Waterfront Blues Festival

Fighting the one-two punch

ArtsWatch Weekly: Amid twin crises, arts and social awareness mix and meld and come together

IT’S BEEN A WEEK TO PICK OURSELVES UP, DUST OURSELVES OFF, START ALL OVER AGAIN: The one-two punch of pandemic and racial injustice has kept the culture on the ropes even as some of the contenders take a premature victory lap. The United States has solidified its dubious distinction as the epicenter of the global coronavirus crisis: Dr. Anthony Fauci, who in the face of a rudderless national response is the closest thing we have to a national leader on the issue, warns that if Americans don’t get serious about the threat we could be facing 100,000 new cases a day. While the nation gradually and sometimes not so gradually reopens, the numbers of infections and deaths have spiked. In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown has ordered that people wear masks in indoor public settings in every county, a directive that many, even those assigned to enforce the law, feel free to flout. 

The designer Milton Glaser’s final project. miltonglaser.com 

Culturally, in the past week the nation’s lost two towering figures. The great comedian Carl Reiner, who with the likes of Sid Caesar and Mel Brooks helped shape a stream of antic and sometimes subversively open American popular comedy, died at 98. And Milton Glaser, the graphic artist/designer/entrepreneur/American hybrid, died on his 91st birthday. Glaser’s touch was all over the culture, from book and album covers to concert posters to restaurant designs to the iconic “I (Heart) NY” logo that’s been copied by cities from here to the farther moons of Pluto, or so it sometimes seems. At the time of his death he was working on a new cultural connector to bridge the divides of troubled times: a distinctive image of the word “Together.”

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Blues minus the Waterfront

What's the Fourth of July Weekend without the Blues Festival by the river? On new platforms and minus the big crowds, the beat goes on.


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 MUSICMAKERS


Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, 2019

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Summer Streams

Chamber Music Northwest and Oregon Bach Festival lead parade of Oregon summer shows from onstage to online

Normally around this time, we’d be telling you all about Oregon’s two major summer classical music festivals, Chamber Music Northwest and the Oregon Bach Festival, both celebrating their 50th anniversaries this summer. But ‘normally’ scampered off awhile back, to return who knows when, if ever. So CMNW and OBF, along with many other festivals, orchestras, ensembles, and opera companies around the world that have turned to streaming live and/or archival video and/or audio as a substitute for suspended live performances. Anyone who’s been writhing in Zoom hell for the past few months knows that online can’t fully replace in-person experiences, but for now, all we have to do is stream, stream, stream. 

Screenshot from Chamber Music Northwest’s trio performance by Ida Kavafian, Peter Wiley and Steven Tenenbom.

Live and Archived

Beginning Monday, June 22 (the opening program is available through 11:59 p.m.Tuesday, June 23) and continuing through July 26, you can hear Chamber Music Northwest’s free Virtual Summer Festival, with three digital concerts appearing each week on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at 7 pm and available through the next day at CMNW.org and on Chamber Music Northwest’s YouTube channel. It includes a mix of five all-new streamed performances featuring some of America’s most distinguished classical chamber players, all longtime CMNW/Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center vets who happen to be related by birth or marriage, and so able to perform together from their New York homes without fear of contagion — literally, hausmusik. The performances, prerecorded over the past two weeks, are preceded by introductions commentary by the artists.

Screenshot from Chamber Music Northwest’s Neubauer family concert

A baker’s dozen archived shows feature new music by some of America’s finest living composers (David Lang, Valerie Coleman, Kevin Puts and more), family-friendly fare both classic (Carnival of the Animals) and contemporary (Bruce Adolphe’s Marita and Her Heart’s Desire), a collaboration with Portland dance troupe BodyVox, a multi concert complete cycle of Beethoven’s magnificent string quartets by Austin’s Miro Quartet, a Peter Schickele tribute, an all-French concert, and a streamload of chamber classics from the 18th through 20th centuries — including a swan song starring longtime retiring artistic director and clarinetist David Shifrin.

Bright Sheng’s ‘The Silver River’ finally debuted at Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Tom Emerson.

Top recommendation: the July 6-12 presentation of contemporary Chinese American composer Bright Sheng’s gorgeous chamber opera The Silver River, one of the coolest things I’ve experienced in my decades of attending the festival. And stay tuned for more previews by ArtsWatch music editor Matthew Andrews.

