News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Haley Johnsen to play for Sisters at folk event

Haley Johnsen, a singer-songwriter from Portland, is one of the featured artists in the Sisters Folk Festival’s Close to Home concert event at the Sisters Art Works Building on August 1. The event is sold out, but there is a waitlist available.

Johnsen has performed once before in Sisters at The Open Door and is excited to return.

“Any excuse to go to that area, I am excited for,” she said.

Johnsen first heard about the Sisters Folk Festival from Weather Machine founder and Sisters Americana Project standout Slater Smith. Johnsen occasionally lets The Weather Machine band practice and record in her basement in Portland.

“I had been hearing about the Festival for years and would have loved to play it someday, as it is a big thing in our state and I am excited to be a part of this part of it,” she said.

Johnsen has been passionate about singing for most of her life. As a shy kid, she never really put herself out there until she got to college. She attended Oregon State University and was a part of the choir and honed in on her ability to sing and perform. At 20, she picked up a guitar and dabbled in songwriting and performed at open mics. Shortly after that, she auditioned for American Idol in 2011 and made it to the top 24.

“After I got kicked off, I returned home to Beaverton and lived at home. I was beat down a bit after that time, but I realized that music is what I needed to do,” said Johnsen. “I really tried to make up the lost time of not making music.”

She performed locally and wrote over 100 songs. In 2015, she recorded her first EP, and in 2019, released her critically acclaimed full-length album, “Golden Days.”

Johnsen’s music fits within the roots, folk-pop genre, rooted in the Americana sound.

“I’ve struggled over the years to fit the music into one genre. They aren’t straight up folk songs, more folk-pop,” she said.

Growing up, she listened to powerhouse Americana female singer-songwriters including Bonnie Rait, Grace Potter, Brandi Carlisle, and Eva Cassidy.

“As I’ve gotten older I can [see] a lot of my vocal style comes from these female musicians, especially with the rootsy sound,” she said.

One of the things music has brought Johnsen is the adventures it’s taken her on.

“I’ve met amazing people through music and have gotten to tour around the world. It doesn’t feel like work and I have the ability to create something amazing,” she said.

Johnsen has been touring and doing music full time for the past three years. Last year, the craziest year of her career so far, included touring with EDM/Indie pop group Big Wild, playing bass and doing backup vocals. Together, they played a number of festivals, including a sold-out show at Red Rocks in Colorado last year. She was also touring her own work and writing new music at the time.

“My career has not been super linear and I have really tried to embrace every opportunity that comes my way,” she said.

During quarantine times, Johnsen has been spending most of her time editing and writing songs and honing in on what her next project is going to be.

“I have been really patient with myself during this time and not putting too much pressure on myself. I am still figuring out the future as an artist,” she said.

She has been doing some collaborations with other artists doing vocal tracks and some production work.

“I see myself first and foremost as a singer and I can now use my voice for other artists in other genres,” she said.

Johnsen is also a voice teacher and guitar teacher and has been able to continue doing that via Zoom. She started teaching as something to live on her own after her “American Idol” days. She taught through School of Rock and they gave her the chance to give voice lessons.

“Once you teach something, the better you get at it and that is what I was doing with teaching vocal lessons,” she said.

Johnsen works with people of all ages and abilities.

Johnsen recently came out with her most recent record — a live-recorded album from Studio 1 in Abbey Road Studios in London. The songwriter thought she would have a three-day UK vacation, but her manager, Warren Wyatt, had what she calls a “trick up his sleeve” — a serendipitous single evening recording session at the historic studio, which is now being released as Haley’s first guitar-and-vocal-only album London Sessions.

The lead single, “Feel the Water,” was released March 13.

Haley Johnsen will be performing a set of her original music at the Close to Home event on August 1. Other artists include, David Jacobs-Strain, Beth Wood, Ron Artis II and the Truth, and Jeffery Martin. The event is sold out, but there is a waitlist. More information can be found at

More information on Haley Johnsen’s music can be found at


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