Country is the 'emotional genre' for soulful songwriter
by: Arwen Ungar MUSE MAKER — Carrie Cunningham performs this Thursday, June 16, in Olde Towne St. Helens.

Thoughtful and soft-spoken country music singer Carrie Cunningham will perform this Thursday at the 13 Nights on the River festival in St. Helens.

Cunningham said she's been in love with music her whole life. But it wasn't until middle school that Cunningham realized she wanted to be a country music singer.

'I had a sixth-grade teacher who told me to join the choir,' Cunningham said. 'It was an out for me.'

At the time, Cunningham lived in Chadron, Neb., and said she was tasked with caring for her younger siblings while both her parents worked full-time.

'Singing was really my outlet,' she said. ' And choir gave me a sense of a belonging to something.'

During her first solo, Cunningham was so nervous she had to remove her glasses so she couldn't see the audience.

Today, she still gets nervous when she's preparing to perform.

'If you don't get nervous, you're getting bored with yourself,' Cunningham said.

Now a Vancouver, Wash., resident, Cunningham, who is six months pregnant, said her children have had a big influence on her career.

'Being a parent you have a different perspective,' Cunningham said. ' Because I have kids, I don't want to have a bad reputation. There's plenty of that out there. I have to pay a lot of attention to how I perform, how I dress.'

In addition to being a performer, Cunningham is also a songwriter and heads up the Portland chapter of the Nashville Songwriters Association. Although one of Bruce Springsteen's albums was her first cassette tape, she said country music is where her heart lies.

'Country is better than everything out there,' Cunningham said. 'It's the emotional genre.'

Last week, the 13 Nights on the River concert series kicked off the season with performances by the St. Helens High School Jazz Band and alternative pop band, Crown Point.

Lyman Louis, the music coordinator for the event, said it was the second biggest revenue generator the festival had seen to date, with more than 1,000 people in attendance.

The festival earns funds predominantly from beer garden sales.

Louis said more than 80 bands submitted their names to perform at the festival, which runs on Thursdays from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. through Sept. 1.

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