Something I learned about myself the night I went to see Madison Cunningham at The Ark on the last night of her U.S. tour is that it takes exactly a year without concerts for me to completely forget how live music works.
When special guest S.G. Goodman, a folk singer from Kentucky, and her band began the opening performance, I thought: “Wow, Madison is AMAZING!” It was an interesting blend of indie rock and country, with lyrics about the South. Then she introduced herself after her first song and I did the biggest mental facepalm. “I’m legally obligated to say my name at least seven times while I’m up here,” she said dryly, to laughter from the audience. S.G. has a voice that I can only describe as pure emotion. It’s raspy and bright and clear all at the same time.
The minute Madison Cunningham stepped on stage, my conscious brain screamed: “STEVIE NICKS!!” She could have walked straight out of a photograph of Nicks from the 70s, dripping in a flowing black outfit with blonde hair cascading down her shoulders. Madison’s voice has been compared to Nicks’, and she has also cited Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan as some of her key influences. I could not tell you what genre Madison Cunningham’s music belongs in because there seemed to be no style that this woman couldn’t sing. Her songs jumped from folksy to funky to sad and slow, each one drawing from the sound of a new place: Los Angeles surf rock, French cafe jams, North African island rhythms. Her music was full of the most amazing guitar riffs at the most perfect places – which is doubly impressive considering that she does both lead guitar and lead vocals. There’s one riff I vividly remember where I almost jumped out of my seat at the chills I got from how perfectly it hit my ears. She fully commanded the guitar, the microphone, and the entire stage all at once – and made it look effortless to boot. There were multiple times where I was so stunned after a song that I forgot to clap.
At one point S.G. joined Madison on stage for a duet. Their voices melded together beautifully for an ode to Madison’s grandmother, who passed away last year. It reminded me what a blessing it was for me to even be sitting there in person, smiling underneath my face mask, being able to feel the beat of the drums reverberate through the floors under my feet for the first time in so long. I walked out of The Ark thinking of the words Madison herself said on stage: ““I don’t ever want to take live music for granted again.”
If you’d like an introduction to the creative world of Madison Cunningham’s music, you’re in luck because I’ve put together a little sampler for you in the form of this playlist with some of my favorites. Have a listen during your next lunch break!