As one critic wrote, Elsa Cross’ “twangy guitar style and edgy lyrics invoke all the gritty emotion of a true rockabilly soul, complete with robust vocals and a western guitar twist that together amount to a doggedly lonesome but resolutely independent style.”
Born in the hills of Strong, Maine, Elsa’s deep relationship with music has been a lifelong obsession. From as early as the age of five, she remembers being enraptured by the voices of the gospel choir in her hometown’s Methodist church. Later, the gusto of tattooed rockabilly beats and sweet, honest simplicity of country & western captured her heart, laying the foundation for her dark and stirring music.
Drawing on these influences and her personal experiences with heartache, Elsa began writing and performing her own songs, releasing her debut “Unavailable” in 2008 and the self-titled “Elsa Cross” in 2011. These albums received critical acclaim not only for the beauty and authenticity of Elsa’s voice, but also her ability to unveil, through word and sound, the luridness of the human psyche—the demons, ghosts, and zombies that haunt us all. “Eddie Spaghetti and The Reverend Horton Heat would both fall in love with this woman.”
Now living in Austin, Texas, Elsa continues to captivate audiences with her clear, distinct voice and original songs rooted in the traditions of country, Americana, and rock & roll music.
Elsa Cross - Guitar & Vocals
Matt Ford - Guitar
Chris Trafton - Drums
Evan Nicholson - Bass
Unavailable- debut album 2008
Elsa Cross- 2011
Elsa Cross Opens for Merle Haggard
[+ Show ]
N.H. native, and former Seacoast rockabilly queen, Elsa Cross will be back in town for the Portsmout...N.H. native, and former Seacoast rockabilly queen, Elsa Cross will be back in town for the Portsmouth Singer Songwriter Festival opening for Merle Haggard on Friday, April 20, as well as co-headlining with Lucy Wainwright Roche on Saturday, April 21. She brings with her a new bandmate from her current place of residence, Austin, Texas, but she'll never be able to hide from her ravenous fan-base here in New Hampshire, who are itching for the opportunity to yell, "ELLLLLTTTTSSSSAAAAHHHH!!!" long and loud when she takes the Music Hall stage. Five Spot caught up with her in anticipation of her visit:
1.SPOTLIGHT: When was the last time you were home and what excites you about the opportunity to participate in the Portsmouth Singer Songwriter Fest?
Elsa Cross: I came home this past October. I had been gone for just about a year and needed to get my lifelong belongings out of Mary's (Dellea, who happens to be participating in the Round Robin portion of the Festival on Sunday, April 22) barn. It was so great to see all my friends and be in New England again!
What excites me about participating in the fest? Well, first of all, I get to come home to Portsmouth, and open for Merle Haggard. That's pretty darn rad. Then there's the fact that my dearest friends and family will be attending, that's awesome too. I love the idea of coming home and singing in The Music Hall. It's such a beautiful space, and I've been attending shows there since I was a wee gal.
Second of all, I think having a singer songwriter festival in Portsmouth is an excellent idea. There is so much amazing music to be showcased in the Seacoast area, I am lucky to be a part of it.
2.SPOTLIGHT: What excites you about opening up for The Hag?
Cross: He is an outlaw country legend. You can't get much cooler than that in my book. It's an opportunity of a lifetime as a young musician — to share the stage with a legend.
3.SPOTLIGHT: I asked Merle if he knew you. I figured he hadn't, but asked anyway. He said, "no." I told him, "Well you'd better pay attention," and he let out a chuckle. That said, has Merle been an influence on your songwriting in any way? And stories y
Cross: When I first started listening to classic country in my late teens, I picked up one of Merle's albums, learned the chords to "Drink Up and Be Somebody," and began singing it at shows. It's still one of my favorites to sing at dive bars. Everyone loves a good Merle song!
4.SPOTLIGHT: How is Austin' treatin' ya? Has it done anything for you musically or otherwise. Do you miss New Hampshire. Why (or why not!?)
Cross: I love Austin! It's a melting pot of creative people from around the world. Once you've been here for a while it begins to have this small town vibe to it, and people want to help you along. We're all here for a reason. Mine happens to be music, and I've met some amazing musicians since I've been down here. I found a great group of guys to back me up, and I'm feeling really lucky overall. When I first met my guitar player Matt Ford last year, we just clicked. It is so fun to play with him. He has been the biggest musical influence on me since I've been down here. My songs have developed into a sound that comes from both of us. It is so rewarding to have a person to collaborate with. He hears things in my songs that I could have never dreamt up.
I miss my friends in New Hampshire! I miss hanging out and playing tunes with them. But I get to see them all at the end of the month, I'm so excited :)
I also miss New Hampshire when it's 110 degrees in Austin. My Yankee blood gets confused.