My Bach Pages

The virus crisis has also forced the University of Oregon’s Oregon Bach Festival to celebrate its 50th anniversary by streaming archival recordings to replace its canceled 2020 edition — essentially a half century’s greatest hits. Hosted by Eugene’s own golden voiced classical music announcer Peter van de Graaff, the Radio Festival will be broadcast live on KWAX FM (over the radio and its website) from June 26 through July 10 and feature one-time (no online archiving) OBF performances recorded from 1979 through last year  — its Bach catalog, as it were. 

Traditionalists will swoon over staples like Bach’s St. Matthew (June 26) and St. John Passions (July 3, featuring the incomparable bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff), Monteverdi’s Vespers (July 1), Mozart’s Mass in C minor and Handel’s Messiah (June 29), Verdi’s Requiem (June 30) and so many more.

New music fans will welcome the chance to hear world premieres of contemporary commissions next month. Celebrated Scottish composer James Macmillan’s A European Requiem airs July 7, and Ralph M. Johnson’s short, sweet This House of Peace June 30, while the July 9 broadcast features selections from American composer Richard Danielpour’s The Passion of Yeshua (which debuted at the 2018 fest) and from Sven-David Sandström’s modern, moody Messiah update on Handel, along with the expansive Grammy-winning Credo by great 20th century Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, who died earlier this year.

Oregon Bach Festival co-founder Helmuth Rilling conducts a performance of Sven-David Sandström’s “Messiah” in 2009. Photo: Jon Christopher Meyers

You can also tune in to Quasthoff’s memorable, must-hear 1998 recital on July 8, in a segment that also includes festival fave pianist Jeffrey Kahane leading the OBF orchestra in Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto. Other concerts include Bach’s ever-popular Brandenburg Concertos on July 6 (a perfect intro for classical newbies and perennial for OG baroque fans), Mendelssohn’s delightful A Midsummer Night’s Dream July 2 and classics by Schubert, CPE Bach (June 30, from 2019, the most recent show), and, sprinkled throughout, cantatas by his dad, the festival’s namesake.

Most of these performances were conducted by the festival’s founding music director, Helmuth Rilling, one of the 20th century’s most respected Bach specialists. But the closing July 10 broadcast featuring maybe Johann Sebastian’s ultimate creation, the mighty b minor Mass, was conducted by Rilling’s successor, Matthew Halls. In that and the July 1 concert, he leads an orchestra of early music specialists playing on the instruments and in the tunings closest to what Bach intended — signaling Halls’s valuable transformation of the festival from so much older then, it’s younger than that now. So it’s at once the most historical performance in the lineup — and the most forward looking, and an excellent chance to compare Halls’ and Rilling’s very different approaches. We fervently hope the festival will continue the since-ousted Halls’s turn toward historically informed performances. 

Hands Across the Web

The pandemic diverted another significant Oregon contemporary classical music anniversary from live to streamed performance. Cascadia Composers’ 10th annual In Good Hands recital showcases talented student performers from the Eugene and Portland metro areas performing homegrown new solo piano music written by Cascadia Composers members David Bernstein, Daniel Brugh, Ally Rose Czyzewiez, Dianne Davies, John De Runtz, Adam Eason, Jan Mittelstaedt, Lisa Neher, Timothy Arliss O’Brien, Paul Safar and Nicholas Yandell. This excellent connector between contemporary Oregon music and the next generation of Oregon musicians streams live at 3 pm Saturday, July 11 and will be available on demand archived at Cascadia Composers’ web site.  

The organization was originally scheduled to be a big part of the annual New Music Gathering that this year was supposed to happen in Portland. It’s since moved online, but CC and Portland composers and performers still enrich the program, including:

• Resonance Ensemble artistic director Katherine FitzGibbon, Geter, and other composers talking about music and activism.

• Portland composer Jennifer Wright and her Skeleton Piano and an all-Cascadia “concert” assembled from earlier performances

• Portland composer Andrea Reinkemeyer’s Triptych, (libretto by  Patrick Wohlmut)inspired by local disasters including the Tillamook Burn, Vanport Flood, and the inevitable Really Big One

• Portland composer Scott Unrein’s bird drawn in the sky of light, whose title is also a line in a gorgeous composition, In Honor of Aphrodite, by the late, great Portland-born composer Lou Harrison that I’ve had the joy of singing several times over the years. Other upcoming Oregon appearances include Resonance Ensemble and Third Angle New Music (Friday), Portland composer Ryan Francis and FearNoMusic pianist Jeff Payne talking about the group’s valuable Young Composers Workshop, eminent new music pianist and Portland native Kathleen Supove, Portland State University Percussion Ensemble, Opera Theater Oregon, Portland new music violist Christina Ebersohl, Portland composer Timothy Arliss O’Brien, and even Portland composer and ArtsWatch’s own music editor Matthew Andrews, and some of the country’s most renowned contemporary classical musicians and composers. Performances, discussions, and talks continue through the month, and it’s all archived for on demand gazing and listening.

