Oregon ArtsWatch


Waterfront Blues Festival: The End

Not with a whimper, but a smile: Joe Cantrell and his camera capture the bliss and satisfaction of Saturday's final 2018 blues festival day.

Photographs and Story by Joe Cantrell

How to characterize the last day of this year’s Waterfront Blues Festival? Traditionally the festival has ended with the fireworks, late night on the 4th of July, but this year we began with Wednesday, the 4th. Thursday sustained, Friday found new energy. Saturday the 6th, still full of people palpably happy to be there, but more laid back, as though this year’s festivities had proven themselves, reached the peak of their oak barrel fermentation, didn’t need to prove nuthin’ to nobody.

Fuller Productions, Peter Damman and the sponsors and crews, having regenerated the miracle of WBF organization and execution at short notice, triumphed.

And so it was, maybe a few tired eyes and slower movement, but a shared notion of “We made it together again, what a trip, wuddn’t it fine!” See you next year.


See Joe Cantrell’s complete series from this year’s blues festival


The final frames: Faces and the crowd



Waterfront Blues Festival: Day 3

In the third of four days at the sprawling outdoor blues party, photographer Joe Cantrell catches the action onstage and wades into the crowd

Photographs and Story by Joe Cantrell

Friday, July 6, at the Waterfront Blues Festival. This year’s third day of music reminding us how much there is to celebrate in and about the USA, dance lessons naming the African countries, the steps came from, and the first night’s blues dance contest finalists: Three lesbian couples, two mixed-race couples, and one apparently straight white couple. We really did all win in many of the ways that matter.

See Photo First: glorious blue Fourth, Joe Cantrell’s photographs and essay on the Waterfront Blues Festival’s opening day, July 4, and Waterfront Blues Festival: Day 2, his visual report on July 5’s scene. The festival, in downtown Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park, concludes with a full day and evening of shows on Saturday, July 7.

Day crowds are often sparse until after 5 p.m., but the deep-happy of the performers, dancers and audiences being One abides. There’s a visible communication among them; good stuff.

Seeing the evening out with The Mavericks.

Last act of the day, The Mavericks, brought on a full house and took them to a wondrous place . Their lead singer, Raul Malo, sang The Times, They Are a’Changing solo acoustic with power and fervency that transformed the entire end of the waterfront to a sacred place: Well howdy do, 1968! Yep, we’re in deep trouble again, dear people. Worse. We have to deal with this; things are inhumanly ugly in our names. Amen.


Waterfront Blues Festival: Day 2

Photographer Joe Cantrell captures the sights and sounds of the sprawling blues party as it swings toward Saturday's finale

Photographs and Story by Joe Cantrell

The 4th of July with fireworks draws crowds big enough for the fire marshal to shut down the entrances, and that has traditionally been the last of the Waterfront Blues Festival. But this year it was the first day, and Thursday, hotter and a workday to boot, should have been more sparsely attended. Through the day, it was. Lots of nice people still, but quieter.

Come the end of the workday and afternoon sun, lots of company arrived. Until a couple of years ago, people could stroll in without contributing anything at all. Privilege as an epithet; sleek well-groomed families cruising through the gates without glancing at the volunteers there to accept donations, claiming the suburban lawn territory of their personal tarps. They were ironically displacing later arrivals who did bring contributions but couldn’t get in because of the crowd size limit, especially on fireworks night. This was one of the dilemmas faced by the Food Bank, bless their hearts, but this year, everybody had to have a ticket. Bless the tickets, too; it’s a happier overall place.

See Photo First: glorious blue Fourth, Joe Cantrell’s photographs and essay on the Waterfront Blues Festival’s opening day, July 4.

The acts rotate among four stages, riverboat performances, and after-hours gigs in nearby venues. Many are superb, some not quite. All emotionally connect with the fans (see yesterday’s scribble on music festival as catalyst). The Blues Festival continues today (Friday) and tomorrow. Good-hearted person, you are part of it, whether you’re there or not. Better you be there.


Kid Ramos, on the Main Stage.


‘The Passion of Yeshua’ preview: resurrecting the Jewish Jesus

Oregon Bach Festival presents the world premiere of American composer Richard Danielpour’s new oratorio, which puts the focus on the females in Jesus’s life


Richard Danielpour first heard J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion at the impressionable age of 17. The experience helped to confirm for him that he was “put on this earth to write music.” Bach’s Passion planted the seed. As a young man, Danielpour asked himself who Jesus really was and why we are still talking about him after 2,000 years.

Danielpour began seriously thinking about writing his own Passion 25 years ago. He waited until the time was right to create The Passion of Yeshua, which premieres this Sunday afternoon at the Oregon Bach Festival, which commissioned it. In this major new American composition, Danielpour reaches back to Jesus’s time to give us a more personal Passion that resurrects elements obscured by Bach’s interpretation, including the prominence of Jewishness and women in Jesus’s life.

Composer Richard Danielpour works with the Oregon Bach Festival chorus in preparation for the premiere of his ‘Yeshua Passion.’

Danielpour began writing the music in July 2016 and finished the full score for his Passion, which is set up in two parts of seven scenes each, in July 2017. This month, in two presentations to over 90 composers and performers participating in the OBF Composers Symposium and in an interview with ArtsWatch, Danielpour discussed the creation and musical structure of The Passion of Yeshua.


Photo First: glorious blue Fourth

On America's birthday, musicians and fans came out to celebrate at the Waterfront Blues Festival. The epic party plays on through Saturday.

