Local Current Blog

Ask a Cool Person: Ellen Stanley of the Minnesota Music Coalition

Ellen Stanley (Andrea Swensson/MPR)

Each week on the Local Show, we’ll meet a new person from the Minnesota music community who has some fresh discoveries to share in a feature called “Ask a Cool Person.” These people will come from all corners of the scene, including record store clerks, recording studio engineers and producers, artists, writers, bookers, photographers, and fans.

This week’s “Cool Person” is Ellen Stanley, who has several multi-faceted roles in the music community. She’s the executive director of the Minnesota Music Coalition, a nonprofit that provides resources and support for independent musicians around the state; she’s the host of the weekly show “Womenfolk” on KFAI; and she performs around town as Mother Banjo.

Hey Ellen! I’m excited to talk to you because you do so many different things around the community. How do you discover new, emerging artists?

Well, kind of through all those avenues, really. The MMC, it being the only statewide nonprofit serving popular musicians across the state of all genres, I get to meet a whole lot of people I wouldn’t otherwise, which is always really exciting. People who join the coalition, people come in for mentoring, I’m always amazed — even people who work in the genres I’m most familiar with, which would be the roots/Americana genres, there’s still so many songwriters out there that are making beautiful music that are pretty active — and I go out to see shows a lot! — I’m always amazed how many new people I discover that way.

That’s awesome. So you’ve brought in three songs for us to play, and this first one is a brand new discovery for me. Tell me about Undlin & Wolfe.

Undlin & Wolfe, they’re a male and female duo, young folks, and I actually discovered them through the Coalition — actually, John Munson from the New Standards, who is on our board. We were talking before a board meeting once and he was like, have you heard this duo, Undlin & Wolfe? And I said no. And apparently he had met one of their parents at a show of his, and they had slipped him a CD, and he had listened to it and thought it was great. So he gave me their first EP, and I loved it so much that I played it on my radio show on KFAI and invited them in to play on the show. Then they joined the Music Coalition, and I’ve just been really excited to see their progress. They put out their first full-length album this past year, and it’s beautiful. I’m a big fan.

Well that’s good to know — if you want your music to be heard, have your mom give it to John Munson. I love that. This next song here is someone you’re pretty close with in your life —

Yeah, that’s right, I’m married to him. Ben Cook-Feltz. And actually, we were friends and musical collaborators long before we started dating. I’ve been a big fan of his music for years. And then I roped him in later to be in my band. But his new solo project, called She Doesn’t Believe Me, is really awesome. I’m so proud of him. It’s really musically adventurous, and he’s always been very multi-genre; he plays piano and drums and writes songs and sings beautiful melodies. But this album and song is a lot more personal than a lot of his albums, so that’s really exciting, to see him write a little more autobiographically. And he really did the record he wanted to make. He wasn’t trying to fit it into a genre; he just said, ok, I’m going to produce these songs however I want, and it turned out really awesome. It has a whole slew of great guests, from Jillian Rae to members of the Federales, to members of the High 48s.

Well speaking of the High 48s, I believe that ties us into your third song here.

This next one is Anthony Ihrig, he’s a banjo player here in town, and he plays in the High 48s. The High 48s are my favorite traditional bluegrass band in Minnesota right now. Tony is a really incredible songwriter, and writes beautiful tunes, and he put out a great solo project a couple years ago called Missing Ghosts. Ben and I are huge fans of this record — in fact, Ben started covering one of his songs. They’re just really interesting songs, and I think most people don’t know of him as a songwriter, or as a solo player. But this CD still continues to be one of my favorite local albums.