Matraca Berg, Gretchen Peters and Suzy Bogguss performed in a sold-out Starry Nights show on Saturday, raising $32,000 for schools. photo by Jerry Baldock
Matraca Berg, Gretchen Peters and Suzy Bogguss performed in a sold-out Starry Nights show on Saturday, raising $32,000 for schools. photo by Jerry Baldock

After two days of heavy snowfall and deep cold last week, folks in Sisters were ready to dig out and enjoy an evening of "Wine, Women and Song." That's what they got Saturday night at The Belfry from Matraca Berg, Suzy Bogguss, and Gretchen Peters.

The benefit event netted $32,000 for the Sisters Schools Foundation.

The show was relaxed and intimate, with plenty of interaction with the audience. The three women sang harmonies on each others' songs as each drew from a deep catalogue. Many in the audience had heard some of the songs before - songs like Berg's "You and Tequila" and "Strawberry Wine," or Peters' "Independence Day" - but they were familiar from the hits other artists made of those songs. For Berg and Peters are acclaimed Hall of Fame songwriters, with dozens of hit songs to their credit. Bogguss, herself a talented songwriter, is more widely known as a performer, having been one of country music's biggest stars in the 1980s and '90s.

All three women continue to write, record and perform with undiminished vigor as they navigate the vastly changed landscape of the music industry. And, while each pursues her individual work, they love to perform together.

"It's a lot of work when you're doing your own show and you sing all the songs," Peters told The Nugget. "It's all on you... (Wine, Women and Song) is like a vacation that way."

The singers clearly were enjoying themselves, telling stories and jokes, teasing each other and audience members. The interplay continued when Melvin Herburger joined the women on stage as an auctioneer. Golf packages with Dan Fouts, wine from Eola Hills and a magnificent painting by Dan Rickards went for thousands in competitive bidding, urged on by Herburger with an assist from Bogguss.

"We had a blast," Boggus said. "We love this town."

The storm and a somewhat hairy drive over the Santiam Pass did not dampen spirits.

"It was divine," Berg said. "I love snow and I'm really happy."

The performers were happy to hear that the show went over well with the audience.

"I don't think it's for everybody," Peters allowed. "It really is what it is and we don't bend to make it something else."

That kind of feisty attitude is common to all three women. Each has enjoyed mainstream success, but none were comfortable with image-shaping constraints of a mainstream career.

"I didn't like the lack of accessibility with the people," Bogguss said.

There was plenty of accessibility at The Belfry on Saturday. Fans stayed after the show to chat, take pictures and get CDs signed. That's the kind of atmosphere Bogguss likes.

"You're equal with your audience when you're both music fans," she said.

Berg had what she characterized as a "very brief" recording career, but she never felt comfortable in the role she was to be assigned.

"I was an accidental artist. I didn't even want a record deal. They tried to sexpot me up and I said, 'I can't do this; I'm out,'" she said.

She went back to her writing - but gladly steps out to tour with her friends with Wine, Women and Song.

For her part, Peters said "the more free I get of the expectations of the business side of it, the better I get." And, the more she is determined to write about subjects that matter to her.

She noted that many of the male songwriters she admires are grappling with the subject of aging.

"It's such a taboo for women to even talk about it," Peters says.

She'll be breaking that taboo with a new CD titled "Blackbirds" to be released in February.

The three women put Wine, Women and Song together in 2007 and have toured with it regularly since. Part of the joy of the project for the singers - and for the audience - is the way in which their voices blend and soar together. The opportunity to sing harmony on each others' songs is a constant thrill.

"I love to sing harmony more than lead," Peters said. "I think we all feel that way."

The idea to bring Wine, Women and Song to Sisters came up after Bogguss' show at The Belfry last February. She was touring her most recent CD, "Lucky," a masterful take on her favorite Merle Haggard songs. Starry Nights co-founder Jeri Fouts was talking with her and some fans after the show and there was a consensus that Bogguss had to come back as soon as possible. And maybe it would work as a Starry Nights event...

Bogguss said, "Well, we have this show..." and the ball started rolling. Most Starry Nights shows have been held at the Sisters High School auditorium, but in recent years, new Starry Nights events were created to continue the commitment to finding innovative ways to support Sisters schools. These events included "A Starry Summer Night" with the High Street Band at Aspen Lakes, a benefit performance of the play "Love Letters" at the Tower Theatre, a performance by University of Oregon a cappella singing groups "On the Rocks" and "Divisi," and "A Starry Nights Christmas with Gary Morris."

Wine, Women and Song seemed like a great fit for a smaller, more intimate venue - one, obviously, where there could be wine.

The event succeeded on all levels. Over the past 17 years, Starry Nights has raised over $1 million for the Sisters Schools Foundation, supporting education needs in the local schools, including helping to preserve arts and music education.

It's a cause that appeals to Bogguss, Peters and Berg, who believe strongly in the value of such education. Like all Starry Nights performers, the trio donated their time and talents to make the benefit a success. And they had themselves a fine time doing it.