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Ellis Paul
NESR Founder & Host
Songwriting Instructor
Workshop Instructor

Ellis Paul doesn’t just write songs; he’s a guitar-carrying reporter who covers the human condition and details the hopes, loves, and losses of those he observes. He turns their stories into luminous 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. Born and raised in Maine, Paul attended Boston College on a track scholarship and in the evenings became a fixture on the city’s open mic circuit. After winning a Boston Acoustic Underground songwriter competition, he caught the ear of folk luminary Bill Morrissey, who produced his indie album Say Something in 1993. This led to a seven album contract with Rounder Records and the 1994 album, Stories. His songs have appeared in several blockbuster films (Me Myself and Irene, Shallow Hal, Hall Pass) and have been covered by award-winning country artists (Sugarland, Kristian Bush, Jack Ingram). Through a steady succession of albums of his own—a remarkable 23 releases so far—and a constant touring presence around the world, Paul’s audience has grown into a loyal legion of fans. Along the way, he has picked up an impressive number of awards including the prestigious Kerrville New Folk Award, 15 Boston Music Awards, An Honorary Doctorate from the University of Maine, the 2019 International Acoustic Music Awards Artist of the Year and most recently his album, The Storyteller’s Suitcase, was named the 2019 NERFA Album of the Year. His new album “55” touches on the necessity of gratitude in a difficult era of the pandemic and divided political stances on his own imprint, Rosella Records. He is the Founder and Co-Host of the New England Songwriters Retreat.

COURSE #1: Ellis Paul
’ve always thought that a great song is like peering into a snow globe. You look through the glass at someone’s three dimensional world. You’re pulled into the imagery and story by the narrator, and then the real world disappears around you and pop! There you are! Inside the snow globe! You’re walking down the actual street of a Dylan song, but you’ve exchanged the details he had written with the characters, the places, the experiences of your own life and imagination. In this magical way, a listener can co-create the scene with their own autobiography by rewriting details provided by the songwriter with images from their own life. It’s a jumble of their ideas and yours, which makes the entire experience even more personal. This is why people say, “That’s my song”, because the music told their life story so vividly that they claim ownership of it. How do we pull people in like that? How do you engage them to the point that the outside world disappears? What makes a song believable? Moving? We will start with the birth of great ideas, and walk through the editing process, with tools of the trade that will trigger listeners’ imagination into the snow globe of your song.



I’ve done 6,000 shows. Wow. That’s alot. I’ve had many great ones, and ones that I wish I could have back. I ask myself after every one— what went well? Where could you improve? That's 30 years of fine tuning, changing, evolving. Making adjustments as I improved, as my writing developed, as my life evolved. In this workshop, I will focus on how you can learn from each and every performance, to have a greater impact on your audience. We’ll look at the many aspects of presenting a show, including your content (songs/set list, banter, stories, humor, audience interaction), your visual presentation (first impressions, clothing, posture, poise, movement, mic technique), and what is provided by the venue (stage lights, room lighting, sound, space). We’ll also look at tools like dynamics and subtle arrangement decisions that can make your performances more powerful and entertaining. We’ll also discuss strategies for working with stage fright, and building your confidence over time. This course will give you tools to get the very most out of your performances, find the soul of your songs, elevate your connection with your audience, and leave them wanting more.


Dan Bern
Songwriting Instructor


Dan Bern loves teaching songwriting and has taught in over 30 venues and festivals in the US and Canada. He has released more than two dozen studio albums in the past 20 years, touring throughout North America and Europe. In May 2022 he opened for The Who in Memphis, and opened for Roger Daltrey in Tampa in 2023. Bern has written for many movies and TV shows, including the end-title song “Wings of Stone” (sung by Adam Levine) for the 2022 Netflix movie, “The Bubble.”  He penned songs for Judd Apatow’s musical cult favorites, “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” with John C. Reilly, and “Get Him to The Greek” with Russell Brand, and wrote the theme and all the songs for Amazon’s “The Stinky and Dirty Show,” a cartoon for kids. He is also a frequent contributor of sports-flavored songs for “The Tony Kornheiser Show.” Since the birth of his daughter Lulu in 2009, he has recorded three kids' records, “2 Feet Tall,”  “3 Feet Tall” and “4 Feet Tall.”  Lately, Lulu has been accompanying Dan on the bass. Dan Bern lives in Silver City, NM. He is proud of his Iowa roots and is thrilled to have been inducted into the Iowa Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.



Dan Bern has created a songwriting class for NESR 7 that is a mystery, a surprise. We trust him. In this case, a standard description would spoil the fun. And fun is a huge part of songwriting. He doesn’t want you to overthink, he wants you to create in the spontaneity of the now. Here’s how he describes it: "Come prepared for anything … you will leave the retreat with a song that’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser!” Dan’s songwriting course “Listerine” is guaranteed to freshen up your set!



