PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOE CANTRELL
STORY BY BOB HICKS
IN THIS MOST UPSIDE-DOWN OF YEARS, even the Fourth of July has had to change its tune. For more than three decades in Portland, the Fourth Weekend has meant heading on down to the Waterfront Blues Festival, that grand jam along the Willamette downtown in Tom McCall Waterfront Park, when several stages jostled and blared with nonstop music from around the nation and sometimes the world, and vendors sold everything from elephant ears and cold beer to floppy-brim hats, and thousands of music fans danced and marched and sang and stomped and cheered and crowded together like hundreds of oysters on dozens of po’ boy sandwiches, and at dusk on the Fourth the sky exploded with the brilliant colors of a thousand fireworks.
That’s not happening in this Year of the Corona. The Blues Fest was among the first big gatherings to peer into the future and call off the show, at least in its usual form. Yes, the lockdown’s loosening, cautiously, although maybe not nearly cautiously enough. Covid-19 cases are spiking in Oregon and nationally, people in stores and elsewhere are routinely defying orders to wear masks, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the closest thing to a national leader on pandemic response, is warning of a flareup to 100,000 new infections a day if Americans don’t follow protocols. You can get a haircut now – carefully – or distance-dine at a restaurant. But even as baseball and basketball are gearing up for shortened seasons, you can’t go out to a ballgame: the stands will be empty of fans. And you can’t go back-to-back and belly-to-belly in the sort of big crowd the Blues Fest ordinarily draws. We’re still a long way from that.
So, just say no to the waterfront. But don’t say no to the Waterfront Blues Festival – at least, not entirely. Pushed out of its comfort zone, the festival’s come up with some alternatives so the beat can go on. You can’t touch it. But you can hear it and you can feel it. Here’s what’s happening:
- Blues Fest Band Wagon. Friday/Saturday, July 3 & 4. A series of socially distanced mini-concerts in driveways, front porches, and cul-de-sacs across the Portland metro area. Think of them as your friendly neighborhood jams.
- Blues Fest Broadcast. 9-11 p.m. Saturday, July 4. Portland television station KOIN (6) will broadcast a two-hour special celebrating memorable performances from past festivals, and cap it off with a replay of festival fireworks over the river. Also stream online at www.koin.com.
- Blues Fest on Air. Noon-7 p.m. Saturday/Sunday, July 4 & 5. Community radio KBOO-FM 90.7 will broadcast seven hours each day of favorite sets and behind-the-scenes tales from past festivals. Also stream online at https://kboo.fm/listen-now.
Still longing for the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd? Take a photographic journey with Joe Cantrell to the Ancient Days of 2018 and 2019, when the Blues Festival crowds roamed wild and free along the waterfront, bumping and jostling and hugging and laughing in a happy mass of humanity, and the music wrapped around them like a blanket with a beat, and the good times rolled. As they used to say in Brooklyn, wait ’til next year. Maybe they’ll roll again.
THE ROAR OF THE CROWD
THE ROCKETS’ RED GLARE