R. Andrew Lee plays Scott Unrein’s ‘bird drawn in the sky of light’ at this month’s virtual New Music Gathering.

Other Oregon summer music festivals are also coming to your screens and speakers. Portland’s Creative Music Guild switched its Outset series to streaming, with remaining shows featuring New Orleans percussionist Diamond Kinkade and Portland hip hopper Gohan Blanco (June 23), and Ixnay on the Icket-thay & Quarantet 2020 featuring audio and video by John Niekrasz, Maxx Katz, Benjamin Kates, Mack McFarland and more (June 30).

Since early April, Oregon’s scintillating Pickathon music festival has raised over $140,000 for MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund via its A Concert A Day series of videos drawn from its vault of never-before-seen multi-cam, post-edited, and mastered footage of festival performances over the past decade. Proceeds support the artists who were scheduled to perform at this year’s now-scuppered festival. The organization has now extended the fundraiser through June, streaming sets from Wolf Parade, Langhorne Slim, Charley Crockett, Open Mike Eagle, Blind Pilot, and Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

• Bend’s  Sunriver Music Festival has suspended its August concert series, and moved its annual Festival Faire fundraiser to an online auction August 6-12, including a virtual Beethoven birthday party August 8 that includes a video premiere, online chats and performances by scholarship recipients. The festival still hopes to award $35,000 in scholarships to classical music students for next school  year.

Lost in Streamland

We may be stuck at home, yet it seems like there’s more music available to us than ever. I’ve been enjoying streams, some live, some archived, from Oregon musicians: 45th Parallel Universe and its Portland Social Distance Ensemble, Resonance Ensemble (ArtsWatch contributor Damien Geter’s The Talk and Agnus Dei, both on All Classical FM’s Played in Oregon show, available for two more weeks, along with an interview with Geter on the station’s State of the Arts show), Juneteenth (a jazz and hip hop-oriented celebration streamed from Portland jazz club Jack London Revue), Musica Maestrale, Cappella Romana, and more, including CMNW’s series of past performances airing on All Classical. 

I’ve also tuned into new music from beyond Oregon from Bang on a Can Marathon 2020, Minnesota Opera (Doubt, based on the Broadway hit play), Seattle’s Music of Remembrance, Metropolitan Opera (the magnificent recent productions Philip Glass’s Akhnaten and Satyagraha, and lots more. I recommend checking out this Friday’s 45th Parallel stream featuring poet Micah Fletcher and Pyxis Quartet, reprising some of the powerful words and music from their extraordinary 2019 concert at Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall. On Wednesday afternoon, KBOO FM will stream Portland composer Ezra Weiss’ fierce, ambitious big band composition We Limit Not The Truth of God, recommended in our recent round up of jazz-oriented Oregon recordings. And next Thursday, June 24, All Classical Portland’s Thursdays@3 program features sometime Portland composer Andy Akiho, with that episode available for streaming online for two weeks.

Stay tuned to ArtsWatch for more previews of upcoming Oregon performances. Until we can meet again in person, obey the wisdom of Aerosmith and stream on, y’all.

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Blues finale: a festival with teeth

The party gets hearty as "Kingfish" Ingram picks his guitar strings for the crowd. Joe Cantrell snaps the Waterfront Blues Fest's last hurrah.


PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOE CANTRELL


When the extraordinary young guitarist Christone “Kingfish” Ingram waded into the crowd at the Waterfront Blues Festival on Sunday and started picking the strings with his teeth, you knew the whole darned party was gettin’ down. Musicians, fans, techies, vendors, kids, couples, senior hipsters, spur-of-the-moment dancers, festival newbies and seasoned blues aficionados – it was the last day of the four-day music extravaganza in Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park, and everyone was wringing the juice from the thing down to the last drop.

“Kingfish” Ingram: whole lotta talent goin’ down.

Ingram, the 20-year-old prodigy from Clarksdale, Mississippi, who’s played and recorded with Buddy Guy, Keb Mo’ and other greats, is two years out of high school and taking the music world by storm. Portland was happy to be part of the deluge. A Portland favorite from New Orleans, the fabulous Trombone Shorty – Troy Andrews on his birth certificate – played a late set with his band Orleans Avenue, and the likes of Feufollet, Ural Thomas & the Pain, and the Too Loose Cajun Zydeco Band – plus a whole lot of happy revelers – kept the closing-day party sizzling and most everyone waiting impatiently for next July, when the blues fest will blow the lid off the riverfront again.

