2009's SISTERS FOLK FESTIVAL/Company of Friends

In the Pines, In the Pines...

Hot is hot and there was no doubt it was going to be, but early morning in the Cascades is nirvana even on the hot days. I grew up in Sweet Home before I-5 turned Oregon into a traffic conduit and when loggers and farmers ruled the economy and remember staring out the window of the car when my Dad, on those rare occasions, drove us into the mountains to Blue Lake for a little fly fishing or maybe to just beyond the summit to catch Highway 22 for a trip back toward the valley to fish the North Santiam. Those were huge trips for a kid whose genes were laced with the outdoors. This, also, was a huge trip.

I had not driven Highway 20 for a number of years, so nostalgia was a theme, but I confess to more than a little anxiety for another reason. I seldom get out to see live music, I am sorry to say, but an email from Danny Schmidt saying he would be appearing at this year's Sisters Folk Festival started the rusty gears of organization moving and here I was, the South Santiam River licking rocks down the mountain as I was going up, heading to Sisters to see not only Danny but a whole company of musicians lay their souls open in groups or one at a time, but essentially en masse. A Company of Friends, if you will...

By the time I drove into Sisters, I had had two and a half hours of nostalgia and a thermos of coffee, so I had my priorities: a bathroom and a coffee shop. The bathroom was easy to find (the kind city fathers of Sisters had placed signs at every turn) and finding coffee was as simple as following the people walking the streets. It was 10 AM and getting hot and coffee, as presented on the various food programs on TV, is anathema to heat, or so they say. Walking toward the coffee shop, I heard faint music drifting in the wind. Little did I know that I would shortly be sipping excellent brew and listening to one of my favorite musicians of the last few years...


Antje Duvekot

I write reviews for an East Coast website known as the Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange (FAME) and a couple of years ago, music hungry and stone broke, I dove into it with a passion. It didn't pay,but the music was free and that was enough to quell all but the actual hunger pangs. Dave Pyles, the guru who runs the site, had written very praising words about a young girl out of Boston named Antje Duvekot, so I put her album on my list. It was love at first listen. She has a voice which wraps its tendrils around the heart and squeezes just enough to momentarily stop blood flow.

Standing in the sun, in need of shade and caffeine, I debated whether to remain rooted to the spot so as not to miss a note or to momentarily leave Ms. Duvekot alone with the 30 or 40 others who had gathered, cows at the coffee trough (entertainment free). Caffeine called, so between songs, I dashed inside for a quart of Costa Rican and emerged through the side door, cup in hand, just as the next song took flight. I stood there, mesmerized as were the other cows, coffee instead of cud, while the simple guitar and voice of Ms. Duvekot blocked out the ambient and street noises of a town slowly coming alive.

This video was not recorded at Sisters but at a television station in Maine sometime last summer (very early in the morning, I understand), but it shows Antje Duvekot, guitar and voice, almost as I saw her except for hair haphazardly bobbie-pinned to the head and clothed more for the outdoors.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Antje Duvekot...

All the Way From Fort Worth...

While the Duvekot appearance was totally unexpected (I would see her late that afternoon on a much larger stage with full sound system), The Quebe Sisters' was. I grabbed another coffee after Duvekot packed up shop, walked the streets to find the various venues (there were six main venues and a couple others within a five block square) and stumbled into Bronco Billy's, where I was to see Danny Schmidt at 12:45. It was 11:30 and getting hotter and the tent offered shade, so I walked in and sat down. Three young girls and a couple of old dudes in cowboy hats and boots were milling around the stage, plugging in and arranging equipment. Five minutes later, after a quick sound check, they busted into an Andrews Sisters sounding swing tune, "Across the Alley From the Alamo" and a little over two minutes later exited, as Snagglepuss would say, stage right.

The cool thing about festivals is that there are surprises at every turn and, man, The Quebe Sisters (that's pronounced kway-bee, I do believe) were one. A few minutes later they returned to the stage and plunged in.  Neck deep in swing, country and jazz, these three ladies tore the place up with everything from a three fiddle rendition of Duke Ellington's "Take the A Train" to country classics like "Walkin' the Floor Over You". It doesn't hurt to have ham-fisted Joey McKenzie strumming a classic old Gibson Arch Top or Drew Phelps plucking the bull fiddle, either. This is world class music, even if there wasn't an original in the bunch. You don't believe me, watch this:

Fiddle and Vocal Heaven...

One of the nicest guys....

