"This year's festival has a really bluesy feel to it," says Sisters Folk Festival artistic director Brad Tisdel of the event's 15th anniversary lineup.
He's right. Sisters Folk has always strayed from pure folk music, but this year's festival, taking place this weekend throughout the city of Sisters, features a lineup that's as eclectic as ever. The fest is headlined by John Hammond, but still features folkies like Ray Wylie Hubbard and a parade of other singer songwriters. In the past few years, Tisdel has focused more and more on exposing fans to new artists who they otherwise might never encounter.
"If everyone loved every act, we're probably not doing our job. Frankly, we want to expose other artists to our regular clientele. One of our responsibilities is to expand the definition of folk," says Tisdel.
The Sisters Folk Festival's atmosphere is worth the trip out to the quaint cowboy town alone, but, of course, music is king. If you make it out there, here are five acts you can't miss.
Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside
We wrote about Sallie Ford and her throwback sound when she came and played McMenamin's Old St. Francis School earlier this year, but are imploring you to see her again. After big shows this summer, including a rousing set at Pickathon, Ford has gained a throng of Northwest fans, thanks in part to her Billie Holiday-esque voice and the band's punchy and quirky style. In terms of youth appeal, this band is probably the Folk Festival's biggest draw. 10:45pm Friday, Brocno Billy's. 8:15pm Saturday, Sisters Art Works Stage.
Festival tip: For 95 percent of music festivals, you want to see the headliner because, well they're the headliner. John Hammond is one of traditional blues music's great touring artists and is still cranking out Grammy nominated records while playing a huge slate of gigs each year. He's been recording blues music for almost 50 years now, and along the way has played with Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, Tom Waits and just about everyone else who matters in the realm of roots and blues music. His voice is booming and his guitar style features the sort of grittiness that will remind you of greats like Robert Johnson. 9:15pm Saturday, Sisters Art Works Stage.
Hot Club of Cowtown
One of the most unique acts on the bill is this Austin trio with a weird name and a jazz-influenced take on Western swing that's marinated nicely in modern flavors. The trio features the spicy vocals of Elana James, who also contributes to the band's tapestry of sound with her violin work. Having toured for the past decade, the band has cultivated a fiery live show that lets the band's energy transfer easily to the crowd. Expect this act to get some of the festival's typically reserved fans up and dancing (or at least tapping their feet).
One of the only international acts on the bill is Canada's Po' Girl, a delightfully rootsy group with an indie attitude, yet one that pays attention to the musical history that helped build their genre. The band has the ability to incorporate folky elements while also mixing in a healthy amount of jazz influence into their sound, which thrives on the vocals of Allison Russell and Awna Teixeira. This is yet another act on the festival lineup that points to the eclectic direction in which Tisdel and company are taking the festival. And we're not going to complain about that.
Ray Wylie Hubbard
Another one of the festival's biggest draws is also from Austin and that's Ray Wylie Hubbard, one of the most influential folk and country songwriters in all of the Texas music scene. Hubbard tends to write gritty, dusty songs that are the stuff roots country music dreams are made of. He's a rebel, but not artificially so. Adding to his mystique, Hubbard is also a screenwriter, having penned an outlaw western film recently, showing that his storytelling mastery is not limited simply to his songs.