She Smiles: Meet Annika Bennett, the fresh face of folk

Video: Annika Bennett sings a new song, ‘She Smiles’

By Kevin Coughlin

It’s tempting–but unfair–to shower young talent with glib comparisons.

“She’s the next [insert icon’s name here].”

So let’s just say it will be fun to see how 18-year-old Annika Bennett’s career evolves.

Annika Bennett at the 2016 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Annika Bennett at the 2016 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Last year, fans chose her as one of their favorite emerging artists at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. That’s a big deal. Two dozen promising performers are invited to the Berkshires each year, and only three are voted to come back.

“Within the folk community, it kind of legitimized me,” said Bennett, who has taken a year off from New York University to test the musical waters in Nashville.

Her return to Falcon Ridge last weekend was impressive. She seemed to be everywhere…

…performing with fellow returning winners Gina Forsyth and Scott Wolfson & Other Heroes… singing a tribute to Phil Ochs… giving workshops on songwriting…charming the campground at late night sing-alongs.

Video: Annika Bennett loses her heart in NYC

Bennett’s songs are introspective and intimate. She mines meaning from fleeting moments, finding big emotions in small situations.

“I’m pretty private with a lot of things,” said Bennett, who started writing songs at age 9 and churns out a new one every week. “It’s sort of like my therapy, when I’m feeling something, I work it out myself, and songs are the best way to do that.”

Her lyrics have a way of sneaking up on you. She Smiles starts out deceptively sweetly…about a best friend…and then detours into jealousy land with a soft and disarming confession: “Though I love her, I would love to see her bleed.”

Bennett wields the scalpel so deftly that her victims don’t even know they’ve been cut.

“I’ve played songs written about [friends], and they’ve been in the room and not known they’re about them,” said Bennett, whose résumé already includes an ASCAP songwriting award and a victory in WNYC’s Queens Battle of the Boroughs competition.

Annika Bennett, an accomplished songwriter at 18. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Annika Bennett, an award-winning songwriter at 18. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

She thinks it “would be cool” for her songs to become “more commercial,” and professes admiration for the business instincts of Taylor Swift and Katy Perry.  She likes John Mayer, too.

Music is in Bennett’s DNA. Her mom sings in a cover band and her dad used to play trumpet professionally. Their CD collection was heavy on Queen, Nirvana, the Beach Boys, and especially, the Beatles.

ACOUSTIC SELFIE: Annika Bennett and Kate Copeland at the 2016 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

ACOUSTIC SELFIE: Annika Bennett and Kate Copeland at the 2016 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“I’m really obsessed with the Beatles,” she said, citing the White Album and, lately, Rubber Soul, as her favorite Fab records. She learned guitar to play Beatles songs, and considers Paul McCartney “the best melody writer who ever lived.”

“I like his attitude towards music and fame. I feel he doesn’t take it all too seriously. But he’s my biggest inspiration on every level,” she said.

Yet Bennett, who has her own band, is smart enough to know she can’t emulate Sir Paul, or anyone else.  For that lesson, she looks to past folk divas, ladies with names like Judy and Joni and Joan.

“A lot of the folk greats became greats for doing what they do, and not doing what was popular,” she observed. “That’s huge.”

 Video: Annika Bennett sings ‘Cross My Heart’ by Phil Ochs

MORE FROM FALCON RIDGE:

Zombie Patty-Cake and other tasty treats from Falcon Ridge

OTHER SINGERS ON THE RISE:

Video: Hamburg, NJ., native Heather Maloney stood out at the 2016 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival:

Video: Here’s New York singer/songwriter Kate Copeland, in the Orange Tent at the 2016 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival:

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Comments

  1. Tsoreighuh says:

    She is just wonderful sounding, superb, fantastic, exquisite!

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