(Town Mountain, photo by Rob Laughter; Freddy & Francine, photo courtesy of Sisters Folk Festival and Rio Mira, photo by Miguel Alvear)
Sisters Folk Festival is excited to announce the 2019 Free Summer Concert Series at Fir Street Park in downtown Sisters, OR. This year’s lineup will bring fresh and diverse music to Sisters and is made possible through a sponsorship from First Interstate Bank. The concert performances are Thursday, July 18 with Rio Mira, a collective of folk musicians from Ecuador and Columbia; Thursday, August 1 with bluegrass powerhouse Town Mountain; and Wednesday, August 21 with SFF fan favorites, Freddy & Francine.
Opening the series on July 18, Rio Mira bridges borders to reaffirm traditions. This unique collective of folk musicians celebrates a precious and shared musical heritage. Fronted by singer Karla Kanora, Rio Mira is an exciting recording collaboration between artists from neighboring Ecuador and Colombia. Their debut album, released on a ZZK’s sub label AYA Records is produced by Iván Benavides (involved in Latin Grammy-winning groups like Choq Quib Town and Gaiteros de San Jacinto) and Ivis Flies (producer of Latin Grammy-winning social heritage project De Taitas y Mamas) and is guided by the distinctive percussive tones of the marimba.
This socially conscious project, based out of the coastal town of Esmeraldas in Ecuador and the city of Cali in Colombia, is becoming a symbol of Afro-Pacific identity. The story of the marimba is so closely intertwined with the history of rebel slaves — known as maroons — who have made the region their home from the early 16th century onward. There is a tangible, celebratory feeling to this music. In 2015, UNESCO declared the marimba music of South Pacific Colombia and Esmeraldas Province, Ecuador to be Intangible Cultural Heritage. Taking its name from the river, which runs from Ecuador into Colombia, the band Rio Mira is living proof of the rich history of South America’s northwesterly Pacific coast.
On Thursday, August 1, the bluegrass group Town Mountain will perform. Raw, soulful, and with plenty of swagger, Town Mountain has earned raves for their hard-driving sound, their in-house songwriting and the honky-tonk edge that permeates their exhilarating live performances, whether in a packed club or at a sold-out festival. The hearty base of Town Mountain’s music is the first and second generation of bluegrass, spiced with country, old school rock ‘n’ roll and boogie-woogie. It’s what else goes into the mix that brings it all to life — both on stage and on record — and reflects the group’s wide-ranging influences, from the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia and the ethereal lyrics of Robert Hunter, to the honest, vintage country of Willie, Waylon and Merle.
Town Mountain features guitarist and vocalist Robert Greer, banjoist Jesse Langlais, mandolinist Phil Barker, fiddler Bobby Britt, and Zach Smith on bass. Town Mountain’s latest album New Freedom Blues is full of new material and features several guest artists including Tyler Childers (who co-wrote one of the songs), Sturgill Simpson drummer Miles Miller and others. The band’s prior album, Southern Crescent, debuted at #4 on the Billboard Bluegrass Chart, while staying for ten weeks on the Americana Music Association’s radio chart Top 40, and was widely considered to be one of the best bluegrass albums of 2016.
On Wednesday August 21, Freddy & Francine will close out the summer series. This talented duo (whose actual names are Lee Ferris and Bianca Caruso) are coming off wildly successful performances at the Sisters Folk Festival in 2018, and have quickly become one of the most popular acts. To the casual observer, Freddy & Francine seem safely cemented as a folk duo. They have the look, the soulful harmonies and the folk circuit bookings — more than 150 a year, including the legendary Telluride Bluegrass Festival. But Freddy & Francine aren’t interested in acting, or genres, or talking or not talking about their relationship. They’ve done all that. They’ve even recently left their longtime home of Los Angeles for Nashville, and they’ve never looked more like themselves.
“We just want to play music all the time and we don’t care about the rest of the industry concerns,” Ferris said. Longtime fans know that the band took a three-year hiatus when Ferris and Caruso’s relationship unraveled, a time which found Ferris turning his back on music while driving trucks in L.A., and Caruso working an office job in New York. During this break, both seemingly were able to land on their feet. Ferris was cast as Carl Perkins in the Broadway and touring productions of Million Dollar Quartet, and Caruso co-wrote and filmed a television pilot featuring Seth Rogen in Joni Mitchell’s Laurel Canyon home (her friend rents it) and sold it to ABC.
“We’re performers. We’re not just folk musicians who play and sing mellow songs with little voices… there’s screaming,” Caruso said. Don’t call it Americana either. They don’t wear hats. Besides, Caruso explains, “The minute you think one of our songs is an Americana song, it can turn into a retro pop song.”