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Antje Duvekot
Songwriting Instructor


"This is a brilliant, brilliant album. I have had this reaction once in the last 10 years and that was the first time I heard Patty Griffin.”—Dave Marsh, Former Rolling Stone Music Editor and Springsteen biographerAntje Duvekot is an award-winning singer-songwriter and crafter of intricate, closely observed songs. She has crisscrossed the globe performing at clubs and festivals including the Newport Folk Fest, Philadelphia, Celtic Connections, Tonder Festival and TEDMED. Her songs have been recorded by Solas, Mindy Smith and others. She has had feature pieces in the Boston Globe, Huffington Post, CNN and NPR. In 2007, Bank of America featured Antje's song "Merry Go Round" in a national TV advertising campaign seen by millions, including a Super Bowl audience. More recently, the Boston Goethe Institute commissioned Antje to write its 2021 Earth Day song. Some of her songwriting awards include the Grand Prize in the John Lennon Songwriting Competition and the Boston Music Award for “Outstanding Folk Act”. Since 2020, Antje has also been working as a stop motion animator and has created music videos for Toad The Wet Sprocket, Dar Williams, Dave Koz, Eliza Gilkyson, Eliot Bronson and Lori McKenna, which have already garnered over 200K views collectively. In addition to her artistic pursuits, Antje leads a yearly humanitarian trip to Guatemala.



The older I get, the more I believe that the only place of interest is the “in-between”. The middle, that arena of combination and intersection, is so much more exciting than people give it credit for! So, too, I think it is with songs—where, in my estimation, the best stuff happens when there is a marriage between the literal and the ephemeral poles of poetry. There are, of course, many beautiful exceptions to this rule, but my personal “songwriting tip” is to strike a balance between plain and literal imagery on the one hand, and poetry, surprise and metaphor on the other. Add too much of the first and your song stays grounded in a flat literalism, add too much of the latter and your song might fly off into abstraction that can no longer be accessed by the listener. In my class, we’ll discuss what is definitely really happening in your song (the literal) and what is creating emotional buoyancy (the poetic, the surprising), i.e. how to bring in that layer. We’ll discover what a good balance looks like and how you can support the literal story you are telling by interlacing targeted abstraction. I’ll demonstrate the concept with some of my songs and those of writers who do this interlacing well. We’ll practice with writing exercises, and hopefully by looking at some of your songs, if you are willing to play them for the class!



Molly Venter
riting Instructor


Molly Venter’s voice is "biker-chick smoky, with jaw-dropping range and control.”—New Haven Register. Molly Venter writes poetic, stream-of-consciousness storytelling, where every word is heard and felt. A touring singer-songwriter since 2004, Venter joined folk trio Red Molly in 2010 and now tours with acoustic duo Goodnight Moonshine. Her songs have hit #1 on the Folk DJ charts and have been featured on film and television. "And it all goes down like silk.”—American Songwriter "Singing and movement have carried me into deeper realms of awareness from the time I was old enough to climb onto my swingset alone. I remember crooning at the moon with tear-stained cheeks until my parents called me to bed. Writing songs became my primary tool of self-inquiry and expression. I use (non-drug-induced) trance states to make music, and I love helping others do the same!”—Molly



Where do ideas come from? We humans are the maker ape, and creativity is our birthright. Producer Rick Rubin writes, "In this great unfolding, ideas and thoughts, themes and songs and other works of art exist in the ether ... as artists, it is our job to draw down this information, transmute it, and share it. The best artists tend to be the ones with the most sensitive antennae.” One way we can refine our antennae is to enter altered states of consciousness, sometimes called "flow state." It's not as esoteric as the aspiring artist may fear—every one of us goes through these altered states of consciousness throughout our day. Think of the way we "zone out" while washing dishes or driving a car—when spontaneously we land on the answer to a problem we'd been mulling over earlier. Or the way amazing ideas spring forth "out of nowhere”, just as we're falling asleep. Only it's not "out of nowhere”—it's out of our subconscious, that place within us (and in the collective, if you agree with Rick Rubin) where the myriad of complex experiences from a lifetime is housed. This class will involve exercises that guide you into deeper realms of yourself, and give you actionable techniques for sinking into flow state quickly, so that you can purposefully write from that place! (Spoiler alert: it involves self-hypnosis.) We can't force inspiration, but we can make ourselves solid vessels with which to catch and hold our fiery creative bursts! 


Laurie MacAllister
NESR Co-Host
NESR Retreat Coordinator

Workshop Instructor


Affectionately dubbed "Mama Bear" by NESR IV Students, Laurie handles the logistical aspects of NESR Online. Ask her anything—she's happy to help:

Laurie MacAllister held a quiet dream of being a singer since she was a very 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. Laurie started with a steady stream of nights on open mic stages around NYC, and then landed a regular Monday night gig at the The Grey Dog’s Coffee in the West Village. She released her first album of ten original songs called "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 solo album, "The Things I Choose To Do”, which was first released independently, and then picked up by Barnes & Noble and re-released on their label.


