Just over 20 miles north of Bend, down a cinder-dusted highway lined with juniper trees and horse ranches, is the little town of Sisters. It's home to giant quilt and folk festivals, a popular rodeo and now, Central Oregon's newest live music venue—The Belfry.
Contained within the walls of an early 20th-century church and complete with an actual belfry—yes, the bell is still in there—visiting the venue is like a trip back in time. And that's exactly what I made when I drove out there last Saturday to see Seattle rockers James Apollo and His Sweet Unknown.
My first impression was that The Belfry felt comforting. A welcoming grandma's-house-like musty smell hangs in the air. Your shoes click against the hardwood floors as they would in a cozy cabin, and the abundant candlelight from mid-century-like votives at every table add to the warm feeling. Even the original hardwood pews with velvety orange upholstery are still here. You can't help but sense you're in a special place.
The stage runs the entire width of the main gathering area and is backed with drapes that feel like a 1940s jazz club. Rather than using conventional stage lights, The Belfry keeps lighting minimal in keeping with the vibe of the former church. There is a large loft overlooking the ballroom with more pews for seating and a small skybox looking down into the venue to the left of the loft. With a bar offset from the concert hall, The Belfry is the kind of place you want to explore.
As James Apollo played to about 20 people that night, it occurred to me they would be the perfect house band for The Belfry. Apollo had the antics of a Buddy Holly with the looks of Lyle Lovett and the soulful voice of a lounge singer. Incorporating upright bass, trumpet, bass clarinet and '50s-style guitar licks, Apollo and His Sweet Unknown filled The Belfry with haunting old-timey tinged rock—a vintage-sounding band for a vintage-looking venue.
And though I've now only seen one show at The Belfry, I am convinced owner Angeline Rhett—who also owns Angeline's Bakery in Sisters—has hit a home run with her latest project.
Rhett said opening The Belfry is an extension of something she's been doing for a while.
"I've had the bakery for 16 years and we have a live music venue behind the bakery, but I'm always limited by weather and space," Rhett said in an interview with the Source. "I enjoy live music and love the opportunity to appreciate that scene in our own backyard where we can just walk home. [The Belfry] is a place where we can make it happen more often."
For the sake of live music in Central Oregon, let's hope she follows through on that vision. The Belfry may be a bit out of the way for those of us in Bend or Redmond, but this venue is more than just a place to see a concert—it's an experience all its own. A live music destination.
"I've been in contact with the old caretaker and he's been really helpful about giving me history. He has a lot of love for that building. Even after two years of being vacant it still felt loved and there was nary a light bulb out." –Angeline Rhett on The Belfry
Rhett intends to turn a 2000-square-foot building adjacent to The Belfry into a youth hostel with two bunk rooms.
There are plans in the works to book Central Oregon restaurants and personal chefs to provide food for concertgoers. Rhett hopes that bringing Bend restaurants like Barrio into Sisters will help blend the two communities together.