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Back to the blues on the Waterfront

The Waterfront Blues Festival, back full force after Covid slowdowns, brings back the beat through the Fourth of July. Photographer Joe Cantrell snaps highlights from Day One.

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Bay Area soul/blues singer Marina Crouse, performing with the Ben Rice Band.

THE BLUES ARE BACK, and lighting up Portland’s downtown waterfront. After two years of scrambling because of Covid restrictions, the Waterfront Blues Festival – a Fourth of July weekend fixture on the city’s music and cultural calendar since 1988 – is back in the groove, singing and playing and celebrating through Monday, the Fourth. The festival, which started Friday, features a sterling lineup of national and regional blues stars playing on several stages in Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

This weekend’s festivities, with almost 80 acts ranging from Taj Mahal to Curtis Salgado to Duffy Bishop to Loveness Wesa to the real Lady A, make up the first all-out bash since the pre-Covid summer of 2019. In 2020 the festival did a few restricted neighborhood gigs plus some radio and TV broadcasts. In 2021 it amped up to a smaller outdoor version in The Lot at Zidell Yards, south of its traditional location. This year, with Covid cases spiking again but the severity much lower thanks to vaccinations, it’s going full-bore again. complete with food, drink, merchandise tables, and various offshoots including blues cruises on the river. Masks are advisable, but not required. Gates are open from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily.

Photographer Joe Cantrell was on hand on opening day Friday, roaming the crowd from stage to stage and snapping away at whatever seemed interesting – which, as it turns out, was a lot. Here are some of his highlights of the day’s scenes.

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Robert Randolph and his band lit up the South Stage on opening night.

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Moving to the music on the North Stage Dance Floor on opening day.

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Lead singer Kam Franklin of Houston’s eight-piece band The Suffers belts the blues.

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In the mood: swaying and peering in the crowd.

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Marilyn Stringer, star blues photographer, captures the scene.

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Diane Russell, real artist, who works from offstage.

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Ben Rice of the Ben Rice Band, carving sound on a majestically carved guitar.

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In the crowd, happily transfixed by the music and the scene.

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On the bridge of an attending yacht, the festival abides.

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Letting the good times roll again: Guitarist with the Robert Randolph Band.

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Just your normal Portland scene at a waterfront festival on a Fourth of July weekend.

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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