Outpost Celebrates 29 years of bringing communities together through music with Robert Ellis.
Robert Ellis hit the stage at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Montclair this past Saturday, Feb. 25, for one of Outpost in the Burbs‘ latest events. Fast-approaching their 30th anniversary, Outpost has been working hard as a non-profit organization for 29 years now, bent on bringing people together and forming communities through the power of music, community service providers and other cultural programs.
Rocking his outrageous, space-themed suit studded with rhinestones, plus the equally out-of-this-world brand of folk-pop which he is so beloved for, Ellis and bandmate Kelly Doyle put on a show which will not be soon forgotten. Blending various aspects of pop, jazz, psychedelic rock and country folk music, all of his tunes were suffused with an unmistakable element of raw Texan emotion, which conjured images of Western countrysides – even among people from here in New Jersey.
Singer-songwriter Courtney Hartman also accompanied Ellis, both for his opening act as well as to contribute vocals and acoustic guitar for the penultimate song of the evening (pictured above). Hartman’s performance combined familiar, Midwestern folk riffs with her ghostly vocal styling, grabbing audience-members by their heartstrings and not letting. Songs such as “Noah,” “Cumberland Gap” and “Take Me Back Colorado” stood as powerful, vulnerable testaments to the totally unironic and unfeigned folk spirit which she laid bare that night.
Likewise, Ellis and Doyle rocked the house at Outpost with several tracks from the latest 2016 LP, Robert Ellis, as well as a few from their 2014 album, The Lights from the Chemical Plant. Since Ellis and Doyle were without the rest of their usual band-members, they were forced to put on versions of their songs which were almost entirely guitar-focused, and made for an experimental occasion which was much-welcome. Seeing so many people come together to celebrate these incredible upcoming talents, and from a genre which is not as celebrated in these parts, was genuinely heartening.
“We would not be able to do what we do here without the help of other non-profits and community service organizations like Habitat for Humanity, the Human Needs Food Pantry of Montclair, the soup kitchen workers that provide food here and many more, ” said Gail Prusslin, Vice-President on the Board of Trustees at Outpost in the Burbs. She made an effort to highlight how any people who find themselves interested in attending these events should also really make sure to visit the Outpost website’s membership section, where they could learn all about upcoming events and also get various perks depending on how they enroll.
In addition, Prusslin was also sure to convey her gratefulness toward the Universalist Church. “We are not associated with the church at all, and so must also thank them for their help,” said Prusslin. The majority of Outpost In The Burbs events are held at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair on 67 Church St., and the acoustics really were quite superb.
Songs played that night included desert-rocker “Good Intentions,” a version of “TV Song” with an electric-guitar portion not found on the album and the aptly-named “Singalong” which several audiences requested and appeared to know well. Their show was filled with tons of laughter and banter on Ellis’ part, who repeatedly expressed his gratitude toward the Montclair audience-members, who were both laid-back and very-much engaged in the performance. At one point he scanned the Outpost audience for any children, before launching into a some rather “adult” stories, including one about a bar-fight in Philadelphia that somehow broke out during one of his country-folk shows.
Ellis also detailed to us an old “costume cleaning technique” that he learned to clean the fabulous, navy-blue suit he wore, which was adorned with images of astronauts, stars and so-on. “It comes off as soon as I get home, then I thoroughly spray the armpits with vodka. It actually works, surprisingly – definitely makes you smell like vodka,” he said, only partially joking.
Before Ellis chose to humorously skip the encore and finish the night with “Singalong,” he invited Courtney Hartman to the stage to put on a stunning rendition of “Gentle on my Mind” by John Hartford. This Outpost performance was sincerely heartwarming, and really brought the whole show together in a big way. Prusslin was rendered nearly speechless by the end when approached for comments. “Wasn’t Courtney Hartman just beautiful?” she asked. “Wasn’t it amazing?”
It certainly was. Hearing Hartman one last time, then ending the night with “Singalong” while the whole audience joined in, was the cherry on top of a magical evening. It was a night filled with delightful tunes, delectable food, lots of joking around, and a musical finale which left audiences members humming “Singalong” as they walked to their cars, deep into the muggy February night.