Reviewing the second and longest day of the three-day Sisters Folk Festival on Saturday seemed a simple enough task before I actually got there.
I’ve done festivals before. Most follow a set script: one, maybe two main stages of music. Some get really crazy and add a third stage off to the side of the main event. There aren’t many overlaps, so festivalgoers can ostensibly see everything if they plan their time.
Not so at SFF, where at any given time nine or 10 different shows were going on simultaneously in nine or 10 different venues. My head reeled as I looked at the 80 shows charted out on the festival schedule that day, madly circling everything I wanted to see. People around me all had the same idea: I saw plenty of schedules with similarly circled shows in people’s hands.
“You gotta make choices,” festival Director Brad Tisdel told me during the dinner break. Tisdel’s words became a mantra to me as I wandered the streets for the second half of the festival. But truth be told, I hit my stride sometime before the dinner break. On most assignments my musical Attention Deficit Disorder is a curse; in this setting it was a blessing.
I saw parts of at least 15 shows Saturday, catching something at every venue except for maybe Melvin’s Market. Rather than a full festival overview (which, again, would be close to impossible for one person to give), what follows is my personal Top 5, in descending order. As Tisdel also told me, no two festivalgoers have the same experience at SFF. Your festival picks may be entirely different based upon your musical intake that day.
5. Brad Tisdel with Bob Hemenger
FivePine is a half-mile away from the nine other venues in downtown Sisters, and I only made the trip via shuttle once to see the festival’s head honcho in action at 1 p.m.
Tisdel and Colorado sax master Hemenger, backed by a band made up of familiar faces on the Sisters music scene, didn’t disappoint, turning in a moving set of low-key storytelling framed by deft playing from all five musicians involved. Hemenger’s low, rumbling lines were a highlight throughout the set, adding oomph to the band’s lockstep rhythmic juggling, but Tisdel’s vocal performance provided most of the hair-raising moments (an a cappella verse on a song late in the set proved particularly memorable).
4. The Weather Machine
Sisters native Slater Smith and his Portland folk-rock band closed out the evening at Fir Street Park (dubbed the Americana Project Stage, due to most of the acts being alumni or current students in the Americana Project at Sisters High School).
The crowd here was younger than at most of the other shows at the festival, and in a dancing mood. Smith and company were more than happy to oblige, turning in what may have been the most energetic performance of the day. Kudos to cellist Matthew Cartmill for making his instrument rage like a guitar (while still weeping like a cello). Kudos also to the whole band for “Wannabe Cowboy,” a thunderous tip of the hat to the Sisters Rodeo.
3. Young Dubliners
Did I just say the Weather Machine was the most energetic band at SFF on Saturday? I take it back. The Young Dubliners certainly gave them some stiff competition, rocking the Depot Cafe for nearly two hours to close out the day there.
The five-piece band toed the line between traditional Celtic folk and bare-knuckled pub rock, giving the packed house equal doses of ripping guitar and fiddle and even whipping some pogoing in the middle of the floor during the energetic “Say Anything” early in the set. What better way to end a long day of folking things up than a few drinking songs sung at the top of your lungs?
2. Steve Meckfessel
There are the things you plan to see at Sisters Folk Festival, the shows you circle on the schedule and look forward to all day. “And then there’s always the surprise that you randomly step into and go, whoa, I had no idea,” Tisdel said.
Meckfessel was the surprise for me. I stopped at Angeline’s Bakery right before his set at 8 p.m., really just looking for a bathroom that wasn’t a portable toilet. I left a half-hour later with goosebumps running up my arm.
The Alameda, California, folkie turned in a somber set of intricate acoustic storytelling for a criminally small crowd, impressing equally with deft fingerpicking and clarion-clear singing. His highpoint came with “As Long as He’s Gone,” a song in which Meckfessel imagines what his reaction would be if his children had been drafted to fight in World War II: “We didn’t raise this boy to be left in a field to lie; as long as he’s gone, the sun won’t shine.”
It’s as powerful an anti-war statement as any, and was an emotional highlight of SFF as a whole delivered impeccably in Meckfessel’s rough baritone.
1. Christone “Kingfish” Ingram
The word was flying fast and furious throughout the day Saturday on this kid. “He’s amazing.” “He’s only 16.” “There’s no way he’s only 16.” And so on. By the time I made it over to the Sisters Art Works tent again, there was a line stretching nearly to the front of the building and an overflow crowd standing around it, trying to catch glimpses of the teenage guitar phenom and his trio through the canvas.
Wielding a battered, red Gibson SG that looked like a toy against his large frame, Ingram belted out a passel of bluesy songs in sure voice, but let his guitar do most of the talking. And that guitar screamed, bleeding notes and phrases all over the stage. Someone should have checked for a splatter radius; I think my brain is still lying in pieces on the lawn out behind Sisters Art Works. You could compare Ingram to B.B. King or Jimi Hendrix — his cover of “Hey Joe,” which also quoted Hendrix’s Woodstock performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” was a sure highlight — but that would miss the point entirely. The Subdudes closed the night out on this stage, but the evening — and possibly the whole festival — belonged to Ingram.
— Reporter: 541-617-7814, firstname.lastname@example.org