Seattle Opera Pagliacci

A blues explosion on the 4th of July

On the opening day of the Waterfront Blues Festival, photographer Joe Cantrell captures the sights and sounds from the stages to the crowd to the fireworks.

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With the opening day in the bag on July 4, the festival crowd celebrates with Independence Day fireworks lighting up the Portland sky.
With the opening day in the bag on July 4, the festival crowd celebrates with Independence Day fireworks lighting up the Portland sky.

Photographs by JOE CANTRELL


Portland’s 2024 Waterfront Blues Festival got off to a rip-roaring start on Thursday, July 4, filling Tom McCall Waterfront Park with the sights and sounds and excitement of a red-white-and-the-blues Independence Day celebration. It was a hot day, and predicted to get hotter before the four-day blues bash winds up on Sunday: Water misters dotted the park grounds, and blues fans took full advantage of them to cool off.

The music was, of course, the main attraction, from Thursday evening headliners St. Paul & the Broken Bones to local heroes such as Norman Sylvester and the Mel Brown B-3 Organ Group, to 15-year-old guitar whiz Taj Farrant, Louisiana bayou singer GemeniiDRAGON, singer/songwriter/guitarist Jackie Venson, and many more. You can see the full four-day schedule here, and the lineup of musicians here.

Photographer Joe Cantrell, a veteran of many Blues Fests, was on hand from beginning to end, capturing the flavor of the party from its many stages (five of them) to the sales booths, to the river rats taking it all in from their boats on the Willamette, to the dancing and laughing and reveling in the crowd, to the post-show fireworks display that lit up the downtown Portland sky.

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What Cantrell and his camera captured was more than just the musicians, although he did plenty of that. He caught the roiling, reveling, high-spirited humanity of a massive crowd of people soaking in the sounds and sunshine and cutting loose, partying down, letting themselves feel free. In a true sense, the crowd was the show, or a major, celebratory part of it. Jubilance was in the air — and will stay there through Sunday.

— The Editors

Making the music

Fifteen-year-old guitarist Taj Farrant, tearing it up behind the back.
Fifteen-year-old guitarist Taj Farrant, tearing it up behind the back.
St. Paul & the Broken Bones on the South Stage before the fireworks light up the sky.
Thursday headliners St. Paul & the Broken Bones break loose before the fireworks light up the sky.
Jackie Venson pickin' on the Crossroads Stage ...
Jackie Venson pickin’ on the Crossroads Stage …
... and Jackie Venson breaking into a broad smile of delight.
… and Jackie Venson breaking into a broad smile of delight.
Taj Farrant, face and guitar neck forward.
Taj Farrant, face and guitar neck forward.
Ms. Vee kicking off the afternoon on the festival's South Stage.
GemeniiDRAGON, kicking off the afternoon on the festival’s South Stage.

Singing, dancing, keeping the beat

Swiging and swaying ...
Swinging and swaying …
... Bloco Alegria keeping the beat at the festival gates ...
… Bloco Alegria keeping the beat at the festival gates …
... and rapping the rhythm ...
… and rapping the rhythm …
... and twirling to the tunes.
… and twirling to the tunes.
Doing the mash ...
Doing the mash …
... no matter how young or old.
… no matter how young or old.
The Side Stage is for dancing, too.
The Side Stage is for dancing, too.

Faces and places in the crowd

Three cheers for the music (or maybe four or five).
Three cheers for the music (or maybe four or five).
Art is music, music is art.
Art is music, music is art.
Wearing the holiday of the U.S.A.
Wearing the holiday of the U.S.A.
Keeping an eye forward.
Keeping an eye forward.
Joachim McMillan, oil painter, making a blues sale.
Joachim McMillan, oil painter, making a blues sale.
Man with a message.
Man with a message.
Man with a message, Part Two.
Man with a message, Part Two.
On a hot summer day, made in the shade.
On a hot summer day, made in the shade.
Music's blue, tattoo you.
Music’s blue, tattoo you.
Senior photographer Norm Eder shares his secret settings.
Senior photographer Norm Eder shares his secret settings.
The beauty and grace of an animal face.
The beauty and grace of an animal face.

Hot blues, cool mist

With temperatures soaring on opening day of the Blues Festival July 4, and forecasts calling for triple digits before the festival's end, water misters were a popular item in Waterfront Park.
With temperatures soaring on opening day of the Blues Festival July 4, and forecasts calling for triple digits before the festival’s end, water misters were a popular item in Waterfront Park.
Grabbing hold ...
Grabbing hold …
... down the hatch ...
… down the hatch …
... and a good cooling cascade to freshen up and get down with the music again.
… and a good cooling cascade to freshen up and get down with the music again.

Putting the waterfront in the festival

Waving pirate and American flags on Independence Day while taking in the festival's sights and sounds from the Willamette River ...
Waving pirate and American flags on Independence Day while taking in the festival’s sights and sounds from the Willamette River …
... taking a flying leap into the waters ...
… taking a flying leap into the waters …
... floating blissfully along ...
… floating blissfully along …
... and lining the bridge as a Coast Guard vessel plies the waters below.
… and lining the bridge as a Coast Guard vessel plies the waters below.

Red, white, and boom!

Keeping faith with the long tradition for the Waterfront Blues Festival, the evening of July 4 ended after the last note of music with a grand fireworks display over the Willamette River.
Keeping faith with the long tradition for the Waterfront Blues Festival, the evening of July 4 ended after the last note of music with a grand fireworks display over the Willamette River.
Music fans in boats on the river got up close with the display.
Music fans in boats on the river got up close with the display.
A burst of brightness lights up the night ...
A burst of brightness lights up the night …
... and the sky bursts with color as blues fans take it all in.
… and the sky bursts with color as blues fans take it all in.

… and, yes, it was Independence Day

Above Waterfront Park, red, white, and the blues.
Above Waterfront Park, red, white, and the blues.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

I spent my first 21 years in Tahlequah, Cherokee County, Oklahoma, assuming that except for a few unfortunate spots, ‘everybody’ was part Cherokee, and son of the soil. Volunteered for Vietnam because that’s what we did. After two stints, hoping to gain insight, perhaps do something constructive, I spent the next 16 years as a photojournalist in Asia, living much like the lower income urban peasants and learning a lot. Moved back to the USA in 1986, tried photojournalism and found that the most important subjects were football and basketball, never mind humankind. In 1992, age 46, I became single dad of my 3-year-old daughter and spent the next two decades working regular jobs, at which I was not very good, to keep a roof over our heads, but we made it. She’s retail sales supervisor for Sony, Los Angeles. Wowee! The VA finally acknowledged that the war had affected me badly and gave me a disability pension. I regard that as a stipend for continuing to serve humanity as I can, to use my abilities to facilitate insight and awareness, so I shoot a lot of volunteer stuff for worthy institutions and do artistic/scientific work from our Cherokee perspective well into many nights. Come along!

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