All the Town’s a Stage

At Sisters Folk Festival, folk music is more than just acoustic guitars

Cedric BurnsidePhoto by Todd Cooper

Folk music goes in and out of vogue from one era to the next, sometimes representing all things insurgent and transgressive and, other times, comfy contentment.

In turn, folk music festivals have sprung up and then folded over the years — Willamette Valley Folk Festival used to be a big one in Eugene — but many found the genre of folk music too constrictive and dropped it altogether.

Founded in 1995 as a songwriter festival, Sisters Folk Festival has stuck with it, choosing to push back on any restrictions about what may or may not constitute proper folk music. The annual event is held the first weekend after Labor Day in Sisters. 

When Crista Munro, the festival’s brand-new executive director, defines “folk,” she turns to a quote attributed to Louis Armstrong: “All music is folk music. I ain’t never heard no horse sing a song.”

Folk music is “music made by people,” Munro says, admitting that’s a really broad definition, but folk is a very all-encompassing word. 

When Brad Tisdel defines folk music, the festival’s creative director echoes Munro’s sentiment. “There’s lots of different forms of folk music all over the world,” Tisdel says. “Music that’s organic to the people, that’s come out of their experience.”

Today’s folk music is a broad palette of different strains, coming together to form something that’s uniquely Americana. For Tisdel, a dream booking at the festival would be solo-acoustic Eddie Vedder. 

More than anything, folk music is “a big gumbo of different people’s music,” Tisdel says, from Scotch-Irish to Latin American. This gumbo metaphor carries forward into the lineup of this year’s festival.

Notable artists performing this year include electrified hill country blues artist Cedric Burnside, grandson of R.L. Burnside. Burnside’s latest album, Benton County Relic, touches on Chicago and the Delta, drawing a straight line between juke joint boogie and Saharan taureg music.

Other artists performing include Ron Artis II and the Truth, Rising Appalachia and The Hamiltones, as well as Bruce Cockburn, Carrie Rodriguez, Martyn Joseph, Will Kimbrough and Alex Cuba. 

“For a long time, we were considered blues to bluegrass,” Tisdel adds, but the festival now considers in their booking a broad array of Americana music.

“The bottom line is it’s got be delivered really well, and crafted well. Our model allows us to be adventurous in our bookings,” Tisdel says.

What makes Sisters Folk Festival different is community buy-in, Munro says. “Our tagline is ‘All the town’s a stage.’”

The festival offers a wide variety of venues, and the music goes on all day long. 

In addition to concerts, the festival offers informal workshops where artists explain their creative process. Munro, formerly of Eugene, says her priority is to maintain the flavor and the feel of the festival. 

“I haven’t seen a folk festival like this,” she says. It’s in a charming mountain town full of ponderosa pines, where everything is easily walkable with bike valet service.

“I think we keep what we have and figure out ways to make it better,” Munro says. “I’m really excited for it.”

Sisters Folk Festival is Sept. 6-8 in Sisters. For tickets and a complete festival lineup, see