(The 2019 festival poster is a compelling original painting from local artist, author and songwriter Dennis McGregor)
The Sisters Folk Festival (SFF) runs September 6-8 in Sisters, Oregon, where “All The Town’s a Stage.” Performers at this year’s event represent an ever-widening sample of Americana and Folk music.
“As a festival, we’ve dedicated ourselves to bringing a wide variety of different ‘branches’ of the Americana music tree, from folk, to gospel and soul, Celtic and Acadian, old-time, bluegrass, Southern rock, singer-songwriters, Mariachi and more. The festival is a fantastic cultural and musical experience that is guaranteed to present new artists and new music to our audience every year,” says Brad Tisdel, creative director.
This year’s schedule has outstanding performances by 46 artists over three days, plus six Americana Project alumni artists. Artists in the final lineup for 2019 include: Bruce Cockburn, Peter Rowan’s Free Mexican Airforce featuring Los Texmaniacs (each will also perform their own set), Ron Artis II & The Truth, Le Vent du Nord, Rising Appalachia, The East Pointers, Della Mae, The Hamiltones, Flor de Toloache, Martyn Joseph, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Carrie Rodriguez, Red Dirt Boys, Phil Madeira, Will Kimbrough, Cedric Burnside, Lindsay Lou, Keith Greeninger & Dayan Kai, Lula Wiles, Pharis & Jason Romero, Alex Cuba, Ellis, David Jacobs-Strain & Bob Beach, Kuinka, The Brother Brothers, The Sweet Remains, Johnsmith, Sver, Vandoliers, Beth Wood, The Suitcase Junket, FY5, Susan Gibson, Jeffrey Martin, Kacy & Clayton, Dennis McGregor & the Spoilers, Stand & Sway, Polecat, The Arcadian Wild, Thunderstorm Artis, Sway Wild, Kristin Andreassen, Pete Kartsounes, Anna Tivel, Arouna Diarra & Biko.
Every artist — with the exception of headliner Bruce Cockburn — will play more than one set over the weekend, providing an opportunity to catch lots of acts and see performers multiple times. For those who really want to see a particular artist, organizers suggest arriving early to the venue, as venues do get to capacity at peak times.
Tisdel elaborates, “The schedule and number of venues allow for patrons to walk throughout town and sample music in different settings, different styles and in wonderful restaurants and businesses, all with a unique vibe and energy. We try to create scenes where there is something for everyone and every patron can find what they want and be surprised by top-notch talent as they discover new artists and music.”
The Festival doesn’t just attract local and world-wide audiences, it’s also highly sought-after by touring professionals. The experience shared by musicians and students at the Americana Song Academy, held at the spectacular Caldera campus is well known. Festival staff and volunteers make sure that artists are treated with respect, understanding and great food during their stay in Sisters. The Sisters Folk Festival has become an important stop for touring musicians who want to establish an audience base in the Pacific Northwest.
Saturday’s schedule includes Americana Project alumni artists, who will perform at Fir Street Park all day Saturday, September 7. The Americana Project is the educational outreach program of the Sisters Folk Festival organization and is celebrating its 20th year. The program teaches students in the Sisters schools visual arts, piano keyboarding skills, American roots music, songwriting, performing and recording, as well as building handmade guitars and ukuleles.
“We are excited to work with these young adults who will be taking the stage throughout Saturday to share the music they have continued to write and create after graduating from Sisters High School,” says Tisdel. As part of the festival weekend, Saturday’s performances will include current Americana project students performing at 11 am, followed by sets from Jaimee Simundson, Elize Van Der Laan, Raman Ellis, Drew Harrison, Slater Smith & Matt Cartmill (of the Portland-based Weather Machine) and Benji Nagel with his new bluegrass band, Skillethead. Sunday performances will also include festival artists and both days are free to the public.
The 2019 festival poster is once again a compelling original painting from local artist, author and songwriter Dennis McGregor. McGregor says, “The title is Ripples… Sisters Folk Festival loves songwriters. Since its earliest years, the festival has provided an extraordinary opportunity for those who are interested in the craft. The Americana Song Academy found a home at Caldera on the banks of Blue Lake 18 years ago. Since the program was launched, many people have had life-changing experiences there. Word of the experience spread and the ‘ripple effect’ continues to this day.”
In this year’s poster, Dennis has painted a nod to song camp. On these crystal, spring-fed waters a solitary figure pauses from life’s routine and basks in a moment of inspiration. The canoe isn’t moving, but it’s definitely going somewhere. Ask any of the hundreds of song-campers whose lives have experienced the ripple effect! The image of a person in a canoe on a lake conjures up simpler times of reflection and inspiration, similar to what folks experience at the Americana Song Academy held at Caldera each year, the week before the festival.
Steven Remington, who came on board in October of 2017 as the new development director, has seen tremendous growth in interest in SFF’s programs. “Our audiences have become much more informed about our activities over the last 18 months,” Remington notes, “mostly due to the Connected by Creativity Capital Campaign. We have been holding focus groups with our donors, reaching out through small private parties, and educating the general public through the media and during our Winter & Summer Concerts, as well as the big Josh Ritter concert last June.” The campaign is just finishing up and the building purchase was finalized on July 19th. Remington is confident that the building purchase will allow the organization to reach even more community members through SFF’s arts and music programs.
“Our partnership with the Sisters School District has been tremendous, and now we’d like to use the building as a platform for reaching seniors and under-served communities that are seeking art and music classes, instruction, lectures and other activities that we couldn’t always schedule before owning our own building. We see it as a means of better serving our community,” Remington added.
Lead donors Frank and Kathy Deggendorfer, who offered the building at significantly less than half its current market value, have been joined by major foundations including a significant gift from the Maybelle Clark Macdonald Fund, and the Chichester duPont Foundation. The campaign will be finalized when the final upgrades have been made to the building, which will begin shortly after the festival.
“We’ve already scheduled the first workshops in our ‘new’ building with Ian Carrick’s Open Hub Singing,” Remington says. You can get a feel for what to expect from Ian at the former workshop stage area behind Sisters Coffee Company at 11am on Saturday at this year’s festival. Ian describes his work as a reviving of a North American community of ‘paperless oral tradition’ singing. “We sing easy-to-learn delicious songs that re-enchant the world and open our hearts; accessible tools that build connection among us. When we sing together we practice courage, trust, interdependency, listening and feeling,” Carrick says.
With eleven venues throughout the downtown, some intimate and some with a seating capacity of 1,000 or more, the endeavor requires almost 400 community volunteers and is a major end-of-summer income producer for the whole town. It’s also Sisters Folk Festival, Inc’s largest fundraiser for the year. “When you buy a ticket to the Sisters Folk Festival, you not only get a unique experience, unlike any of the summer’s larger outdoor festivals; you are also supporting a small, rural community’s year-round arts and music education program,” Remington reminds us.
There are still limited tickets available to the festival. Check out their website for current ticket information. Once you’ve experienced the festival, it’s a good bet you’ll be back very year.