Blues festival rocks Sisters
Last updated 8/16/2022 at Noon
After a two-year hiatus, the Sisters Rhythm & Brews Festival graced the Village Green stage in downtown Sisters last weekend. The weekend was full of blue skies, cold brews, and some of the best blues artists in the country.
Founders Joe and Jennifer Rambo have a heart for giving back to their community, with part of the Festival proceeds contributing to Habitat for Humanity programming, Heart of Oregon Corps, and Sisters Gro scholarships — local programs the Rambos support.
Many attendees carried over their tickets from 2020 for the 2022 shows, including Brad and Teresa Bowman from Seattle.
“We came to the fest three years ago and then bought our tickets for 2020, and obviously that didn’t happen, so we decided we would roll them over for 2022. It’s a great festival, great blues, great food, and we love Sisters,” said Brad Bowman.
The Festival kicked off Friday evening at 4 p.m., starting with new-on-the-scene Jontavious Willis, hailing from Greenville, Georgia. This is Willis’ first time to Sisters while on tour across the nation.
Willis grew up listening to old blues musicians from Mississippi and taught himself to play guitar.
“I taught myself and developed a passion and drive to play the blues,” Willis told The Nugget. Willis plays an old style of acoustic blues — just himself, his guitar, and occasionally a harmonica for a song about trains. Willis performed a combination of his own original lyrics and covers of some other blues artists.
“The Festival has been great. I love the town and the small-town vibe here,” said Willis.
The show continued with a set from Castro Coleman, aka Mr. Sipp, and his band. Mr. Sipp got the Friday night crowd up out of their chairs and dancing at the base of the stage to kick off the Festival weekend.
“It’s great to be back in the beautiful town of Sisters,” Coleman told The Nugget. “This is our third time being back and we love the place with the nice people and fans that love the music.”
Mr. Sipp’s band traveled with him from their home in McComb, Mississippi; his son T-Burns is now playing with Coleman on the organ and keys.
The evening continued with Southern Avenue who give a dynamic performance and got the crowd up and dancing yet again. Southern Avenue, consists of three sisters, all from Memphis, Tennessee, in a band created by Israeli-born guitarist and music producer Ori Naftaly.
Sisters locals Peggy and Mike Magardt have lived in Sisters for over 35 years and have attended a number of local music events, including the past two Sisters Rhythm & Brews festivals.
“We love the events, and we love the blues in particular,” said Mike Magardt.
Festivalgoers enjoyed food from local food carts as well as cold beverages from two of the main sponsors for the event, 10 Barrel Brewing Company and Crater Lake Spirits.
Next up was Brownout Presents: Brown Sabbath, a band that does Latin renditions of Black Sabbath music. The stage setup consisted of bongos, drums, a full horn section, guitarists, and lead singer Alex Marrero, whose Ozzy Osborne-esque bravado channeled the sound of Black Sabbath.
Friday evening concluded with an acoustic/electric set from Cedric Burnside, the grandson of blues great R.?L. Burnside. Burnside kicked off his set with just his acoustic guitar, playing Hill Country blues. Burnside then brought out the drummer and electric guitar for a rocking set at the end of Friday evening.
Many of the musicians and bands are rooted in Hill Country blues, Delta blues and rhythm music. Hill Country blues is a style of blues from the poor areas of Mississippi that was born out of Delta blues and has a strong emphasis on rhythm and percussion.
Kicking off Saturday with cooler weather, festival attendees visited the local pop-up vendors in the park, including the popular Sisters Hats + CO founded by Stacey Squire. She only has a pop-up shop and website, but many of the hats she sold were seen around the Festival all weekend. The hats she sells are handmade in Guatemala.
Saturday kicked off with historical blues player Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, proprietor of the Blue Front Café on the Mississippi Blues Trail, the oldest surviving juke joint in Mississippi. Holmes played a set of historical blues tunes and his own tunes before hopping on a plane back to Mississippi to tend bar at his café.
The day was filled with music from Mr. Sipp for a second set, Nikki Hill and her band, and then Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio.
To kick off the evening, international award-winning guitarist Ana Popovic seized the stage. Popovic had been to Sisters a couple of times, performing at The Belfry. Fire Chief Roger Johnson and his wife, Susie, saw that show last March at the Belfry.
“She just went out and started rocking at that show,” said Johnson.
Pokey LaFarge and his band, The Northsiders, performed next playing a mixed set of his own original material from his latest album, “In the Blossom of Their Shade” plus four songs by the legendary Chicago Blues musician Howlin’ Wolf. (See related story, page 9.)
There were a few young festivalgoers who attended the Festival just to see Pokey LaFarge, while wearing their Pokey LaFarge T-shirts.
After ending his set with “Goodnight, Goodbye (Hope Not Forever),” he expressed his desire to return to Sisters in a shorter amount of time than 10 years. LaFarge performed at the 2012 Sisters Folk Festival.
After a major set change-over, it was time for the legendary Eric Gales to take the stage. Emcee for the evening, Katie Cavanaugh, put it perfectly for the last show: “This is absolutely worth the wait.”
Eric Gales performed a rousing set, with music from his latest record, “Crown.”
“I am performing these songs from my heart and my soul, and they are a part of me here tonight, Sisters,” said Gales from the stage. “We haven’t had this gig on our calendar for three years and I am gonna give it all I got for you, Sisters,” he said.
Gales performed late into the cool Saturday evening with a packed house of 700 on the Village Green lawn.