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Blues Fest Day 4: Light Up the Sky

The 2022 Waterfront Blues Festival goes out with a fireworks bang on the Fourth of July. Photographer Joe Cantrell catches the action on the festival's fourth and final day.


After the music, July Fourth fireworks over the Willamette River close the 2022 Waterfront Blues Festival with a brilliant bang.

The 2022 Waterfront Blues Festival wrapped things up with an emphatic bang after dark on the Fourth of July: Four days of wall-to-wall music, dancing, gathering, cheering, and celebrating in downtown Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park, capped by a resounding fireworks show lighting up the sky high above the Willamette River.

From the Nigerian rhythms of Femi Kuti & The Positive Force to the traditional Mississippi sounds of Cedric Burnside to the musical daughter and mother Judith and Michiko Hill to the dance contest and reveling and faces in the crowd and much more leading up to the big bang, photographer Joe Cantrell was on hand to capture the essence of the festival’s fourth and final day.

Here’s a flavor of the feast he experienced and framed:


May the Positive Force be with us

The Nigerian masters Femi Kuti & The Positive Force brought a jolt of African rhythm and energy and dance to the festival’s South Stage in the late afternoon of the Fourth.


Music, music: We’ve got the music

Mississippi master Cedric Burnside singing and playing guitar.
Judith Hill leans hard into the sound.
Judith Hill’s mother, Michiko, on keyboards in her daughter’s band.
Ben Rice, Lisa Mann, and Dave Melyan getting down to business.
Melyan, upping the energy under the lights.
Karen Lovely, belting out her powerful and lovely sound.


Keeping cool: Ice water to the rescue

Sometimes the blues are cool – and sometimes they’re hot enough to call for a little chill-down. “These young women sold iced water from booths just outside the bridge, all day every day. Real troupers and great smiles,” photographer Joe Cantrell noted. “They and those like them are a special part of the Waterfront Blues Festival.”



Oregon Cultural Trust

All the world’s a stage, and some of the show’s in the crowd

Setting the festival scene with a color-popping special lens.
Setting the festival scene with a color-popping special lens.
An audience dance contest had festival-goers cutting the virtual rug.
Wait: Is this another of those color-bumping special lens festival scene shots? Why, yes it is! And a bright and shining time was had by all.
Gotta dance: The afternoon dance contest drew another couple of couples onto the floor.
Sometimes, when anticipating the urgency of the coming day and night, a person’s got to prepare.
What would a festival be without some face-painting? Let the transformation begin.


… and at the end, the biff! bam! boom!

The Waterfront Blues Festival traditionally falls on the Fourth of July weekend, and festivities on the Fourth traditionally close with a giant fireworks show above the river and the city. The 2022 celebration was no exception: In the dark, it lit up the sky.


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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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