Photographs and Story by Joe Cantrell

Nothing defines the best of Portland’s funk art scene like the Waterfront Blues Festival, currently in its 31st year. Aside from the mission to raise money and canned food for the Oregon Food Bank, other than being the most heavily attended thing in Oregon, those four- or five-day music parties are fundamental to our Oregon-trip-around-the-sun Circadian rhythm. Skip a birthday? Sure, why not. Skip the commercial holiday thrash? Absolutely. Skip the Blues Festival? Survival without significant damage unlikely.

It’s music as catalyst for human connection, joy, love, the very interpersonal qualities so grievously missing nowadays in a drive around a parking lot, anything-but-personal-acknowledgment encounters in public, and bonded relationships with robots regulating the air around us. “Aunt Algorithm, I’d like to introduce the WBF. But warning: It’s human, and it’s strong in ways you’ll never compute.”

The flotilla, rolling on the river.

This being my ninth or tenth, maybe twelfth, year as WBF Official Paparazzi, I’ve seen that one buoyant thing sustain and thrive. The Oregon Food Bank put it on for 30 years, before declaring this January that they were stepping out, their core mission being to feed the masses, not put on a music festival, and look at all that commitment of working hours, contractual commitments, and risk. Peter Damman and Clay Fuller had been stalwart liaisons between the festival and attending artists forever; rather than let the festival die, they took it on. That meant finding new sponsors and assuming roles that had been handled by the Food Bank. Holy smoke what a job, and Clay retired to be replaced by Fuller Productions, his progeny. But they did it and from first day appearances, triumphed.


Inclusion and exclusion in St. Louis

When actors in red- and yellow-face strutted onstage, theater people of color at the TCG conference protested. Samson Syharath reports back.


When theater companies of color from across the country witness a performance including red face, yellow face, and brown face, questions arise regarding activism and its relationship to art.

Every year the Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the national organization for the nonprofit theater world, gathers for its national conference to hold workshops, share knowledge, and engage in deep, meaningful discussion. I had the honor of being part of the Rising Leaders of Color (RLC) cohort last year, when the conference was held in Portland.

In St. Louis, theater leaders of color collectively read aloud the statement from the Theaters of Color Breakfast and work session for the How We Move Forward Session. Photo: Jenny Graham

That experience skyrocketed my professional growth and helped me develop a community with artists of color in the Portland region. This year’s conference was in St. Louis, Missouri, overlooking the Gateway Arch, a monument that many people do not realize glorifies colonialism and the subsequent removal of indigenous people from their land.


‘Faust’ review: giving the devil his due

Portland Opera’s dazzling new co-production lends depth and color to Gounod’s take on Goethe 


“Music,” the saying goes, “is the language of the soul.” But when that soul is sold to the Devil, as in Charles-Francois Gounod’s opera Faust, even some of the most beautiful musical lines ever written could not prevent the hell-bound downward spiral. In a slowly unraveling demonic mode, Portland Opera Association’s artistic forces presented an interdisciplinary Faustian wonderment on opening night last Friday at Keller Auditorium.

Setting Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s massive Faust to music, let alone opera, is a huge undertaking. Gounod took several passes at getting his produced. When it was finally tweaked to his satisfaction in 1859, distilled to the dramatic essence, the five act opera went 19th century viral and has since become one of the most often staged operas of all time. New York’s Metropolitan Opera opened its doors in 1883 with a production of Gounod’s Faust.

Angel Blue and Jonathan Boyd in Portland Opera’s ‘Faust.’ Photo: Corey Weaver.

You might think Faust is the only reason his name is known, but wait: 1) Who superimposed a Catholic “Ave Maria” chant over the top of a Bach C major prelude to create one of the most loved works of all time; 2) Who wrote the ‘National Anthem’ of Vatican City (the Papal Hail to the Chief, as it were); 3) Who wrote the original theme to the Alfred Hitchcock television program? The answer to all three: Charles Gounod.

Gounod was born in Paris almost exactly 200 years before the June 17 closing performance of POA’s 2018 Faust production. He received composition awards in his early years at Paris Conservatory and in Rome. A devoted Catholic and family man who loved the music of Palestrina and Bach, Gounoud was an admirer and friend of Berlioz. He wrote symphonies that are not widely performed, a large number of choral works and one other opera of note, Romeo and Juliet.

With a handful of major singing roles, large mixed chorus and large orchestra, the story (libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carre) is a balanced and dramatic work. An artist, Faust, his body and creativity degraded by old age, is contemplating suicide. He is enraged by young women outside singing of nature and God and calls out for Mephistopheles, who takes it from there.

Crossing Faust’s pathway to doom are Marguerite, paragon of feminine purity; Siebel, young boy, love-struck over Marguerite; Wagner, a soldier off to war; Valentin, also a soldier, and brother of Marguerite; and Marthe, a matronly friend of Marguerite. And for all except Marthe, Gounod has written arias that have become staples in solo vocal literature.

Portland Opera’s ‘Faust’ closes this weekend. Photo: Corey Weaver.

It wasn’t just the language of music, however, that told the tale at Keller Auditorium. The prodigious visual stagescape was the collaborative work of a troupe of stage-craft artists taking their artistic vision from California sculptor John Frame. (Read Paul Maziar’s ArtsWatch interview with Frame.) David Allen Moore (projection design) targeted images, some 3D, onto the stage with eerie precision. Vita Tzykun (set and costume), Duane Schuler (lighting) and stage director Kevin Newbury. colored, textured and shaded the drama.