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'A nurturing space': After much planning, NH Women Folk Fest kicks off this weekend

After years of gigs, New Hampshire-based singer and guitarist Ericka Cushing has noticed something:

“I have never played a festival in 34 years where there was a separate dressing room for women,” she said. “It's always been my band standing around me creating a wall as I'm trying to put on Spanx in 80 degree weather, and it's terrible!”

Sometime in 2022, Cushing had an idea: She wanted to have a music festival — a gathering of women musicians — in New Hampshire. She talked it over with her friend and fellow artist Stacy Lucas.

“I said, ‘Well, I think I want to have an all female music festival so we can create a safe nurturing space for women to share their gifts with a loving audience,’ ” she recalled. “And then immediately, in that same breath, I said, ‘but I don't have the money and I can't do it. And who do I think I am?’ Which is common, I think, for all human beings to immediately doubt a seed that is in their heart. And [Lucas] looked at me like, ‘why not you?’ ”

It took the pair more than a year of planning, but the New Hampshire Women Folk is set to take place this Saturday at Sugar Shack Campground in Thornton. The event will feature food, art and original music from eight bands — all women-led.

NHPR’s Rick Ganley talked with both Lucas and Cushing about it:

Ganley: What can attendees expect? What's going to happen at the show?

Cushing: Well, there are eight beautiful artists from all over the New England and Northeast area who are sharing all original songs. So you will experience heartfelt music.

Lucas: I think the beauty in that is I really believe that we rise by lifting others. And so what [Cushing’s] vision has always been throughout all of this is creating — I use the word container — but creating this gorgeous container where people can come together and be completely transformed by the music. And I love how your vision has been to pamper and to honor and nurture these musicians.

Cushing: It's going to nurture the musicians in a way that when they get on stage, they are sharing their most authentic self, and their gifts can truly come through in a way that can play with the crowd. So those people that come are going to be transformed in one way or another.

Ganley:  Well, Erica, can I ask you about that? You're a local musician, you play around.

Do you think there are many spaces for female artists to gather and see their work valued like you're hoping to accomplish here?

Cushing: No, I honestly don't. I've been doing this for 34 years, since I was 17, and not only am I getting the same pay that I got when I was 17, but I'm also dealing with a lot of the same things as a woman walking into a pretty much male-dominated world, down to engineers. So, it’s getting ready for the gig as a woman. It's bringing in your gear, the way that you're treated, even the pay can be different. The ‘Oh, your voice is so sexy’ instead of, ‘wow, you sounded great. That was a beautiful song.’

My biggest hope for this is there's a lot of young musicians who are coming. I want them to leave with the experience where they are aligned differently from the inside and, and the worth. You know, and that's every human being. Once you feel worthy of being truly yourself, you are, you're so free, it changes everything. I love that.

Lucas: We're sharing our stories and it's so important all the time to be telling your story because when you tell it, whether it's through music or words, you are sharing something that somebody else can probably relate to that will impact them.

Jackie Harris is the Morning Edition Producer at NHPR. She first joined NHPR in 2021 as the Morning Edition Fellow.

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
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