Ellie (Eleonore) Schwarz:
Flying high and Picking up Speed!

I suggest you take a deep breath before launching into this feature. While it’s true that Ellie Schwarz knows how to pump them brakes, she’s been flying high and picking up speed, practically since birth. Her parents, Debra and Edgar (aka, “Pop”) LaBar, injected a heavy dose of wit, know-how, can-do confidence and encouragement, so setting goals and exceeding expectations became her modus operandi. Standing up for herself, and knowing how to confront without being confrontational, are prevalent in her story.

Ellie was born in New Orleans in 1982, named after the street on which her parents met. Her mother—a NOLA native who rarely ventured out of her home town until her mid-thirties—married Ellie’s father, a drifter from New Jersey. Though Ellie moved from there before kindergarten, her roots are in New Orleans, where her maternal grandmother still resides.
Edgar accepted a better job near Fredericksburg, VA around 1987. They packed their share of rhythm and rhyme from the Big Easy and took it to their humble new digs in Virginia. “Every Friday night, Pop would come home and blast Grateful Dead from the stereo he’d wired with speakers throughout the house and we’d have these big dance parties!” From foundation to rafters, the LaBar home pulsated with the sounds of Dr. John, Professor Longhair, Southern Rock and more.

The self-proclaimed “nerdy, spunky kid” and her siblings were each given a choice to pursue an extracurricular activity. When her mom suggested playing an instrument, little Eleonore’s second choice was violin, as making room for a piano (in the budget or the house) was not an option.

She studied for years, learning the Suzuki method, practicing thirty minutes daily. As a pre-teen, she earned prestigious youth symphony and high school orchestra chairs, performing concerts in notable places like Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts. Another promotion for her father took them to the Atlanta suburb of Roswell in 1993.

“I have a naturally outgoing personality and by the time I got to middle school, which is when kids typically start to pick up instruments, it was a little bit uncomfortable. And this is a significant piece to my story: by that time, I had so many years of training and experience that I was ripping through selected pieces of music at a higher level. It was challenging because it was actually not challenging. So I wound up spending a lot of time by myself. My orchestra leader literally had me go sit in a closet and practice on my own while he’d teach the other kids in the band room.”

The other kids both admired and resented her. “I was never a show off kind of kid, but there was a weird vibe when I’d come back in the room after the rest of the orchestra was able to get through whatever piece they’d been working on.”

In her junior year, an incident with the high school orchestra conductor made way for an unexpected shift in her musical focus. The results of a conflict involving the scheduling of an audition for chair placement suddenly took her down a wrung. When she refused to play during a rehearsal and the conductor asked why, she pointedly expressed her defiance was due to the unjustified demotion. As a result, she was sequestered to a storage room behind the stage and ordered to practice on her own.

“They stored a huge library of music CDs and a stereo in that room. And, there was a door to the outside parking lot. I’d pop in music CDs by artists I liked.” While the other kids were schlepping through classical pieces, she’d play along to Dave Matthews Band and Wide Spread Panic. “I started to feel like a Rock star! At one point I recorded myself practicing, so I could go outside for a cigarette so that when the rest of them were between songs, it sounded like I was still in there, playing!” (She and I share a high-five). She got an A in the class!

She made friends with Pete Schmidt, a gifted virtuoso guitarist whose mainstream musical influences aligned with hers. It was a timely symbiotic relationship because “there were moments in my life that I was embarrassed about playing the violin. I think it’s sad that society puts a stigma on kids and judges them so harshly for playing classical music.” Ellie and Pete started a jam band called “The Inside Out Band” and Ellie started improvising. To support her expansion into Rock music, Pop presented her with a Yamaha electric violin.

She then took elective classes in video production. For her senior final, a mentor’s boyfriend recommended her to CNN 20, a production division within the network devised to facilitate a multi-episode television special to celebrate their 20th anniversary. Ellie retrieved archival news footage from the massive bookshelves of the illustrious CNN library in Atlanta, an epic responsibility for a 17 year old! She discovered the isolation booth of the video editing process diminished her appetite for it, being so drawn to working alongside musicians.

After high school, she pursued a liberal arts degree in Charleston. To balance the rigor of academia, she and friends put together a Bluegrass band called “Trippin on the Bricks,” even though she had never played Appalachian style or Old-Time music. She fondly remembers her front porch becoming “jam central” for
several years.

After college, Ellie returned to Atlanta and ignored warnings from peers to avoid a career in the music industry. Instead, she targeted music sector internships and became a paid receptionist at Doppler Studios in Atlanta, where Kanye West recorded his first album. She continued to perform in various Bluegrass groups, attending major music festivals around the country, and sought out fiddle coaches. A band she was part of geared up for Emergenza, a new, international showcasing platform for unsigned, up-and-coming artists. The band didn’t make it, but Ellie continued to receive their emails. One advertised an opening for a “Tour Manager” to represent the

South East; booking bands and traveling sounded like a dream job!

She got the dream job, and the phenomenal list of duties and demand on her time was exhilarating and exhausting. She oversaw all aspects of organizing, booking, branding and marketing as many as ten acts every night. She literally lived out of a suitcase, and flourished, making powerful connections, jet setting from one major city to another, ascending the ropes to create a gateway to where she now belongs.

The numerous awards on her wall at ECE (formerly East Coast Entertainment) Asheville – the branch office that she developed and pioneered in 2008, are impressive indeed! They are testimony to her tenacity—six months training in Charlotte to prove she could handle her own office; efficiency—her job #1 is to answer all correspondence promptly; love—easy with a joke and a laugh; integrity—respectfully sugar coating nothing, for the sake of growth and harmony; creativity—in the ways in which she helps develop inherent talent; plus care and joy, and the hours she has put into bringing the ECE name to the forefront. Musicians have scrambled to get on her roster.
The amount of work Ellie generates for local and surrounding area musicians is in part why a notable percentage make a living playing music. She is keenly aware of who and what she is selling and for whom she is doing it: People who have beating hearts, magnanimous musicians with mega talent and drive, with families and themselves to feed. I feel certain I can speak for all who have had the pleasure of working with Ellie, to say thank you for being you, for caring about musicians. You make an extraordinary difference to our community!

A longstanding, cherished tradition for Ellie and her siblings were their annual trips with their mother, Debra. In 2003, Ellie convinced her mom to take their first Jam Cruise together, and they went again the next year, which proved to be profoundly life changing for Ellie. She met her husband, Robert Schwarz, through mutual Asheville friends, on a beach in Jamaica that second year! After a beautiful courtship, they married in September of 2011, and now have an adorable, energetic little boy of two-and-a-half.

Talking with Ellie and getting this piece completed was a bit arduous for me, as the audio of our interview was stolen with my phone before I had a chance to complete this profile. So, we did the interview over again. Her flexibility and forgiveness, just rolling with the punches and having faith in my process, is something I will pay forward in her honor.

The following is from her Facebook page and it epitomizes her fearlessness and sheer zest for life!

“I have a lot of flying dreams. They start with me having to gain some momentum by running, and then pushing through the air like I am swimming. I almost hit the ground before soaring and then… I AM UP!!! I have to keep swimming in the air really hard to stay up and then at some point, it is over. I always wake up smiling from these dreams. They are the best.”

If you are an events planner or bride-to-be or anyone needing to hire talent for your next special event, the best place to start is with Ellie Schwarz at ECE Asheville. www.eastcoastentertainment.com/ellie-schwarz

Peggy Ratusz
Written by Peggy Ratusz