Sisters immersed in music over weekend


Last updated 10/3/2023 at 10:07am

Photo by Tim LeBarge

Bab L'Bluz brought a Moroccan flair to the stage at Sisters Folk Festival.

The 2023 Sisters Folk Festival - the 26th - opened Friday under Portland-like weather, with a steady mist under overcast skies, the temperature just barely reaching 50.

Appearing on seven stages scattered around town, artists did their best to boost the mood and stay warm. Attendees warmed to their sounds and musicianship. Beer sales dipped and coffee and cocoa sales soared. Folks huddled under well-placed, patio-style propane heaters, but none were complaining.

Being serious music lovers, they were commiserating with artists struggling to tune their instruments against the climate barriers. They were still keenly engaged while strategizing how to see it all – 33 acts from all over the world representing multiple genres of roots music, from folk and bluegrass to jazz and country-blues.

The Festival sold out well before the weekend's events got underway.

As usual, folks came from around a dozen states, some driving all night and day to get here. Angie and Tad Walton, who left Cedar City, Utah after work Thursday, rolled in at 4 p.m. Friday afternoon.

"Weather? What weather?" they cracked.

"Hey, we came for the music, not the scenery, even though that's pretty amazing," Angie allowed.

Like many, they came underdressed in fleece and flannels, when parkas and wool ponchos were the day's predominant attire.

"Inside the tents it's just fine, actually not stuffy like when it's hot," mused Jerry Fiedler from Boise. "I'm good with it. The music more than makes up for any drizzle. Not sure how the fiddlers are coping."

Saturday was a whole other story as the sun gradually started a takeover around 10 a.m. By noon, when bands were taking stage, it was as if the climate gods said: There Shall Be Sun and Fun and All Good Things in Sisters.

Crowds grew in size, as did their enthusiasm. Talk about the weather ceased and all conversation turned to the main attraction: music. Lots of it.

Eateries, stunted Friday night, were crammed full all day Saturday and into the late evening. And suddenly everybody was a critic or music promoter heaping praise or emoting on one band or another. "Did you hear...?" "You absolutely must see..." "You cannot miss..." And so it went.

"How can you not love this?" exclaimed Sid Vaughan of Seattle.

"There is something for everybody." chimed his fiancée Rose Garrity. "This is a banquet, a feast for the ears."

"This is musical heaven," said Ruth Atkinson from Portland. She was among a group of eight making their sixth Festival. "Did you hear Jorge Glem? He's a musician magician. Good lord, what he can do on that little guitar (Venezuelan cuatro)."

She shook her head in amazement. Glem and his musical partner, Sam Reider, won a Latin Grammy Award just a few weeks ago.

It was like that all weekend. Audiences were often stunned and occasionally brought to tears by what they saw and heard. Or they doubled over with laughter.

"I thought I would split my pants," said Greta Latham from Salem, as she described how John Craigie had the audience in stitches with his comedic performance.

"You know," Bob Henley from Nevada instructed, "this is really, really, really good music. This is top of the food chain. There are lots of music festivals. This is not one driven by tourism. People come here purely for the music. Hell, we'd come for this even if we had to sleep in our cars. This? This is how you do music."

Those around him nodded in agreement as students might listening to a lecture.

Propane stage heaters were needed Saturday night as they were Friday, and artists warmed their hands before picking up their instrument. Some fussed with their strings to compensate for the dropping temperatures, which by 9 p.m. were in the 30s.

At venues like The Open Door and Sisters Depot, spectators scrunched together in part to keep warm, and in part to make sure as many as possible could fit in.

Photo by Jack Turpen

Ayla White is a middle school student from Colorado who has participated in many Sisters Folk Festival programs.

The Community Celebration, free to all, at 10 a.m. Sunday morning, was packed, with a thousand inside and more lined outside the Village Green tent. A dozen of the Festival artists took the stage in songs of love and gratitude. As the tent emptied, people walked hand in hand, arm in arm with words like: "Powerful. Needed. Important. Compelling."

Sunday was perhaps even more enthusiastic. By then artists had found how much they were loved in Sisters, and found an intimacy with their audiences. Parking was wicked as literally hundreds of cyclists, mostly from Bend, also decided that Sisters was the place to be that day.

Some turned into knot-holers at Sisters Saloon or Open Door, while others perched themselves at Eurosports to pick up the sound from the Oliver Lemon's venue for free. The near-perfect day combined the best of what Sisters is all about, many of the 400 volunteers and staff could be heard saying as the Festival ended with a collective standing ovation and folks eased out of town, in no rush to lose the mood or memories made.


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