‘One big party’ at Sisters Folk Festival
Last updated 10/4/2022 at Noon
That was how Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser described his feelings to the Sisters Folk Festival (SFF) audience Saturday at Sisters Art Works. He and partner, cellist Natalie Haas, last performed at the Festival in 2016. He was describing the joy he felt at being back in Sisters before a wildly enthusiastic crowd.
That excitement was shared by audiences all weekend, as 31 acts from across the land and oceans filled eight venues starting Friday night and ending Sunday afternoon. The music was matched by the weather, both spectacular according to everybody The Nugget asked.
The mood was mellow, the most commonly used word festivalgoers gave. If not that word, then joyful. It was evident, not only among ticket holders, but also the artists and volunteers.
The 25th Festival was a sellout every day thanks to a strong last-minute showing of purchasers at the event ticket window. All over town The Nugget encountered knotholers — those not able to get tickets but who strained and craned to get a peak through tent slits or fence openings.
Hundreds literally just sat nearby taking in the sound, content not to see the stage. No fewer than 50 perched at Eurosports Food Cart Garden each day, where they could pick up nearly all the sounds from the Oliver Lemon’s tent. Village Green saw dozens and dozens of listeners leaning against trees taking in the melodies.
Pedestrians, not just festivalgoers, filled the sidewalks, many unaware of the annual event, just making a visit to Sisters in traditional Indian Summer fashion. Merchants were generally thrilled with the influx of shoppers, and reported strong sales.
Parking was a non-issue as locals knew the off-street spots and how to avoid congestion. Many — hundreds easily — rode their bikes to the event both to evade parking hassles and to get between venues in haste. The Festival provided handy bike corrals where riders could safely park their wheels.
Beer and wine was in abundance, yet officers from Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office reported no problems, only happy, well-mannered patrons. Watering holes were open late as the partylike atmosphere continued when the last acts exited the stages.
Jamie Barlow and Rich Levitt from Eugene were taking in their 15th or 16th Festival. They made Village Green their first show on Friday and were dazzled by The Milk Carton Kids, who had the crowd in belly laughs with a deadpan opening schtick.
Levitt said: “I thought I was at a standup comedy club. These guys had us on the floor.”
Artist after artist had the crowds eating out of their hands with wit and charm and frequent humor-filled storytelling. Carly and Niles Diamond from Medford were typical in their observation:
“These artists are truly having a good time. I mean they are clearly happy to be here,” Carly said. Niles added: “This is just plain, damned fun. No way we’d miss this.”
Leon and Vicki Bakeman from Silverdale, Washington, were impressed not just with the quality of the music but the feel they experienced from the artists and the fellow patrons.
“What fun this all is,” said Leon. “Sisters is such a cool place, and the Festival mood all over town is magical.”
Vicki wondered aloud how such a small town could pull it off.
It all appeared seamless thanks largely to the hundreds of volunteers all decked out in their official Festival tee shirts.
“It’s party time,” shouted Lyla Walters as she and five others from Bend rolled through the streets on rented bikes. “We can’t afford the tickets,” she lamented, “but hey this is one big party, tickets or not, and we’re not missing it.”
“Next stop, the wine bar,” chimed in Bari Fisher, a mate, as they pedaled away.
There was lack of agreement on which artist gave the best performance. Attendees all had their favorites, and conversation was lively with recommendations and impromptu reviews. On every corner it looked like bettors at the race track looking at the Racing Forum, handicapping the acts or strategizing on how to get to the next venue and be guaranteed a seat.
Festival Board Chair Terry Buchholz said, “I talked with Festival attendees and artists throughout the weekend and I think that the 25th annual Sisters Folk Festival far surpassed the expectations of both the artists and the festivalgoers. The free KidZone at Fir Street Park, SFF community celebration, and the diversity of music by 31 outstanding artists created a true sense of community for both residents and visitors. Frankly, it wouldn’t have been such a huge success without the dedication and hard work of the SFF staff, volunteers, venues, board, and artists.”
“We’ll be back” was the common refrain as the curtains came down Sunday and crowds eased out of town, in no hurry to replace the mood.