Sunday morning’s free community gathering brings artists and audience together in a way that vividly reflects the spirit of the event.
wphoto by Rob Kerr
Sunday morning’s free community gathering brings artists and audience together in a way that vividly reflects the spirit of the event. wphoto by Rob Kerr
The term “community” may not do justice to what the town of Sisters — and with it the Sisters Folk Festival — is known for, but the word got uttered repeatedly during Folk Festival week by attendees, artists and volunteers.

Several thousand people absorbed the music and fellowship of the three-day festival September 6-8.

At Sunday morning’s free community concert at the Village Green, singer/songwriter/poet Beth Wood began the gathering with a heart of gratefulness for what she has experienced in her many years of involvement with the festival. This came on the heels of the announcement that she plans to make Sisters her home in the months ahead.

“Reflecting back on my first experiences here some 15 years ago, I remember immediately feeling so welcomed,” Wood said.

By all accounts, the most intimate circle of community took place at the four-day Americana Song Academy held at Camp Caldera Tuesday through Friday. That supportive, accepting, genuine sense of connectedness was transported into town Thursday night and Friday morning as the camp concluded and the festival began.

“At the camp we get to teach together, hang out together, and jam together, so when we get to town for the actual festival we have a bond and an energy that we get to share with our audiences, and the sense of community continues to grow,” said one artist.

Though performers came from a wide array of places — Hawaii to New York to Prince Edward Island to Cuba (via British Columbia) — and backgrounds, the shared experience at the Sisters Folk Festival seemed to draw everyone involved closer together.

Friday evening Pharis Romero, from northern British Columbia, expressed her appreciation for the experience she and her husband, Jason, were having while playing at The Open Door.

“I feel like I’ve died and gone to folk heaven,” she said.

“The sense of community is what causes artists to want to return and why we have so many ticket-holders and sponsors coming back year after year,” said SFF Creative Director Brad Tisdel.

Much of Tisdel’s work as creative director for SFF is focused at bringing the community together.

“I view the Sisters Folk Festival as a model of economic development, community engagement, schools partnership, and community-building through music that is unique and dynamic. I see how it helps folks to feel they are contributing and engaged in something bigger than themselves,” he said.

Martyn Joseph, who has played in Sisters a number of times, put it this way: “If Oregon is a cathedral, then Sisters is a chapel on the hill.” He added, “Coming to Sisters is like revisiting, remembering and rediscovering true America. The great thing about all this (the festival) is that it reminds us of the greater good and the bigger picture.”

After her final performance Sunday, Wood described how the SFF is different than most festivals in that the audiences come not just to listen, but to actively take part.

“The active engagement from the audience creates a circular, reciprocal communication between the audience and the artist, which forms that connectedness that makes the Sisters Folk Festival special,” she explained.

Susan Gibson reflected on the week before the final song Sunday morning and thanked those who had come “from far away and also those from right down the street” and urged everyone to remember what had been shared over the three days. She told the audience that “the artists come to see you, not the other way around” underlining the mutual interplay between performers and listeners.

Many artists touched on the notion that there has never been a more important time than now to foster community, not just in Sisters, but everywhere we go. Beth Wood pointed to this year’s poster by Dennis McGregor and alluded to the ripples that come off the canoe as being “like the ripples of the magic and connectedness that were experienced that can be taken out into the world as everyone goes back to their regular lives.”

Mandy Fer of Sway Wild said, “This week has been such a wonderful reminder about the power of music and human connection.”

Keith Greeninger, known for his thought-provoking lyrics and concern for others, closed things out for the morning with a song he actually wrote as a teenager that comes from the perspective of a homeless man. In an interview afterwards he said, “We can talk all we want about community, but let’s not leave anybody

out.”

He added, “Sisters has such a magical community and it’s so strong. You all treat each other so well and treat your youth so well. I find that the whole way Sisters and the folk festival are doing things just radiates out into your

community.”