Photo First: glorious blue Fourth

On America's birthday, musicians and fans came out to celebrate at the Waterfront Blues Festival. The epic party plays on through Saturday.

Photographs and Story by Joe Cantrell

Nothing defines the best of Portland’s funk art scene like the Waterfront Blues Festival, currently in its 31st year. Aside from the mission to raise money and canned food for the Oregon Food Bank, other than being the most heavily attended thing in Oregon, those four- or five-day music parties are fundamental to our Oregon-trip-around-the-sun Circadian rhythm. Skip a birthday? Sure, why not. Skip the commercial holiday thrash? Absolutely. Skip the Blues Festival? Survival without significant damage unlikely.

It’s music as catalyst for human connection, joy, love, the very interpersonal qualities so grievously missing nowadays in a drive around a parking lot, anything-but-personal-acknowledgment encounters in public, and bonded relationships with robots regulating the air around us. “Aunt Algorithm, I’d like to introduce the WBF. But warning: It’s human, and it’s strong in ways you’ll never compute.”

The flotilla, rolling on the river.

This being my ninth or tenth, maybe twelfth, year as WBF Official Paparazzi, I’ve seen that one buoyant thing sustain and thrive. The Oregon Food Bank put it on for 30 years, before declaring this January that they were stepping out, their core mission being to feed the masses, not put on a music festival, and look at all that commitment of working hours, contractual commitments, and risk. Peter Damman and Clay Fuller had been stalwart liaisons between the festival and attending artists forever; rather than let the festival die, they took it on. That meant finding new sponsors and assuming roles that had been handled by the Food Bank. Holy smoke what a job, and Clay retired to be replaced by Fuller Productions, his progeny. But they did it and from first day appearances, triumphed.

In the spirit of contemporary American vision and following the photojournalists’ impetus, “If this, then what?” we covered much of the July 4th opening day with a beat-up little camera mounting a lens from an ATM. Because what’s more 2018 than seeing through the lens of a money machine? Humanity wins.

This year’s Waterfront Blues Festival continues through Saturday in downtown Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park. There was plenty of music on the Fourth, from the likes of Journey to Memphis and The Lightning Kings and Norman Sylvester and Jon Koonce and the Lost Cause and LaRhonda Steele and Robert Randolph and Jimmy “Duck” Holmes and the Bill Rhoades Harmonica Blow-Off and Commander Cody and His Modern Day Airmen. But so much of the action was in and among the crowd, which was as diverse as life and had its own rhythm going.

A few images from Day 1:


Before it all starts, ready to go.


















Peter Damman, the man behind the blues.

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