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Kicking it off: Waterfront Blues Day 1

The blues festival, a downtown summer highlight since 1988, lays down its groove through July Fourth. Photographer Joe Cantrell captures Saturday's opening-day action.


Enjoying the heat and the beat on Day 1 of the Waterfront Blues Festival.

That rolling thunder you hear in downtown Portland isn’t a freak summer storm. It’s the sound of the Waterfront Blues Festival, rising and swelling in multiple grooves across Tom McCall Waterfront Park. The annual Independence Day Weekend festival — it started way back in 1988 — is back on its familiar ground, drawing big audiences of celebrants with dozens of acts for one of the highlights of Oregon’s summer calendar.

The festival swung into action on Saturday and continues all day and into the evenings on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, Independence Day, when the festivities will draw to a close with a brilliant fireworks display exploding over the river after dark. It’s a four-day revel of music, dancing, gawking, and grooving: a party that for a city emerging from the dark days of the pandemic feels like a giant, happy release.

Ace photographer Joe Cantrell wandered through Saturday’s opening-day crowd, looking and listening and pointing and framing and snapping and coming away with a visual kaleidoscope of the vitality of it all. Here are some of the images that captured his lens. Stop, look, listen, and enjoy.

— The Editors

Getting good and greasy

The Greaseland Allstars held down much of the opening-day afternoon on the South Stage …
… with some intense finger-picking …
… and leaning into it …
… and feeling it down deep …
… and laying down the beat …
… and realizing, “That’s good!”

Faces and places in the crowd

Made in the shade, grand in the sand.
… and, speaking of shades …

The back and the front of it all.

A little glitter, a little glam in the marketplace.

Dressing for the occasion.

Settling in for the long haul.

A tie around the neck and an ear for elephants.


Oregon Cultural Trust

Reveling in the sun and the sound.
… and holding down a spot, just in case.

Got that zydeco groove going

With Too Loose Cajun/Zydeco Band, Jourdan Thibodeaux et les Rôdailleurs, Rusty Metoyer & the Zydeco Krush and others carrying much of Saturday’s action on the Front Porch Stage, the dancing mood hit early and often.

A time to snooze, a time to choose.

Getting happy to the happy sounds.
On your feet, move your feet, swing around, go to town.

Singing, picking, and dancing at the Crossroads

Lloyd Jones and Mark Shark at the crossroads …
… where the crowd gets its dancing shoes on.

… And Los Lonely Boys, playing at the moon

Los Lonely Boys settle in for an evening set …
… as traffic trundles across the bridge and the moon glows above.

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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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