I was introduced to Danny Schmidt through his 'Little Grey Sheep' album which arrived in the mail one day with a copy of Devon Sproule's 'Keep Your Silver Shined' and I believe I've not had two better introductions to music. Both had made their musical marks in Charlottesville and both are amazing. When I approached Danny about an article I wanted to write about him, he brushed it off, pointing to the whole of Charlottesville and its somewhat hidden music scene. Every approach was rebuffed in like manner until I acquiesced. I mention this because that is the kind of guy Danny is--- deferring to others at the drop of a hat.

'Little Grey Sheep' contains a track I list among my all-time favorites titled 'Leaves Are Burning'. When Danny mentioned he was going to play within striking distance, I rearranged my life accordingly. He was the reason I was there, really, and I gave up my seat on the side to catch Danny's set standing, face on. He was touring with Carrie Elkin who gave vocal support, but who is a singer/songwriter of no little consequence herself. They sit, they shuffle their legs and they sing with a sincerity I find somewhat disarming.

So it was at Bronco Billy's that early afternoon. Through the crowd noise, the clinking of glasses and waiters' repartee, Danny's superb fingerstyle picking and his unique stutter vocals (not to mention Carrie's understated harmonies) came through and though his music is better served in a true sit-down situation (as it was that evening when he received an enthusiastic standing ovation at the end of his set), he nailed it. Like Paul Curreri says, man, that guy can play!

Would Danny be better off broke?

Anastacia

Anastacia Scott is the local girl on the music scene and you could tell by the crowd that packed the tent at Bronco Billy's. Waiters played hell to deliver the culinary goods, having to constantly tap shoulders and beg forgiveness, trays of food and pitchers of brew in hand. While Anastacia is really a band, Scott plays in a variety of combinations with other people. Backed by an impressive slide player whose name I did not catch, she played a set of folk and folk-rock originals which had the crowd whooping and hollering, not to mention drinking. A little after 2 PM when she laid down her guitar, the crowd lingered in the now oppressive heat for a word or to purchase her newly pressed CD. She definitely hit a note.

While I have yet to see the CD listed as available on her MySpace page, it will hopefully be up soon. In the meantime, visit that page (she is listed as Anastacia Beth Scott) for a listen (start with 'Always My Baby', a beautiful folk song in the tradition of, say, a Sandy Denny or an early Maddy Prior).

In the shadow of the Three Sisters...

The (For Now) Somewhat Unknown Shaun Cromwell

The day offered surprises beyond what you might expect, music-wise, and one of the best of these was a Californian named Shaun Cromwell. On the verge of heat stroke (I am ancient and cannot handle the elements as I once could) and while strolling past the same coffee shop which had conjured up an early morning Antje Duvekot, I heard a voice not unlike that of Brett Dennen, who is presently making his way up the ladder in the world of Americana. Guitar muffled, voice more muted and a bit more emotionally expressive than Dennen's, Cromwell held the small crowd at bay with a superb display of melody, lyrics and fingerpicking, the kind which makes one take note. I took a note. Turns out he's from Los Angeles and was performing at the The Sisters Coffee Co. courtesy of the song writing competition (he was a finalist). After sitting through four songs (and part of another), I could see why. When he switched to banjo for a short jaunt through 'The Gristmill', the whole crowd was convinced that this performance alone was worth the trip to the festival.

And here's why...

And then there was Werner...

I wrote a review once of an album by Susan Werner, whose name I had seen a lot. The album was titled 'The Gospel Truth' and is one of those classic why-didn't-someone-do-this-before kind of albums. Born with a fascination of religion, she took it upon herself to study religion but in her own way. She started going to church. Not just one church, mind you, but lots of churches and churches of any and all persuasions. One would think, what? She just hopped into any church which presented itself? That, in fact, she did. The result was a fascinating and musically intriguing album of religious-influenced songs way beyond the concept of 'album'. It is enlightening, truth be told.

Late evening, after an emotionally charged and excellent set by Danny Schmidt, Werner and crew began setting up a full stage of equipment and I realized that this was not going to be a solo performance. Three songs into the set, she had the crowd eating out of her hands. Vocalist, musician, a master songwriter, she proved to be a topnotch performer as well. Her roots are folk but she steps beyond the genre every other song. I left after the third song, having a date with a glass of brew and good conversation, but I left reluctantly. The music slipping through the flaps of the tent as I left was the kind of which a true performance is made.

You want the Truth?

Kristy Kruger: With or without umlauts....

That beer I had the date with was in the company of musicians and, of course, most of the conversation if not about music was about the music business. I later realized that that was probably the last thing they needed, having spent the last week eating, drinking and sleeping it, but having spent most of my life in the business and being presently out of touch, I hungered for other perspectives.