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Blues Fest 3: Let the good times roll

There's a party goin' on: Photographer Joe Cantrell gets with the groove as Day 3 of the Waterfront Blues Festival loosens its Louisiana Belt.


PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOE CANTRELL


A lot of Louisiana took the stage on Saturday in Day Three of the Waterfront Blues Festival – groups as redolent of New Orleans and bayou country as Curley Taylor & Zydeco Trouble, Lil’ Pookie & the Zydeco Sensations, Mysti Krewe Mardi Gras Parade, and Chubby Carrier & His Bayou Swamp Band – and the roux got spicy and a little rowdy in the crowd, too, which took on a loose, decorative Mardi Gras flair. The music was terrific, but things got free and easy and party-down in the audience, too, which drifted easily and happily into putting on a show of its own. As photographer Joe Cantrell, who’s been busily documenting the entire four-day festival, put it: “This evening was one of the BEST hours of people-shooting ever!”

This year’s festival wraps up on Sunday with a full day of music and scene-making in Tom McCall Waterfront Park, from morning to night: more zydeco and Cajun from the likes of Carrier and Lil’ Pookie and Taylor and the up-and-coming Feufollet and the eagerly awaited Trombone Shorty, with a little bit of Tennessee tossed into the pot from Memphis Shorty’s Harmonica Hoedown. If anything, expect the groove to get a little looser and the partying a little rowdier yet. Your single-day tickets – $25 at the gate – get you into the party for the entire day, until after dark, and in addition to paying for the musicians and the music, help support the nonprofit Sunshine Division, which distributes food and clothing to people in the metropolitan area who need them.

Cantrell was on site once again all day long on Saturday, focusing his lens on the acts onstage and, more often, on the show in the crowd. Some highlights from his Day Three shoots:

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Waterfront Blues 2: In the Spirit

On Day 2 of the big blues bash on the riverside, the sounds ring over the city. Joe Cantrell captures the excitement in photographs.


PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOE CANTRELL


Day Two of the Waterfront Blues Festival dug deep into the spirit of music and life with an extraordinary set by the Spiritual Brothers and their sounds of Northern Ghana and Burkina Faso. Unlike the four-day festival’s first day on the Fourth of July, there were no fireworks over the river. But there was plenty of fire in the music on Friday, a day that also included sharp sets by the likes of Harpdog Brown & the Uptown Blues Band, Larkin Poe, Terry Hancke, the California Honeydrops, Lloyd Jones, Lisa Mann with Lara Price, Monti Amundson, Brother Yusef, Arietta Ward (daughter of the legendary, late Portland pianist Janice Scroggins) and others.

Passing the traditions on: generations in the crowd.

The four-day festival, which transforms Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park through Sunday, is a highlight of the Pacific Northwest’s summer music season, drawing thousands of revelers every day. Saturday’s schedule features a lot of Louisiana sounds – Curley Taylor & Zydeco Trouble, Lil’ Pookie & the Zydeco Sensations, Mysti Krewe Mardi Gras Parade, Chubby Carrier & His Bayou Swamp Band – plus the likes of top locals LaRhonda & the Steele Family Band, the Terry Robb Quartet, Norman Sylvester’s Allstar Revue, and more. Your single-day tickets – $20 in advance, $25 at the gate – get you the entire day from 10 a.m. until after dark, and in addition to paying for the musicians and the music, help support the nonprofit Sunshine Division, which distributes food and clothing to people in the metropolitan area who need them.

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Waterfront Blues: a bang-up start

On Day 1 on the 4th of July, the festival rings out in red, white, and the blues. Joe Cantrell captures the mood and the action in photos.


PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOE CANTRELL


It was a bang-up day on the Fourth of July in Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park, where this year’s Waterfront Blues Festival got off to a high-flying start and, come night time, a rainbow of fireworks lit up the sky. It was just the first of four days’ ringing out the blues on the waterfront – the festival plays through Sunday – and photographer Joe Cantrell spent hour after hour and walked mile after mile through the park, capturing the essence of the action from the stages and the crowd and the sky. Whatever else the festival is about, it’s about people: the musicians, the fans, the revelers, the technicians, the oldsters, the couples, the kids, the crowds.

Red, white, and boom! Blues Fest fireworks light up the sky.

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