During the performance of her hit single “Criminal” at the Canadian Country Music Association Awards in 2018, the rapidly rising Calgary-based artist Lindsay Ell swept across the stage in an orange sequined jumpsuit complete with gigantic bell bottom flares. She topped off her Dolly Parton-inspired look with her signature white Stratocaster as an accessory, effortlessly nailing a thundering guitar solo and belting out the end of the song through a megaphone.
Ell is no stranger to delivering show-stoppers of all kinds. Early on in her career, still in her teens, she once landed a gig at the Calgary airport playing with her band on top of a baggage carousel to bewildered passengers.
“It was at Stampede,” Ell recalls over the phone. “People were pouring off the flights, tired and restless just waiting for their bags. Obviously they couldn’t give a crap. They just wanted to get out of there while we played bearing out our lives and souls. It was awkward for all of us,” she chuckles.
Perseverance, however, is one of Ell’s impressive trademarks. The Calgary artist has been on the Stampede circuit since she was very young. One year she peaked, playing a whopping 68 shows over the 10-day stretch of cowtown craziness. “I literally ran from the stage to the car non-stop.”
While in high school she maintained the same hectic schedule. Each weekend she loaded up the van, playing all sorts of dive bars across the country before returning to class and graduating a year early a valedictorian. That type of relentless drive and determination guided her in Nashville after finishing a degree in business at the University of Calgary. Despite its reputation as a treadmill for hit-making, Ell is deep in her element and thoroughly enjoys living in the country music capital.
“There’s two sides to the town, for sure,” notes Ell. “It depends who you hang out with. But since I first went to Nashville, I felt right at home. I thought, ‘Man, what is this place?’ They were so wonderful from the beginning.” Despite living there for nine years Ell still thinks Canadian and admits that she stands out. She says that she feels like, “a perfectly accepted outcast,” which she’s entirely happy with.
As for inspiration, Ell claims that Nashville is the place to be. “I’m surrounded by so many talented people every day. That keeps me on my toes. It’s a great environment to live in when everyone understands the lingo and crazy schedules, it just works. That said, we played 235 shows last year and we’re on track for 170 this year. Being so nomadic, it definitely helps my creative frame — travelling, being in different cities each day.”
Although Ell falls within the spectrum of country music, it’s hard to deny she’s also rooted in a splendid mix of pop, rock, blues and even funk. As a singer she can swoop down into sweet, melodic ballads that burst into fiery outpourings. As a guitarist, Ell has carved out a soulful style that is all her own. The Stratocaster she wields draws on Jimi Hendrix’s funky rhythm chops that float like a butterfly and honey-dripping solos that sting like a bee. Ell seconds that motion.
“If could play funk and blues and tour the world playing arenas, I would be the happiest camper on the planet.”
Image photographed by Jeremy Cowart via Lindsay Ell’s Instagram.