Waterfront Blues Festival Review

The year 2017 marked the 30th anniversary that the Oregon Food Bank has been hosting the Waterfront Blues Festival, in Portland, Oregon. It’s the largest blues festival West of the Mississippi River, and second largest in the USA, with over 100,000 people attending annually and raises over 1 million dollars. The festival is very eclectic, covering every sub-genre that is related to the blues, from Zydeco, traditional acoustic blues and brass bands to R & B, hybrid blues and hard rockin’ blues. Some of the hardest rockers appearing this year were Ty Curtis, Robbie Laws and Sonny Landreth. The best part is that the cost of admission is only $15.00 and 2 cans of food per day or if you get an early pass, it’s only $40.00 for all 5 days.

Day #1 of the festival began on Friday, June 30 and day #5 ended on Tuesday, July 4 this year. The temperature was in the ’80s and the sky was clear, with a breeze blowing off the Willamette River. We arrived as Billy Dee & the Hoodoos were performing a rocking out number titled “Charlene” off their first CD, Somethin’s Wrong on the South stage. When their set ended Karen Lovely began performing on the North stage which is at the other end of the 20,000 capacity bowl that separated the two main stages. Her entire band was animated throughout their set and Lovely danced while she wailed alongside screaming guitars and a trumpet that created the driving boogie beat that the crowd gyrated to on numbers like “Waking Up the Dead.”

Trying to see every performance can be frustrating, since many occur simultaneously on four different stages. The Bob Shoemaker Trio was performing a Rev. Gary Davis tune on the Front Porch Stage at the same time as Karen Lovely, so we could only catch half sets. The “Dirty Bourbon River Show” was a 5-piece brass band from New Orleans playing an adrenaline fueled high energy rock & roll, blues and jazz gumbo, with horns replacing guitars. The smallest and most intimate performance venue at the festival was the FedEx stage where Tevis Hodge was passionately playing “Red House” on his resonator guitar, a composition by one of his favorite guitarists, Jimi Hendrix.

The “Front Porch Stage” had a basketball court size wooden dance floor in front of it, for some serious rug cutting. It was featuring “Anita Margarita & the Rattle Snakes,” with Pete Krebs, who rocked out with their blues tinged pop rock. One of the acts that made one of biggest first time impressions on me was J J Thames & Violet Revolt. Wow! Is all I can say when it comes to the powerhouse vocals and stage presence of J J Thames, who reminded me of a voluptuous Tina Turner. Her band played flawlessly with a soul thumping beat that complimented her vocals, as she belted out a heart rending version of Foster and Jordan’s composition that Etta James recorded in 1968, “I’d Rather Go Blind.”

We ran back to the main stage to catch Ty Curtis’s set with Robbie Laws. It was the hottest blues rock act of the day, comprised of Curtis and Laws trading off guitar runs and screaming solos on a variety of Fender Strat’s and Gibson’s. The hour long set was comprised of 10 songs beginning with Curtis compositions “That Good” and concluding with “Blame Me.” Laws sang lead vocal on a few songs, including Earl King’s, “Come On,” which was performed by the guitar duo Hendrix style. Northwest guitar wiz Terry Robb performed on the Fed-Ex stage at the same time that Elvin Bishop was on the main stage mesmerizing a small crowd. Elvin Bishop is a veteran and legend of blues rock since 1963 when he became lead guitarist for Paul Butterfield’s, Chicago blues band as a core member. In 1968 he began a solo career that produced top 40 radio hits that continue to remain in the public ear. His set is always entertaining in more ways than one, as he draws from a plethora of albums, including his 2014 release, Can’t Even Do Wrong Right, with a tight band along and off the wall humor.

“Fantastic Negrito,” whose real name is Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz won a Grammy in 2017 for “Best Contemporary Blues Album,” The Last Days of Oakland, played on the North stage. The volume and intensity of their performance was both aurally and aesthetically overpowering leaving the crowd hypnotized by their act. The final headline act of the night, Chris Isaak, appeared on the South stage at 9:00 PM with his band and dove into his set with “San Francisco Days.” His 16 song set included his radio hits, like “Wicked Game,” “Baby Did a Bad Thing” and “Somebody’s Crying,” to name some, all performed in his signature brand of “Rockabilly Roots Rock.” His crooning tenor voice captured the audience, like the sirens did Odysseus, while his insinuative bantering humor between songs drew chuckles from the crowd. When Isaak finished his set the festival ended for the day, except for the Blues Cruise on the Willamette River, but that was just the 1st day with 4 more to go and another 100 performances to experience. For more information about the festival go to their website.

Bob Gersztyn

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “Waterfront Blues Festival Review”

  1. […] traded guitar licks and I wrote a review of the entire first day, including Curtis’s set at: http://bluesrockreview.com/2017/07/waterfront-blues-festival-review.html Only one image of Ty’s set was included with the article. These are some of the other […]

Leave a Reply

Bulk Email Sender