Liz Cooper & The Stampede (Photo by Rick Farrell)
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The Newport Folk Festival is known for recruiting the best folk, blues and roots artists every summer. The Festival also excels at discovering emerging talent. Indeed, established stars like Brandi Carlile, Hozier, Amy Ray and Dawes got a boost from Newport Folk early in their careers.

This year, we had a chance to speak to several rising stars at the Festival. We spoke to several artists and got their thoughts on a range of issues.

Liz Cooper and the Stampede

Festival newcomer Liz Cooper is a tidal wave of energy onstage. She was noticeably thrilled to play the Festival. “I had the most amazing experience. That was probably one of the best shows that I’ve played. We’ve had a great time!”

The Baltimore native and Nashville resident was quite aware with the legacy of Newport Folk.

“This is definitely a dream festival for me. Ever since I started getting into music and learning more about the history of music and musicians – folk and bluegrass musicians especially – to be able to play it is very, very special. I’m just floating on a cloud.”

She was also pleased to see the high percentage of women playing at Newport, where about half the artists were female.

They’re smart to book us, because we rule the world! The music community is very small and we’ve all been doing this for a long time. We’re all picking up steam and getting busier and busier. More and more people are finding out about these really powerful women. And it makes me proud to be part of that community.”

 Cedric Burnside

Cedric Burnside at Newport Folk (Photo: Ken Abrams)

Bluesman Cedric Burnside blew away fans who caught his set on the first day of the festival. We asked him how it felt to play Newport for the first time.

“It feels awesome, its beautiful, talk about a location – great music, beautiful scenery, good food.”

He reflected a bit on the legacy of blues artists at the Festival, where Muddy Waters, Son House and Mississippi John Hurt once played.

“It’s great – I’m an old country Mississippi boy doing the blues. It warms my heart to travel and play my music for people that love to hear it. We try to bring as many as we can to the blues, to see what it’s all about.”

The life of the blues musician can be busy, Burnside is on the road 250+ days a year. He appreciates the chance to see other sets. “Its fun seeing Mr. Charlie Crockett, this is like the third festival in the last two weeks. I’ve been enjoying his music; I think he’s got a unique sound.”

Ruston Kelly

We spoke to Ruston Kelly in the heat of the late July sun and relied on NFF Media Diva Casey Farley to track down a cup of Rhode Island’s finest.

‘Damn, that shit is good,” declared Ruston Kelly, after a sip or two of Del’s Lemonade. “I like this place, it’s really chill,” he remarked.

The Singer-Songwriter ran through a sweet set of tunes including several from his acclaimed 2018 release Dying Star. He was clearly enjoying Newport. “I like that it is somewhat of an old school set up with seated people, but also with people flanking. It did throw me off for a minute because I kind of wanted a mosh pit,” he joked.

Although our music writer Angela Marandola noted that they shared an interest in metal bands (he was wearing a Slipknot t-shirt on stage), Kelly was there to honor the folkies who came before him. “Dylan going electric, of course I love Pete Seeger and I once stayed at Maybell Carter’s house in Virginia,” he noted.

He was especially pleased that his wife Kasey Musgraves was also playing the Festival. “It never happens,” he noted.

Madison Cunningham

 “I’m thrilled to hear some of these artists that I’ve never heard before and excited to be introduced to some new music,” explained California native Madison Cunningham. She recently released her first EP Love, Lose, Remember, an album influence by Joni Mitchell, among others. Cunningham played the Museum Stage for “The Future is Female” set which also included Erin Rae, Angie McMahon and Sabine McCalla.

She seemed happily overwhelmed with the Newport experience, noting that she was influenced by “a lot of the artists whose pictures are hanging on walls around this Festival… Dylan, Joni, so many greats. I feel honored that the people who have inspired me and my music have played right here on these stages.”

Check out these emerging artists – you’ll be happy you did!

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Ken Abrams

Lifestyle Editor Ken Abrams writes about music and more for What'sUpNewp, Providence Monthly, SO RI, and The Bay. He DJ's "The Kingston Coffeehouse" Tuesday nights, 6-9 PM on WRIU 90.3 FM.