible.
NESR Alumnus (II, III & IV)
Positive Change Coaching
Cynthia has more than 20 years of experience as a life coach, specializing in personal growth, motivation, goal setting, empowerment, and time and stress management. She co-founded a company that specialized in the development of productive employees through corporate coaching, assessments, team building and customized management training. She has designed and delivered over 100 “positive change” coaching workshops on topics such as emotional intelligence, self-esteem and laws of attraction. Cynthia has completed Coach University’s “Professional Coach Program”, Alan Seale’s “Transformational Presence Leadership and Coach Training”, Jackie Woodside’s “Life Design, Life Mastery and Living a Transcendent Life”, and she is a Certified Behavioral and Values Analyst from Target Training Institute, Ltd. Cynthia is also a songwriter, The death of a friend in a tragic motorcycle accident made Cynthia Smith painfully aware how ephemeral life is, and inspired her to start sharing her passion of storytelling through music. Since 2013, Cynthia has been recording her songs with senior producer Chris Billias at Bristol Studios in Boston, and is about to start on her 9th CD. She engages her colorful imagination, creating songs that cover a wide range of topics, including moon songs, love and loss, and sex, drugs and danger.
COURSE #11: Building Self-Confidence (Mini-Course)
How confident are you? Even the most professional performers can suffer from anxiety and low self-confidence. Everyone faces it at one time or another. In and of itself, stress isn’t a problem; it’s how we react to stress that determines how we will perform. Thoughts can project the future, and you have the ability to change your thoughts. Confidence is something you can develop! This course will cover what confidence is and where it comes from; misconceptions about confidence; the role of the subconscious; self-limiting beliefs; mastering self-talk, and ways to achieve desired outcomes. Together we will utilize tools and techniques of master singers and performers, practice physical and mental exercises recommended by professionals, and cover preparation and delivery techniques. You will leave with a self-confidence toolbox, practical daily exercises, and your own personal “confidence mantra.” Bring this with you to the course: a positive message, statement or testimonial that you can read.