5.SPOTLIGHT: How do you envision the night going down? What can fans expect?
Cross: It's going to be a wonderful night! My guitar player is coming up from Austin with me. We're going to play a 30 minute set on our acoustic guitars opening for the Hag. I love singing with a full band, but something about just me and Matt is, well... you'll see!
Elsa Cross: Live Review
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"Elsa Cross should have been touring with Johnny Cash during his American Recordings days. Unfortuna..."Elsa Cross should have been touring with Johnny Cash during his American Recordings days. Unfortunately, he's long gone and folks prefer to hang onto the past sometimes rather than dare take a step into the future. So, instead of touring with Cash, Elsa is playing a tiny stage with no soundman in Dover, NH - for now.
The set began with some technical difficulties that were no big deal thanks to her attitude about it. It's hard to be upset about waiting for something when the person you are waiting for is so thoughtful about it. She then dove right into "The Burden" off of her first album, Unavailable, and barely slowed down from there - except for a mid-set break about 45 minutes in. Her choice of covers was impeccable: Ernest Tubb, obscure Johnny Cash and vintage Dwight Yoakam, with her sound walking the line between old-time country (thanks to her voice) and rockabilly. Eddie Spaghetti and the Reverend Horton Heat would both fall in love with this woman.
Even with a talented band backing her, the two main instruments were her voice and her guitar. Her voice - which was all over the place, hitting highs and lows, even daring to yodel - is what made her show special. It wasn't that her more American and occasionally Dolores O'Riordan-sounding voice was flawless, it was that it flawlessly went with her music. One without the other might be average; the two together was terrific.
Elsa went through 20 songs, playing almost her entire first album and playing a couple as of yet unnamed ones from her forthcoming release, which she recorded at opener Jon Nolan's Milltown Recording Company in Newmarket, NH. The closest you are going to get to Nashville in New Hampshire is wherever Elsa Cross is playing.
-Andrew Fersch, Performer Magazine
Elsa at The Press Room
[+ Show ]
Elsa Cross sipped from a shot glass before stepping onto the stage on the second floor of The Pres... Elsa Cross sipped from a shot glass before stepping onto the stage on the second floor of The Press Room in Portsmouth. Wearing a red dress that contrasted vividly with the all-black outfits of her band mates, her blond hair pulled back into a long ponytail, Cross picked up her guitar and played her first song of the evening alone. The rest of the band joined her on the second song, “Because of You,” and Cross’ elegant but authoritative voice quickly drowned out the noisy chatter in the packed bar. Within moments, everyone was paying attention.
Having released her debut album, “Unavailable,” in October, Cross came equipped with an arsenal of original rockabilly folk songs and country-western covers. A few songs deep into her set, she played “The Burden,” which she introduced as one of the first songs she ever wrote. Cross began playing guitar when she was 16 years old, she said, but she did not establish her preferred style until she was 19, when she discovered rockabilly music. Attracted to the outlaw style, the greasy hairdos and the 1950s fashions, she soon began writing her own rockabilly tunes.
Many of those tunes made it onto “Unavailable” and were performed live at The Press Room on Friday, Dec. 28, including “The Burden,” “Because of You,” “Before I Find a Man,” “One More Time,” the title track and “Zombie for His Love,” which she referred to as “my one song that has a curse in it.”
Cross was accompanied by drummer PJ Donahue, who tended to his snare with rapid folkabilly beats, bassist Steve Roy, who plucked and thumped the strings of an upright bass, and Jim Farquar, who added depth and volume on electric guitar. The instrumentalists complimented Cross’ style perfectly, with Donahue switching to brushes for softer numbers and Roy utilizing a bow for one tune. Farquar sat out certain songs, but made his presence known when onstage, amending a country-western twang with a jagged, psychobilly edge.
With her singing and strumming, Cross revives true 1950s attitude with greater authenticity than many modern rockabilly acts. Most of her songs are not as hyped up and punked out as her contemporaries in the genre, instead leaning toward the rangy folk and western styles of the music’s forefathers. During her two sets at The Press Room, she worked in covers of Wayne Hancock, Patsy Cline and Merle Haggard. The Haggard song was a lesser known number called “Drink Up and Be Somebody,” which was lots of fun for the pub crowd.
Following a short break, Cross kicked off the second set with another solo performance and then brought back the rest of the band. Despite a lengthy set list, she ran out of songs well before last call, largely because most of her songs are short and concise. To close the night, the band played “Because of You” a second time, featuring a newly improvised guitar solo that lent the song a little more vinegar.
My sets can range from 45 min. to 3 hours, depending on what the venue is looking for.