Sisters Folk Festival staff laid out “pods” for concert-goers and strictly limited attendance to produce a COVID-safe event. Masks were required to move through the venue on the back lawn at Sisters Art Works. photo by Jay Mather
Sisters Folk Festival staff laid out “pods” for concert-goers and strictly limited attendance to produce a COVID-safe event. Masks were required to move through the venue on the back lawn at Sisters Art Works. photo by Jay Mather
For Sisters Folk Festival, “Close to Home” meant just that — bringing live music close to home in Sisters Country.

Last Saturday, Sisters Folk Festival (SFF) put on their first live, in-person music event since the start of the pandemic in March. For a few weeks, they were doing Bandwagon performances where local musicians played tunes on the back of a trailer rolling through town. They had also done a livestream for the My Own Two Hands fundraiser auction event online.

But the first day of August was reserved for a small, intimate, live concert event at the Sisters Art Works building, on the back lawn. The featured musicians for the event were all based in Oregon, so they didn’t have to travel out of state. These artists included newcomer to the Sisters Folk Festival, Hayley Johnsen, as well as alumni of the Americana song academy and the festival, Jeffery Martin, David Jacobs-Strain, Beth Wood and Ron Artis II, who brought his trio along with him. Artis and his family had only last year moved from Hawaii to permanently live in the Portland area after playing the festival for the first time in 2018.

Patrons purchased “pods” for the event; there were two-person and four-person pods available, all spread six feet apart on the back lawn. There were only 190 spots available for the event to make the gathering number appropriate to follow state regulations. Audience members brought their low-back chairs and picnic blankets and were able to gather with their podmates for some live music.

Masks were required to be worn outside of the pod, and hand-washing stations were available at every corner.

The six-person SFF staff worked diligently to make sure that rules were being followed and that the event could be possible and safe for everyone.

“I think it went really well overall, everyone was super compliant,” said Executive Director, Crista Munro. “We were all so happy to be there, no one minded the extra precautions; it made everyone feel safer. Our biggest concern was people wouldn’t comply, but everyone complied with the rules. All of the feedback I heard from the audience to the musicians was that they were grateful to be there and doing this. We now have this opportunity to explore local talent as well, which is exciting,”

Creative Director Brad Tisdel was also pleased with how the event was received.

“I felt like we were thoughtful in the re-imagining of what an event could be amidst COVID protocols for the audience and artist experience. We worked on the details of an evening that felt comfortable, safe and exciting. It was really an experience true to what we have done as an organization. The livestreaming, the pods, we had to re-imagine a new model — I felt we did really well,” he said.

“It was exhilarating to hear live music again, as well,” said Tisdel.

The event was also live-streamed on Facebook, so those who couldn’t make it could still enjoy the show. The livestream was made possible with Alpine Internet and Grange Recordings. Comments flooded in on the livestream from people across the nation tuning in and stating how grateful they were to be able to watch the show from a distance. Diane Kowalski, who was tuning in on the livestream said: “Thanks for the music. I am from Western NY and volunteer at the festival every year. I have had such a hard year am missing this year very much, it is renewing my spirit!”

The effort put into the event was greatly appreciated by everyone in attendance, including Sisters High School graduate and Americana Project alumni, Kendra Kemp.

“While it was weird not being able to sit close and hug and dance with friends and family like normal, you could still feel the love and togetherness that is always a staple at SFF events. I was sure appreciative to be back in my community surrounded by music, even if it was only for one night,” she said.

Sisters Folk Festival is hoping to put another event on in September, similar to this one.

“I think we can do this and have music again if we are all safe,” said Munro.

To see the livestream of the event, visit the Sisters Folk Festival’s Facebook or their YouTube page at: https://www.youtube.com/watchv=UxtAMx8OpAE.