Drew Harrison performed at Fir Street Park during Sisters Folk Festival. photo by Charlie Kanzig
Drew Harrison performed at Fir Street Park during Sisters Folk Festival. photo by Charlie Kanzig
The Sisters Folk Festival and the Sisters School District have a long-lasting and deeply rooted relationship that continues to deepen as the years pass.

Evidence of this friendship may have been most evident Saturday at the Fir Street venue where Sisters High School students and a whole lineup of Americana Project graduates performed on stage. Yet, those performances only represented a bit of the story of how Sisters Folk Festival is interwoven in the schools.

Festival musicians performed at all three schools Friday: Jason Romero, a banjo maker and musician with his wife, Pharis, met with students in the high school’s guitar-building class; and nearly 20 artists taught and mentored at the Americana Song Academy at Camp Caldera during the week.

The relationship stretches far beyond the week of the festival. Since its inception in 1995, the Sisters Folk Festival organization has supported the arts (visual and performing) in schools, provided funding to help school-aged kids access the arts, spearheaded the “My Own Two Hands” project each year involving all ages in both visual and performing arts, and contributed scholarships to graduates of Sisters High School.

The result is a vibrant arts program throughout the community with young people being involved at many levels.

The East Pointers played at Sisters Elementary School on Friday afternoon, leaving students and staff dancing into the weekend. Sisters Elementary School Principal Joan Warburg in no way takes the contributions of Sisters Folk Festival to her school for granted.

“Our partnership with Sisters Folk Festival provides enhanced opportunities for our students to authentically experience the arts through the support of our visual arts and music classes, artist in residencies, and performances by Sisters Folk Festival artists in our schools,” she explained. “These experiences allow some of our children to dream of professions in the arts while also ensuring that all of our students are artistically and musically literate. The elementary students in Sisters have a unique and rare opportunity to weekly experience art and music classes as a result of this collaborative effort between our schools and SFF.”

And the young people have many opportunities to give back, according to Rick Johnson, choral director at Sisters’ middle and high schools and teacher of the Americana Project at Sisters High School.

“The students return from the ‘song camp’ with their eyes open to the many styles of songwriting, and they have the opportunity to give back by teaching a 30-minute lesson to the students in the Americana class,” he said. “In this way, they begin the process of passing on the knowledge they learned from the festival headliners to their classmates.”

Students give back in other ways as well.

Brad Tisdel, creative director for SFF, said, “Seeing young people engaged through the weekend by performing, volunteering, helping set up chairs, selling raffle tickets, and helping on the recycling team all with the purpose of SFF partnering with the schools (to support and enrich programming) is a great lesson in service learning and community engagement.”

Sisters High School students were treated to three different acts that served as a great way to conclude the first week of school. They heard from The Brother Brothers, Kuinka, and Ron Artis, along with his brother Thunderstorm Artis, to top things off.

Drew Harrison, a 2010 SHS graduate, who was joined by his friend Caryle Sayler, played a number of his own songs Saturday at the Fir Street Park venue, including one that he wrote while still in high school.

“It was great to come back and be a part of all of this again,” said Harrison. “When I looked out from the stage and saw so many old and new friends it just made me smile. I feel so lucky to get to come back to such a vibrant and supportive community.”

Another SHS alum, Slater Smith (2008), also attended the song academy and has taken the reins directing the Americana Song Academy for Youth (ASAY) in association with SFF. That event is scheduled for March here in Sisters. Smith performed after Harrison along with Matt Cartmill. Other alums who shared their music Saturday included Jaimee Simundson, Raman Ellis, Elize Van der Laan, and Benji Nagel.

Koady Chaisson of The East Pointers believes strongly in bringing folk music to young people.

“At the end of the day it’s all about passing the music on to the next generation by inspiring them at a young age. If you get them started early enough, by the time they are teenagers they have a few years of music under their belts and are on their way.

“Our festival at home in Canada generates funds for kids in our small community to have access to free fiddle lessons that anyone can take part in,” he said, “so we truly appreciate what is happening here with youth in Sisters.”

Keith Greeninger concurred, saying, “Over the years of coming here as an artist, I have been just amazed by the programs you have that honor your young people and allow them to express themselves artistically.”