In 2004, at a campsite at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, Laurie began making music with her campmates, weaving their voices together in harmony. In an impromptu and magical moment, the Americana trio Red Molly was born. With a focus on beautiful songs, soaring harmonies, and a deep relationship with their fans (who dubbed themselves RedHeads), the band quickly became the darlings of the folk/Americana scene. Red Molly has shared their voices around the world for seventeen years, singing everywhere from Australia to America, playing 100 shows annually in front of thousands of fans, frequently selling out venues, and releasing seven acclaimed albums.


Along the way, in 2010, Laurie's voice was featured in a national television commercial for Folgers Coffee. In 2018, she produced and released a new solo album called "The Lies the Poets Tell", a collection of some her most beloved songs. The album features duets with six male vocalists, including the late Americana master Jimmy LaFave. Laurie has composed and sung harmony parts on dozens of recordings, including those by Cliff Eberhardt, Susan Werner, and Ellis Paul. She's also taught singing and stage performance around the country, including at The Swannanoa Gathering, Folk Alliance International, Targhee Music Camp, and the New England Songwriters Retreat. Laurie's powerful yet delicate voice stretches octaves, warm and romantic one moment, playful and irreverent the next. One song at a time, one show at a time, over the course of two adventuresome decades, Laurie has turned her quiet dream into a joyous reality.



Learn ways to increase the authenticity and believability of your singing, to have a greater impact on your listeners. This class will focus on one highly effective approach to becoming a better singer: increasing the believability of your voice. Genuine, honest singing from the heart has the power to captivate listeners and leave them wanting more. The very best performances are ones that move a listener emotionally. In this class, we’ll explore a wide variety of things that will allow you to achieve greater authenticity in your vocals, including connecting more deeply with your audience, fully inhabiting the meaning of a song, choosing the right key, grounding yourself in the present, using body language to reinforce connection, holding notes, using wordless vocalizations, using vocal dynamics, etc. We’ll consider big-picture concepts to improve your singing, such as fun, gratitude, vulnerability, etc. and how to remove barriers to powerful, connected singing, allowing your voice to shine. We’ll examine vocal technique as it relates to delivering emotionally authentic performances, including vocal health, vocal warmups, enunciation of lyrics, etc.  A few students will volunteer to sing about 2-3 minutes of a song for the class. The class will be experiential, allowing you to try out new things right in class, and learn from other students as they try out new things. The environment will be warm and supportive, judgement-free, and focused on improvement and growth. Please bring water, your favorite notebook, and your favorite pen/pencil. If you play guitar or another instrument, feel free to have it handy, along with any needed gear (tuner, capo, picks, etc.). You’ll leave this class a better singer than when you started!

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Mark Erelli
Special Guest Instructor

Mon 8/28 & Mon 9/4


Song-builder. High-singer. Guitar-slinger. Bug-lover. Dog-father. Living with Retinitis Pigmentosa.




Mark Erelli has forged a colorful career by making the art of “being everywhere all the time” seem effortless. It’s hard to think of another artist who seems equally at home serving as a sideman for GRAMMY-winning artists like Paula Cole, Marc Cohn, and Josh Ritter, or producing albums for Lori McKenna, as he does writing and producing his own material, like his newest album Lay Your Darkness Down. 


The album is inspired by a terrifying experience: during a performance in Summer 2020, Mark Erelli looked down at his guitar neck and couldn’t see his fingers on the frets. Soon after, a diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a degenerative eye disease, would bring some answers, but it also yielded new questions. Does diminished eyesight correlate with lesser insight? Does your songwriting change when your perception of the world around you changes? These questions, and Erelli’s hunt for creative agency, are at the heart of Lay Your Darkness Down, a rousing album of defiance, hope, and resilience in the face of challenges.


"A songwriter has to be a poet, philosopher, therapist, humorist, humanist, preacher, teacher, a fuse. Mark Erelli is all of those and more. Let me tell you why. I met Mark nearly 30 years ago—he was just a college kid, hosting me at an acoustic coffeehouse at Bates. After my show, we sat into the late hours, sharing songs and stories—I clearly remember him being invested in every moment he spent with me. From that night, frozen in time in my mind, getting to witness his musical life unfold has been like watching someone planting a garden, lovingly, carefully, seed by seed. Each seed had a goal. Who do I study and embrace and work with, to learn how to write songs that matter? What do I do to become a master guitarist? How do I find my voice as a writer, a singer, a player? Patience. That’s the word that comes to mind when I think of Mark. He might not see it that way, but I've been watching from the outside. He shadowed zen songwriter Bill Morrissey, studying the power of his craft, with an endless determination to learn and grow. As a sideman, he’s lived inside the songs of exceptional writers like Josh Ritter and Lori McKenna. I’ve watched Mark’s evolution as he’s taken these experiences—absorbed them—and built his own archive of truly extraordinary songs, truly one of the finest collections of songs in contemporary folk music. He carries an expressive, golden voice, with a tone both believable and comforting. He has a mastery of language that is both profound and conversational. Listen, and your ears are pulled into the center of Mark’s heart and mind. And now, he’s a breathing bonsai tree.”

—Ellis Paul


We’re thrilled to present Mark Erelli for a very special concert, discussion, and interview about his life as a performing songwriter.

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