Betse Ellis Biography
Badass fiddler and Ozark fireball Betse Ellis brings an edgy fire to every note she bows, strums, sings or shouts. Part old-time celebrant and part contemporary songwriter, Betse is committed to purveying the breadth of possibilities within the folk format. She blends traditional source material with her own original works and presents a diverse sound that refuses to be labeled concretely. Citing influences from John Hartford to Joe Strummer, she traverses musical realms and pushes the boundaries of how folk music can be understood and imagined in the modern age.
Notorious for her powerful stage presence, Betse weaves tales of folklore and personal history throughout her performances, offering audiences an intimate live experience that is strikingly honest, uplifting, intense and humorous all at once. On stage she is a tour guide, taking listeners on a musical journey that explores her own “personal folk”, including reimagined punk and art rock compositions given new life through her own brand of fiddling prowess and passionate vocals. Betse’s presence is undeniably dynamic; one minute she’ll shred hairs from her bow on a fast-paced tune—shouting lines fervently over her fiddle—and the next she’ll quietly serenade a heart-breaking confessional song on tenor guitar. Her expertise at the challenging task of singing while fiddling distinguishes her as a solo artist, as well as an acclaimed instructor of fiddle workshops across America.
A classically trained violinist, Betse became dedicated to old time fiddle styles, especially Ozark styles, when she realized this music related directly to her regional heritage. Recognizing the deep soul present in the source music inspired Betse to spend the next 20 years of her life learning, performing, and teaching these styles. In 2009, Betse released her debut solo album Don’t You Want to Go? (Free Dirt Records), which earned her an Independent Music Award nomination; her work with The Wilders, the acclaimed “hillbilly riot” band of which Betse is a founding member, won the IMA for Best Alt. Country album (Someone’s Got to Pay) the same year. Prior to embarking on the development of her solo career, Betse toured internationally with The Wilders and contributed her fiddling, singing and songwriting talents on their numerous studio albums. In addition to her time with The Wilders, she has played in several roots and rock groups in and around her home base of Kansas City, Missouri.
Betse’s latest solo album was released June 18, 2013 under Free Dirt Records; High Moon Order evolves from the raw, straightforward approach of Betse’s previous solo work to a sound that’s uncommonly complex and captivating. The album consists primarily of original compositions, with a few traditionals and old Ozark tunes imprinted with Betse’s own personal style and delivery.
The New Project! Betse is half of a new duo, Betse & Clarke. Formed in late 2014, the duo has already been featured in 2015 at the Portland Old Time Gathering, an official showcase act at Folk Alliance International Conference, the Midcoast Takeover in Austin, Texas, and will tour western US states summer 2015. More information is available at Betse & Clarke.
…a few quotes…
“Let’s get one thing straight: Betse Ellis is one badass fiddle player. She has an uncanny ability to make that instrument weep and wail while making it play hot potato with the bow…Ellis has put together a debut solo album filled with plenty of traditional numbers, a couple blues songs courtesy Memphis Minnie and a classical piece that, while slightly out of place, reminds us that Ellis is no one-trick pony.” – Ink Magazine
“Ellis covers a lot of stylistic ground… and does it with a lot of attitude and aplomb – a very accomplished effort.” – Sing Out!
“The album has an authentic feel of rural America and a joyful interplay with the other musicians.”
– The Scotsman
Betse is a member of Folk Alliance International
Betse is a songwriting and publishing member of BMI. (Smiling Violet Music)
Web Links & Friends
Violet Hensley, dear friend, fiddle mentor, and a Living Treasure
Photography by Betse Ellis is for sale through Fine Art America