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5 Key Differences Between the Sisters Folk Festival and Big Ponderoo

Over the past several years the SFF team has been quietly dreaming of producing a new music festival that combines the world-class music and small town charm you’ve come to know and love at the Sisters Folk Festival with a fresh new vibe that also celebrates the thriving arts scene in Sisters. Thanks to the collective effort of our staff, that dream has come to fruition with the introduction of Big Ponderoo!

With 25 years of successful festivals behind us, our organization is ready to take on another challenge. Whether you’re a long-time SFF patron or a relative newcomer, you may be wondering: What’s different about the new festival? You might even be struggling to decide which of the two you should attend – and the answer is BOTH!

Here are the 5 key differences between the Sisters Folk Festival and Big Ponderoo, along with an idea of what to expect at each festival.

1. VENUES - At the Sisters Folk Festival, “All the Town’s a Stage.” The 7 venues spread throughout downtown Sisters allow attendees to hop between 1,200-person-capacity tents and backyard restaurant patios for completely different vibes. Many of the venues are seated during the day and then converted to standing venues for late-night shows. With so many options, our patrons can always find what suits them best. The multi-venue setup is one of our favorite elements of the festival and certainly one of the most unique.

Big Ponderoo will take place on two stages: Sisters Art Works (SAW) and the Three Creeks Brewing Facility. The locations are located just over a half mile apart on the northeast side of Cascade Ave. Both outdoor venues have expansive lawns where attendees can sit in their own low festival chairs or blankets to create their own zone to enjoy with friends. The casual open seating encourages dancing and relaxation with the ability to camp out in one spot all day long.

2. MUSICAL GENRES - Over its 25-year history, SFF has garnered a reputation for discovering exceptional up-and-coming artists right on the precipice of their big break. The artist you see at Oliver Lemon’s may very well make their way to your TV in a matter of months – past performers like Mandolin Orange (now Watchhouse), Shakey Graves, Lake Street Dive, and Gregory Alan Isakov are proof! Many of the artists you’ll see on the SFF stages are revered for their songwriting and musicianship ideal for a captivated, listening audience. You’ll also find that our version of “folk” encompasses all genres of roots music, with everything from New Orleans jazz to bluegrass/hip-hop groups to classic Americana singer-songwriters. Patrons leave the weekend filled with lyrical inspiration and recharged by the power of music.

The inaugural Big Ponderoo festival includes headliner acts known for their engaging stage presence to get our attendees on their feet and dancing! The artists on the 2023 Big Ponderoo lineup fall under the wider musical genre of Americana, but together they represent a wider array of musical elements that include bluegrass, country, funky-folk, alt-rock, and bluesy-soul music throughout the weekend. Come ready to rock!

3. PONDEROO ARTS EXPERIENCE - After recently retiring the My Own Two Hands visual arts fundraiser after a successful 20-year run, we wanted to create an event that celebrates the deep creative roots within the Sisters visual arts community.

With that in mind, The Ponderoo Arts Experience was born. To kick off the celebration there will be a Big Ponderoo-sponsored Fourth Friday Art Stroll in downtown Sisters on the evening of Friday, June 23. Attendees will pick up a passport, then take it around to participating galleries to get it stamped. Completed passports can be turned in to receive a free “Little Ponderoo” – a one-of-a-kind piece of glass art created by a Sisters artist. Each gallery will also showcase performances from talented regional musicians booked by the festival.

After the stroll, the celebration will move to the Sisters Art Works venue, where people of all ages are invited to enjoy a free concert starting at 6:30 by Never Come Down and Twisted Pine. Attendees are encouraged to engage in various creative endeavors during the event, like a community weaving project, a creation station, and more.

The goal of this year’s Big Ponderoo Arts Experience is to spotlight the local artist community, the many beautiful galleries featuring their work, and encourage everyone to explore their creativity. We look forward to growing the visual arts component of Big Ponderoo in the years to come.

4. FESTIVAL POSTER & AESTHETIC - Fans of SFF know that our iconic posters are almost as much a part of our festival as the music itself. Local fine artist and musician Dennis McGregor has been the proud creator of those posters every year since 2000. Everything and everyone from the Statue of Liberty to serenading songbirds to this year’s guitar-toting astronaut are seen in his work, marked by their photo surrealism and vivid characters. It’s always a fun surprise to see what McGregor comes up with year after year from his seemingly endless well of creativity.

big ponderoo 2023 poster

Our first-ever Big Ponderoo poster image is the work of Austin Quattlebaum, another multi-talented regional artist and banjo slinger. We love the “Party Pine” poster he created to set the scene for our 2023 festival. Upon close inspection, viewers will find several humanoid forest critters rocking out in their perches on the OG “Big Ponderoo” in front of the idyllic Mt. Jefferson Wilderness and the Metolius River. We’re already excited to see what he comes up with for 2024.

5. SEASON (FALL VS. SUMMER) - Flanked by the picturesque Three Sisters mountains on one side and the sprawling

high desert on the other, Sisters is a sightseer’s dream no matter the time of year. And when it comes to weather, it doesn’t get much better than Central Oregon – a frequent sunny destination for our neighbors across the Cascades.

The crisp air and bright hues of falling leaves provide a perfect backdrop for the Sisters Folk Festival in late September. The naturally slower pace of autumn allows us to settle in and enjoy the melodious storytelling of the folk festival. Come prepared for the cooler days and nights with the ubiquitous Central Oregon uniform – complete with a light puffy jacket and a beanie – and you’ll be ready!

It’s no secret to the locals that summer is our busiest time of the year in Central Oregon and for good reason! Between the non-stop sunshine, scenic high mountain lakes, endless outdoor recreation opportunities, and a brewery around every corner, what could be better? Big Ponderoo falls in late June, when the air is warm but not intolerable, the snow has melted (hopefully!), fire season is still dormant, and the sun doesn’t go down until 9 pm. We can’t think of better conditions for an outdoor music festival!


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