photo by Jerry Baldock
photo by Jerry Baldock
More than a thousand people gathered in Village Green Park for the 2nd Sisters Rhythm and Brews Festival that kicked off Friday evening. The two-day event, packed full of outstanding artists, had folks from all over the Pacific Northwest celebrating music, local food and crafted libations.

Event organizers Jennifer and Joe Rambo said it’s their vision to bring high-quality musicians to Central Oregon while supporting the local community.

The Rambos provide electrical and equipment support to many of Central Oregon festivals, including the Sisters Folk Festival.

The Sisters Rhythm and Brews Festival supported Sisters Habitat for Humanity and the Heart of Oregon YouthBuild and helped demonstrate their positive impact upon our community.

Jennifer Rambo noted, “Having them here gives the two non-profits a unique opportunity to discuss their programs in an unconventional environment. Any profit made goes directly to them.”

She added, “Our focus is on the experience we are trying to create for folks. The music is a very small (but important) piece of what we are doing. We are really interested in the public’s take on who they are excited to see or maybe just discovered.”

On Thursday morning a group of more than 10 Heart of Oregon YouthBuild and young volunteers from AmeriCorps put their labors to use by helping build the stage and fencing for the Sisters Rhythm and Brews Festival.

Heart of Oregon YouthBuild is a Central Oregon non-profit that engages local opportunities for youth, ages 16-24. The youth are working toward completing their GED, high school diploma, or college credits while also learning work readiness skills through construction.

YouthBuild program director Kara Johnson noted, “AmeriCorps volunteers are young people who have graduated high school or college that will receive scholarships after serving with us for a year.”

The volunteers work directly with YouthBuild youth helping them build houses or are in the classroom assisting as a teacher’s aide.

Americorps volunteer Sonya Templeton, a graduate from Oregon State University, manned the booth along with Johnson.

Templeton said, “My long-term goal is to go back and get my master’s degree in teaching. That’s the reason I applied for this position to be a teacher’s aide helping the kids at YouthBuild. It’s on the job training and I’m getting a feel for what it’s like to be teaching.”

Habitat for Humanity had a unit of lumber at the festival and asked people to pay $5 a stud to help build the next home. Folks could write a message of encouragement on the wood.

This year’s event had a couple of last-minute changes. Sassparilla was unable make it Friday night and Oregon Blues icon Walker T. Ryan stepped up to open the Festival in their stead.

Ryan said to the crowd, “Three days ago I was retired sitting by my pond communing with herons. Then my friend David Jacobs-Strain called and asked me to play at a really cool gig and I’ve been practicing ever since.”

Artist Jacobs-Strain, from Eugene, who was in the lineup to play on Saturday, told The Nugget, “I learned the blues from Walker. I was 9 years old and saw him play when my parents took me to see him live at a local theater. He became my teacher.”

He added, “I really enjoy spending time in Sisters with friends and tell people about how Sisters has a music scene that you’d be surprised about.”

Jacobs-Strain has appeared at festivals from British Columbia to Australia. He has been a regular on the blues circuit since he was 11 years old, but he’s really come into his own on recent albums. Also known for his fierce slide-guitar playing, he plays acoustic blues in the tradition of musicians like Bob Brozman and Dave Van Ronk.

Jacobs-Strain will be returning to the Sisters Folk Festival with Bob Beach in September.

The event welcomed back last year’s festival favorite, Castro Coleman,

AKA Mr. Sipp.

“Mr. Sipp is what brought me back to Sisters,” said Laura Ludlow from Portland.

Mr. Sipp, a native of McComb, Mississippi, was the winner of the 2014 International Blues Challenge (Band), the Albert King Gibson award, BMA Best New Artist Album winner 2016, and The Spirit of Little Walter Award 2016.

Artist Joanne Shaw Taylor was unable to close out the show Friday night because of visa difficulties.

Joe Rambo noted, “Luckily for us, after joining Phil Lesh & Friends for a night dubbed ‘Dead Blues’ and releasing his new album ‘Off at 11,’ contemporary blues phenom JD Simo packed up his gear and flew across the country to get here in time.”

Simo was a hit for Walt Lewis from Boise, Idaho. He grew up in Chicago listening to the blues.

“My wife and I really loved JD Simo. He seemed to channel so many blues greats throughout his act!” he said.

Simo brought down the house, closing the first night of Sisters Rhythm and Brews Festival.

From Issaquah, Washington, Bruce Fish took a couple of days off for the festival to hear Larkin Poe.

He said, “I saw them in Seattle and they’re good old blues even with some of the new stuff they write. They are a variety of blues and I love the way Megan (Lovell) plays slide guitar.”

Larkin Poe stars sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell, who began their career in 2005 as teenagers with their bluegrass/Americana group, The Lovell Sisters. They are an American roots rock band from Atlanta, Georgia, featuring strong Southern sibling harmonies and heavy electric guitar riffs.

Christone “Kingfish” Ingram blew the doors off to close the festival, bringing up fellow guitarslingers Eric Gales and Mr. Sipp for crowd-pleasing extended blues jams.

Jennifer Rambo said, “I think the thing that means the most to me is the feedback we have gotten from the artists and crew. They are taking time out of their lives to be here for us. Many of them thanked us to be here and appreciate our professionalism. Joe and I wanted our musical tastes to be expressed, and knowing that the artists were impressed and excited to be a part of this experience is fantastic.”

She reflected on some changes made for this year’s festival — changes that paid off. The festival went to a single venue at Village Green, and they offered single-day tickets as well as weekend passes. There were more than 1,200 ticket-buyers, not counting walk-ups.

“Having one venue certainly helped us run a tighter ship,” Rambo said. “We stretched ourselves too thin last year… Through all the hard work, tears, and laughter at the end of the day knowing we put on a good show for the ticket-holders and artists combined is a pretty epic feeling.”