Rising Stars in the Sun: Falcon Ridge Emerging Artists
cover Neil Young, Lorde, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Michael Jackson & more!
We’ve already shared our love for the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, which takes place this year on August 4-7 in beautiful New York farm country at the foot of the Berkshires. Since our original feature, however, the festival has released its list of Emerging Artists, who will perform on the mainstage Friday, August 5 from noon to 4:30, and this year’s crop represents an exceptionally talented mix of the young and the rising. Today, then, we present a second feature in their honor; read on for news and coverage, and enjoy!
Well-known in the industry as a highly competitive proving ground for artists on the cusp of national recognition, the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival’s Grassy Hill Emerging Artists Showcase is not a contest, per se. Instead, it is a celebration, in which 24 performers selected by a jury of venue promoters and radio hosts perform a two song showcase, and then offer meet-and-greet opportunities by the merchandise tent. Afterwards, festival attendee surveys poll the crowd on who they’d most like to see again; the top three vote-getters are asked to come back the following year for a mainstage Song Swap, ensuring a loving welcome for those who stand out among the crowd.
To be fair, though, those who garner top votes in that poll do tend to be those whose stars are rising fastest. Fresh out of high school singer-songwriter Annika Bennett, who garnered top votes in 2015 and whose cover of Jackson 5 hit I Want You Back made our Best of 2015 collection, offers a perfect example of how successful this two-tiered selection process is: since her appearance last year, she has gone on to earn a recording contract from Sony on the strength of a single debut EP, and will be off to Nashville after joining us as a Most Wanted returnee alongside Gina Forsyth and Scott Wolfson & Other Heroes. Other beloved artists familiar to these pages who have been chosen by audiences to return to the mainstage in the just the past couple of years include Darlingside, Jean Rohe, Matt Nakoa, Roosevelt Dime, Parsonsfield, Spuyten Duyvil, Lucy Wainwright Roche, Red Molly, Joe Crookston, Pesky J. Nixon, and more – a fine list of names, and a familiar one to those who watch the folk charts and coffeehouses.
But even those who don’t garner top votes and honors often go on to greatness. Among others, second-generation singer-songwriter Grace Pettis, cello-and-guitar-wielding indiefolk duo Tall Heights, and Heather Maloney, who will appear on the festival mainstage this year, have graced the Emerging Artists stage in recent years, coming in as “also rans” even as their careers took flight; we’ve got our ears on Texan singer-songwriter Matt Harlan, who came in fourth in last year balloting, as a new favorite as well.
All in all, if you’ve got folk in your heart and you’re looking for a handle on what to love next, Friday afternoon by the Falcon Ridge mainstage is absolutely the place to be this summer. And we’re thrilled to be able to offer a preview tour of sorts today, as a complement to our June feature on the mainstage artists featured at this year’s festival.
Our own history with the Emerging Artists showcase is one of discovery; most years we fall in love at least twice, and as such, we’re loathe to call favorites this early in the game. But the list of artists we’re especially excited to hear this August in the showcase is richer and vaster than usual – a healthy sign of the continued relevance and vibrancy of both Falcon Ridge and the larger world of folk.
Don’t-miss standouts we know enough to recommend highly include young local artist Kirsten Maxwell, whose potent, evocative voice recently showed up on these virtual pages in perfect harmony with Matt Nakoa and Rachael Kilgour; Gloucester, MA singer-songwriter Chelsea Berry, whose gorgeous, hearty alto takes on Patty Griffin and others have found their way to these pages before; field and campsite favorite Putnam Smith, with his wry grin and masterful, evocative banjo; and Vermont duo Cricket Blue, whose warm strings and gentle harmonies have been on our radar since a Beehive Productions session last year. And we’re especially excited to hear more from Low Lily, a fiddle-and-string trio previously known and loved as Annalivia, whose sparse, delightful handclap-heavy cover of Nelly’s Nobody Knows is included below as a bonus track.
Others we’re just discovering include NYC popfolk songstresses Rachael Sage, back for a second run at the Emerging Artist mantle, whose recent duet with Judy Collins is stunning, and Kate Copeland, whose indie guitar and voice soar like a bird. Contemporary folk is well represented by folks familiar to us from local folk radio programming, like Susan Cattaneo, a local artist whose rich contemporary folk albums have featured studio work from Mark Erelli and Lorne Entress, Joni Mitchell reinterpreter and songwriter Kipyn Martin, jazzfolk explorer Lara Herscovitch, and Amy Soucy, whose take on Neil Young’s Comes A Time speaks for itself.
We’re really looking forward to hearing more from empowered Washington DC indiepop artist Heather Mae, whose voice is to die for and whose upcoming Kickstarter-driven sophomore album is surely destined for indie chart greatness, masterful guitar wizard Jacob Johnson, and Jamie Michaels, whose 2013 album Unknown Blessings – his ninth – takes on the songs of his rising star peers to great effect. Add in the rest, from rocking cowboy country bandleaders gone solo (Brad Cunningham, Marc Berger) to melodic harmony duos (The Rafters, Bettman & Halpin), from mid-career songstresses (Elaine Romanelli, Sarah Beatty) to young male singer-songwriter upstarts (Austin MacRae, Mike Herz, Paddy Mills, Will Pfrang), and the afternoon promises to be phenomenal.
Though studio recordings are a prerequisite for jury consideration, not all of these 24 artists have recorded covers, of course. But many have, offering easy opportunity for us to honor our own mandate to create comfort through coverage, and in doing so, introduce you to new voices to love. By way of that introduction, then, and to tempt you a little further, we’ve gathered in as many “good ones” as we could find; listen in, and then click through for this wonderful Spotify list to hear more originals and covers from the 2016 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival’s Emerging Artists Showcase performers in celebration of the next generation of folkstars.
- Low Lily: House Carpenter (trad.) 
- Will Pfrang: Royals (orig. Lorde) 
- Jamie Michaels: Two (orig. Amy Speace) 
- Amy Soucy: Comes A Time (orig. Neil Young) 
- Cricket Blue: Ode To Billie Joe (orig. Bobbie Gentry) 
- Chelsea Berry: The Book Of Love (orig. Magnetic Fields) 
- Sarah Beatty: Child Of The Wind (orig. Bruce Cockburn) 
- Kipyn Martin: Morning Morgantown (orig. Joni Mitchell) 
- Lara Herscovitch: Will The Circle Be Unbroken (arr. AP Carter) 
- Jacob Johnson Group: Smooth Criminal (orig. Michael Jackson) 
- Rachael Sage ft. Judy Collins: Helpless (orig. Neil Young) 
- Kirsten Maxwell: Diamonds and Rust (orig. Joan Baez) 
- Putnam Smith: The Cuckoo (trad.) 
Just to prove it can be done, here’s today’s bonus track, as promised – originally recorded on Low Lily fiddle player Lissa Schneckenburger’s “exquisite” 2013 covers album Covers, in which “every note counts, and every note lingers.”