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Year Around Folk: In its 13th year, Sisters Folk Festival has roots in music and its hometown 

Mr. Red on Blonde himself, Tim O'Brien finally makes his way to the Sisters Folk Fest this weekend.It's late in the afternoon on a late

click to enlarge Mr. Red on Blonde himself, Tim O'Brien finally makes his way to the Sisters Folk Fest this weekend.
  • Mr. Red on Blonde himself, Tim O'Brien finally makes his way to the Sisters Folk Fest this weekend.
Mr. Red on Blonde himself, Tim O'Brien finally makes his way to the Sisters Folk Fest this weekend.It's late in the afternoon on a late August Thursday afternoon and that means Brad Tisdel is in his office and working late. It's only eight days before his labor of love, his raison d'etre (for the French speaking, or perhaps the hyperbolic), the Sisters Folk Festival takes flight. There's plenty of "i"s left to dot and "t"s to be crossed before the 13th installment of the roots music celebration, but Tisdel, the local singer-songwriter as well as the festival's artistic director, still makes time to talk about his hometown's cultural engine.

"The idea is to take a three-day music festival and make it have a year-around presence that's educational and also entertaining for the community," Tisdel says of the Sisters Folk Festival's standing in Central Oregon.

For several years now, the festival's presence has been felt on every page of the calendar whether it be through the Americana Project, Tisdel's in-school music education program, or perhaps the winter concert series, which this past year brought another solid lineup of national touring acts to Sisters. And as if the reach of the Sisters Folk Festival influence isn't expansive enough, Tisdel also recently launched Musical Memories, an inarguably innovative program that brings local musicians into senior communities to play tunes from yesteryear.

If you add in the Americana Song Academy, a songwriter's summer camp of sorts that precedes the festival, it might be easy for some to forget that there are still three days at the beginning of September where the Sisters Folk Festival itself still exists. Starting on Friday and extending through Sunday while overtaking much of Central Oregon's favorite cowboy town, Sisters Folk is boasting a lineup this year that's full of national performers and as strong as any past gathering.
"Our stature nationally has come in the past five to six years, but it's been on the way for maybe eight years now," says Tisdel, who was actually a finalist in the inaugural festival's song contest.


More than 30 artists will be scattered amongst six stages throughout Sisters, and near the top of the bill is Tim O'Brien, a much-respected folk and bluegrass multi-instrumentalist who caught the ears of music junkies in the mid-1990s with his album Red on Blonde, which as you may have guessed is a collection of O'Brien's covers of Bob Dylan classics. O'Brien is indicative of Sisters Folk's rise on the national folk festival scene as Tisdel says he tried booking the artist several times in the past, but believes the festival's increased stature was a selling point to bringing O'Brien in.

Another act that shows the growth of Sisters Folk is The Waifs, an Australian folk rock trio that clearly pushes the singer/songwriter boundaries the festival once found itself contained within. With other acts like Portland's Jackstraw dishing out bluegrass crossover cuts and the Wailin' Jenny's bringing their Canadian youthfulness to the stage, it's clear the festival isn't opposed to spreading its wings. In fact, Tisdel hinted (read: hinted, so don't get ahead of yourself) that the festival wouldn't be opposed to someday booking a band like the Avett Brothers who in essence play folk music, but present it with a punk edge.

But with all that said, Sisters Folk this weekend will still do what it does best, and that's folk and bluegrass, which is what they're adding with longstanding folk veteran Jesse Winchester.

"To folks that are 45-65, he was a musical hero. For the whole bluegrass scene that sort of percolates Telluride and all that, Winchester is a total hero," Tisdel says, "We want to have a diverse enough offering that people won't just find something that they like, but something they love."

With increasing musical diversity, a well-known Central Oregon reputation throughout the year and now national recognition, it seems Sisters Folk is destined to grow. Tisdel says they are looking to have as many as 2,500 people attend this year, making it the biggest festival to date. But that doesn't mean Sisters Folk is destined to burst at the seams.

"The board of the festival wants to keep the intimacy of the event. We really dig the ability to have a fest that brings multi-cultural, multi-generational people into the fold," Tisdel says, "We have done a huge service to this area by providing what we've created. And we've done it by creating community through art."

Sisters Folk Festival
Friday-Sunday, September 5-7. $85/three-day pass, single day passes vary from $30-$60. Visit sistersfolkfestival.org for a full lineup and tickets. Downtown Sisters.

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