Madison Cunningham is hitting the Sisters Folk Festival stage for the first time this Saturday, July 17, as part of the Sisters Summer of Festival. Cunningham will be performing on a co-bill with SFF alumn Steve Poltz.

The show will take place outdoors at Sisters Art Works at 204 W. Adams Ave. in Sisters, at 7 p.m.

Cunningham has been writing and playing guitar for pretty much as long as she can remember. Growing up in Costa Mesa, her dad was a musician at a local church and always playing guitar around the house when she was young.

“I don’t remember him ever not playing music,” said Cunningham.

Around eight years old, Cunningham picked up the guitar and started learning herself, while being taught by her dad.

“It is what we did for fun,” she recalled. “He would come into my room before work and teach me a few new chords. The passion for me was a very low-key development and uncalculated, I wasn’t super serious, it was just something I always did and didn’t know life without music. Later into her teens, getting ready to graduate high school, she saw a few of her friends beginning to get really serious about pursuing music as a career.

“That was when there was a serious change for me. There had to be a serious level of commitment to be able to make a living and career in music,” she said. “For me, it stayed within that curiosity and passion, but has now also become my job and career,” she said.

Cunningham had begun writing songs around 8-10 years old; for her it was a form of journaling.

“Guitar was a vehicle for writing and each one was its own passion and I have always just been obsessed with guitar playing,” she said.

Cunningham describes her music as being guitar-centric and is really informed by Americana and singer-songwriter styles. Rolling Stone magazine describes her music as "a new spin on West Coast folk-rock, with classical tendencies, electric guitars, jazz-school chord changes and alt-rock strut all living under the same roof.”

At the start of the pandemic, Cunningham had just finished up a big tour and she was going to be going into a writing cycle.

“There were a few tour dates and opportunities that got shelved which was hard. I was going into a writing cycle anyways, so that went according to plan, but nothing else really went according to plan,” she said.

She describes the time as a double-edged sword, with missed opportunities, but also time to write and reflect.

“I wouldn’t take any of that time back,” she said. “The sweet part of it was it jogged my memory of why I do music and loving what I do. When you are on the road all the time and going through the motions, you lose that and fall into burnout, but I was able to take some of this time reflect and to just sit with what was happening.”

During the pandemic writing process, Cunningham came out with her latest EP, “Wednesday.” During the start of 2020 and through the pandemic, she had been doing a weekly series of learning other people’s songs to help inspire her to write her own.

“It was a hard year to write as an artist and function as one because the whole world was going down at once and it is hard to find your own inspiration,” she said.

Cunningham began learning covers, particularly older songs within the Americana, folk, pop realm.

“I found myself wanting to listen to songs that came out 10 years ago and hear those timeless songs,” she said.

That led to the inspiration and style of song to write her own EP that she put out exclusively on digital streaming platforms.

“It was a reprieve for me for sure to have songs in my hands during that year,” she said.

One show in particular that got postponed to 2021 was opening for Harry Styles at Madison Square Garden in October. During her own tour, pre-pandemic, Styles reached out to Cunningham on Instagram.

“It was one of those messages that you get from someone who doesn’t follow you and it said Harry Styles, I thought, ‘it couldn’t be real, has to be a fan account.’ Turns out, it was him telling me he had listened to my record and really liked it and would love to get in touch,” said Cunningham. “Shortly after that, he reached out asking if I would want to open for him for his show in New York at Madison Square Garden in October, and I couldn’t say no of course.”

That performance was moved from October 2020 to October 31, 2021.

“It is such a trip, I won’t believe it until it happens, maybe not even then,” she said.

Cunningham is playing her first show in front of people in Sisters this weekend, July 17.

“I have never played in Sisters; I have played in Portland. I am super excited to get back into the swing of things and have such a beautiful place as my first show in front of people,” she said.

Other musicians on the bill for summer concerts include David Jacobs-Strain/Tony Furtado Trio, The Coffis Brother/ The Mother Hips, Sway Wild/True North, Making Movies + Raye Zaragoza.

For more information and tickets visit https://sistersfolkfestival.org/sff-presents/.