Outlaws embrace traditional music at festival


Last updated 3/19/2024 at 3:10pm

Photo by Kelli Carter

The middle school Outlaw Strings Club had an outstanding experience at the four-day Wintergrass Festival in Washington last month.

The Outlaw Strings Club made an impression at the four-day Wintergrass Festival in Bellevue, Washington last month.

Outlaw Strings is run by Sisters Middle School teacher Melissa Stolasz, but would not be the same without the strong support from Sisters Folk Festival, who helps with introducing students to new artists, financial support, instrument availability, and a daytime summer camp where kids can continue to play without the club.

Stolasz explained that she "saw the lineup for the festival and made the decision to go based on three bands that were going to be there that I knew the students would love; Väsen, Hawktail, and Le Vent du Nord. Once we found out there was a kids strings program it seemed like an opportunity we couldn't miss."

The strings club that went was made up of 21 kids (18 fiddlers and three guitarists). They had 10 adult volunteers tag along with seven cars, and they stayed in two Airbnbs. The fiddlers participated in a full-day strings program called "Jamz 2" that went from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursday and Friday. Then on Friday evening and all day Saturday, they got to tour the festival.

When The Nugget asked Stolasz what the most memorable part of the festival was she said, "Watching the Strings Club just absolutely embrace traditional music. It was so joyful, and watching them get excited about different bands and want to see them again was so cool. They also joined jams and had some great dance sessions!"

Stolasz also mentioned that another memorable aspect was, "The degree to which our eighth graders stepped up with so much enthusiasm and leadership. They encouraged younger kids, went to adult workshops, and just fully embraced the whole experience. They were asked to play a set for the festival patrons in the VIP lounge on Friday, and on Saturday when we had the morning off they asked if they could get up early and if someone could drive them back to the venue so they could go to a Quebecois workshop. All the kids were amazing but our 8th graders really set the tone for the weekend."

The Nugget asked eighth graders Odin Rea, Carter Anderson, and Gryffon Dyer about their experience, and what they took away from the festival. Anderson mentioned that "the workshops were insane, and you got to play with whoever you wanted. I got to form strong connections with lots of people."

There was a similar theme of excitement and joy from both Rea and Dyer's experience as Rea stated, "I met lots of people and just fiddling all the time was my favorite part."

Dyer also added "Watching the concerts, specifically Väsen, Le Vent du Nord, and Biribá Union was super amazing." The three of them mentioned that they all had strong, adventurous spirits, the city was beautiful, and there were lots of great, inspiring musicians. They explained that the Outlaw Strings group was the youngest group there, as it was led by adults but there was a good vibe, good rhythm, strong energy, and everyone was happy.

Photo by Kelli Carter

Sisters students brought enthusiasm to the Wintergrass Festival.

The Outlaw Strings Club went to four different summer camps last year, but this is the largest group they have taken to a single event. This summer Stolasz is hoping to get the group to the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in Port Townsend, Washington, July 1-8.

Stolasz noted "a really rad admin team at Sisters School District that lets teachers have wild ideas and says yes to them. When we walked into Jamz 2 with 21 kids it was a huge deal and when we debriefed it later we realized that a traditional music strings club in a public school just does not happen. Either your school values music and there is an orchestra program, in which case the orchestra teachers won't let you anywhere near their violin players, or your school doesn't prioritize music. People were blown away by our little program and are so excited about it. It's really a testimony to the magic that happens in our little town. We feel so lucky to be here and experience that synergy!"


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