What’s it like to play at the Newport Folk Festival? Meet 16 year old banjo sensation Nora Brown

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The 2022 Newport Folk Festival featured artists in genres ranging from hip-hop to rock, punk to bluegrass. A young artist is among those who focus on maintaining the folk tradition.

I spoke to teenage banjo extraordinaire Nora Brown who turns 17 next week. Needless to say, she was thrilled to return to the festival where she played a brief set last year.

“I was here last year for a workshop on the museum stage and learned how historic and impactful this place is,” Brown told me in a brief interview.

While many teenagers opt for guitar or drums, Brown has been playing the banjo since the age of six. She performed at Foundation Stage on Friday after performing “For Pete’s Sake” the night before at the Jane Pickens Theater. She was thrilled to be part of the Pete Seeger Stamp Ceremony.

“I really admire the work that Pete has done,” Brown explained. “He was so important in the folk revival. He made sure that the music he played was authentic, involving himself in the research component and mixing his own ideas. It was very special to be on that stage and I could tell it meant a lot to everyone watching.

Brown is set to release a solo album There’s a long time to goher third record, “all recorded at St. Ann’s Church, a beautiful historic church in Brooklyn,” she noted.

I asked her how children her age reacted to the instrument she had chosen.

“The banjo is a really recognizable instrument,” Brown explained. “Everyone knows it, but not everyone knows that it can be played other than in a bluegrass style. It can be one of those very comical instruments – people have a very stereotypical image of what this instrument is and what it sounds like in their head.

Nora Brown (Photo: Ken Abrams)

“He’s often portrayed as a white instrument, but he’s not,” she continued. “It’s sometimes described as a loud, boring sound, which it can be, but there are lots of ways to play it. I go to music school, so a lot of people I’m friends with are involved in a art form, then people start to understand.

Brown plays live shows on weekends and throughout the summer. “I’m doing my first real tour in August with my girlfriend Stephanie Coleman, she plays the violin. We drive up the East Coast to Canada and back down, this will probably be the most consecutive thing I’ve done in my short time on the road.

She enjoys the Newport Folk experience and how the festival is designed to support artists. “I really like how they create space for collaboration; it feels like a very tight-knit community and I’m glad they welcome you there. It’s a good feeling. You can hear so many genres, it’s a great place to get exposure to smaller artists.

Nora Brown (Photo: Ken Abrams)

For more on Nora Brown, check out her website here.

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