One perspective was supplied by Kristy Kruger, who my father would have described as a 'long, tall drink of water'. With a hairdo to make starlets from the thirties envious and a dress to match, she looked like she'd stepped off the cover of 'Photoplay' or some other screen mag during the heyday of Hollywood.  Somewhat reserved, with an aura of vulnerability, she was a presence in herself and after having visited her MySpace page to acquaint myself with Kristy Kruger, musician, I have a much greater appreciation for Kristy Kruger, the person. 

Her music is quite unlike any I've heard before, a blend of thirties, forties and fifties wrapped in a 21st Century bun.  Her voice, sometimes seemingly funneled through a time chamber, is captivating and her songwriting transcendent.  Her performance?  I do not yet know.  It is one of my regrets that I missed her shows, something I will be kicking myself about until I once again get the chance.  Trust me, I will not make that mistake twice.

Kristy Kruger, sans band...

That Outfit from Belleville...

Phoebe Hunt, also at that table, seemed Kruger's polar opposite. Personable with attitude might describe her, though I got the feeling that if she were of a mind, she could emasculate a man at 20 paces. She plays fiddle with The Belleville Outfit, an Austin band of growing repute, and had yet to play a ten o'clock show. No, I didn't go, having a long drive ahead and a pint of Tecate seeping into the bloodstream, but once again, I regret not staying. A couple of days later I delved into the band's pages and was swept away by Belleville's mastery of swing. You don't see bands play music like this every day, and certainly not with their proficiency and feeling.

Joining Phoebe, and I mention this because they truly deserve individual credit, are Rob Teter, Connor Forsyth, Jonathan Konya, Jeff Brown and Marshall Hood. Mark all of those names. You will be reading about them in the future.

... if it ain't got that swing...

From the mountains to the prairies...

Rita Hosking has a voice perfect for old-timey music, but she can do so much more. She shows it on her 2007 CD, 'Silver Stream', on which she creates the dreams of the past ('Dream of a Miner's Child', 'Cool Black Water') and dreams of the present ('Silver Stream', 'Operator's Got a Call') and does it with authority. This year's 'Come Sunrise' takes her away from the old times and into the realm of the personal, each song a reflection of who she really is.

I had hoped to have seen her at Sisters, too, but as they say, life got in the way. Luckily, she has planned a tour into Oregon and Washington for this Spring. I plan to be there, front row, center.

Mountain Music from NoCal...

Kevin Welch and Fats Kaplin...

While sitting outside having those drinks, music from Bronco Billy's kept concentration light. Kevin Welch was having a sit down with Fats Kaplin and while I wanted to be there, I was tired and in no mood to fight an overflowing crowd. So I sat in good company and listened while talking and it could not have been better. Welch, a master songwriter and great vocalist, was in fine form and Kaplin was giving his usual lesson on guitar and mandolin (some musicians have told me that you cannot watch Kaplin play without walking away with something new). One day I will see them live, hopefully as Kane Welch Kaplin (their expanded band), but until then I will have to content myself with their albums, of which there are many. A fine addition to a great lineup, festival-wise.

Life Down Here on Earth...

Peter Rowan... the Headliner

I remember Peter Rowan from his days with Earth Opera, which definitely dates me (somebody has to), and have followed his career since. He worked his way from rock into the country and bluegrass side of things and has been a mainstay at festivals for many years. While I could have chosen a more recent video, this one captures what I believe was his best and most prolific period. I mean, when you can line up the talents of Alan O'Bryant, Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Stuart Duncan, Roy Husky Jr. and Buddy Spicher, you're lining up the best!

The First Whippoorwill

Until next year...

The Sisters Folk Festival is much more than three days of music.  It is a time of bandcamps, music seminars, networking and jamming and you can imagine how tired the musicians must be by the time the carpets are rolled up.  No more than the people who put on this annual event, though, and one can only be thankful that there are those willing to spend the time and energy (which must be massive) to pull it off.  If I had mountains of disposable income, I would have filmed the whole thing, just to preserve the music and the good times, but alas, my mountains are negligible. So enjoy the videos as presented, support the musicians and maybe next year think about spending a bit of time outdoors with musicians and fans alike, enjoying that which in both good and hard times brings us together. It doesn't have to be Sisters, but I cannot imagine anyone pulling one off better.

This Just In!!!

Sisters Folk Festival IT guy Pete Rathbun just brought to my attention that there is a video--- an overview of the festival which says pretty much what I tried to.  He could have saved me some trouble, but what the hell.  It's professional, visual and captures the music and happenings as they happened.  Excellent comments by Susan Werner, Kevin Welch and others.  Take a few minutes and see what I saw (only my view wasn't edited).

Why it happens...

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