Practically perfect weather greeted the nearly 600 attendees of the 11th annual Juniper Jam music festival on Aug. 31. Known as the “Sweetest little music festival in eastern Oregon,” the event featured about a dozen different bands and several single performers.

The event, a fundraiser for the Wallowa Valley Music Alliance, more than met the expectations of WVMA and festival director, Janis Carper.

“We were pleased,” Carper said. “People seemed to be having a real good time.”

People were, as a matter of fact. Most of the festival saw a number of attendees dancing along to the music of the bands whether on the main stage or the Tunesmith stage. In fact, Brian Kassay, fiddler for Bozeman, Mont. band, Laney and the Bird Dogs, took his fiddle and went out dancing into the audience!

Carper found the festival memorable on many levels, as did a number of attendees. The director said a number of people approached her and said that each band seemed better than the last.

“The weather cooperated perfectly, which is beyond our control,” Carper said. “It’s a really big component of a good festival, and if you have that, it really helps everyone shine.”

On the other hand, the festival was a little short on volunteers, but Carper said a number of the volunteers present offered to work extra shifts to make up for the shortfall.

“I was pleased to have folks that are that dedicated,” she said. “It means a lot in a small festival like that.”

Carper said that bands are generally easy to work with, but this year’s performers took that up a notch and were exceptionally low-maintenance. The director also said that many attendees complimented her on the amount of women fronting top-notch bands, including the headliner, MAITA.

“I didn’t intentionally do that; it just turned out that way,” Carper said. “I had no problem with that because your average music festival tends to lean a lot more toward male singers and not a lot toward lady kick-ass guitar players. I was happy to be able to showcase that.”

In addition to Laney Lou and the Bird Dogs and MAITA, Far Out West also featured lady lead musician and vocalist, Liz Chibukos, whose band material went from funk to Americana to genre-bending material.

Chibucos said that she and mandolin player, Chad Kimbler, have always been intrigued by fusion after playing in a progressive bluegrass band for a number of years.

The band has locally played at Terminal Gravity and the Range Rider before this, their first Juniper Jam appearance.

“We love playing here,” Chibucos said. “We love to play here, in La Grande and eastern Oregon.”

Headliner, MAITA, who played with local rhythm section sensations, Nevada Sowle and Cooper Trail on bass and drums, also led her band, while playing a cherry Gibson SG guitar along with her genre-defying self-penned music, which kept the audience spellbound for the entire set.

The night ended with a multi-song jam that nearly all the performers participated in, along with the still-dancing audience.

Unfortunately for Carper, Juniper Jam work is never done. Asked when she starts to plan the 2020 festival, Carper replied: “I’m already planning the next festival. I have at least three bands I’m trying to lock in right now. I’m afraid I won’t be able to afford them if I wait too long!”

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