It’s been 32 years since John Lee Hooker headlined Portland, Oregon’s first annual Waterfront Blues Festival in 1987 and the blues is still very much alive. Proof of that fact can be found in the fact that over a hundred performers annually play a variety of blues styles for four days to an audience of thousands of people from all ages. There are a variety of admission packages available along with day passes for $25.00. The proceeds of the biggest blues festival West of the Mississippi River go to the Portland Sunshine Division which distributes food to the needy. When we arrived The King Louie Organ Trio with Tracey Harris and blues festival empresario Peter Damman filled in on guitar for a dozen acts beginning on Thursday July 4 until Sunday July 7.
Blues Rock Review once more covered the festival and experienced some of the best blues of the day. The first blues rocker to hit the stage was Lucious Spiller, a native of Arkansas that relocated to Clarksville, Mississippi. He talked about how he was influenced by the music of Elmore James and Howlin’ Wolf as he proceeded play some stellar guitar licks with songs like “Born Under a Bad Sign and “Little Red Rooster.” Roy Rogers & the Delta Rhythm Kings” rocked out along with a couple dozen artists representing a variety of blues roots genres like Zydeco, Soul, R&B, Country Blues, Big Band, Folk Blues and Hybrid Blues on four different stages. “Too Slim and the Taildraggers” blasted the audience with Southern blues rock. While Curtis Salgado and his band rocked the house until the night’s headliner, Robert Cray took the stage to close out the night playing his hits, including “The Forecast Calls For Pain.” Since day one was July 4, a twenty minute fireworks display concluded the night after Cray’s encore.
Friday was part of a long weekend, so the place was packed and just like the day before, and the weather was perfect with temperatures reaching 70 to 80 degrees, as a cool breeze blew off the Willamette River. The Portland Spirit featuring Blues boat cruises in an intimate venue with the performers as it sails on the river as another way to enjoy the festival. Then for night owls there are after hour shows in two hotel ballrooms next to the festival lasting until Midnight or later. Big Monti Amundson’s blues rock power trio is a regular performer at the festival that provided an intense set of guitar pyrotechnics. This was sister duo, Larkin Poe’s second year at the festival as they wowed the crowd with their gritty blues rock before the night closed with Portland’s artistic merger with New Orleans, MarchFourth providing both a visual and audio experience.
Saturday was another beautiful day and the Terry Rob Quartet provided some home grown blues rock from one of the Pacific Northwest’s best guitarists. Ty Curtis is another stellar Oregonian blues rock guitar player that paired up with Austin, Texas’ guitar phenomenon Dave Scher to provide an incendiary guitar shredding performance. Local blues legend Norman Sylvester and his All-Star Review mesmerized the crowd with an impressive set. Lydia Pense and Cold Blood hit the big time performing hard blues rock back in the 1960s, when Fillmore promoter Bill Graham signed them to his record label. They released their most recent album, Soul of the Gypsy, in 2016 and performed cuts from it along with reaching back to their roots. The night concluded with a choice of either attending Alabama soul band St. Paul and the Broken Bones performing their Southern soul revival and resurrecting the spirits of James Brown and Otis Redding on the main stage or a blistering blues rock set by Marina Crouse with flying V guitarist extraordinaire Pam Taylor at the Crossroads stage.
Sunday is always peppered with gospel performances by some of the best artists in the field. Saeeda Wright was a minister’s daughter and sang gospel all her life. She belted out songs like “You Gotta Know That You’re Free,” with her powerful and beautiful voice. The Son’s of Soul Revivers hailed from San Francisco and had some great harmony and call and response Pentecostal revival songs like “I Believe In a Savior” and “It’s Believin’ Time.”
Christone “Kingfish” Ingram is one of the hottest new blues rock acts to come on the scene and he dominated the day with his hardcore performance. In the middle of his set Tony Coleman, who played drums for B. B. King took over the drum kit and they performed “The Thrill Is Gone.” Kingfish got down off the stage and walked through the crowd a couple of times as he played in a wild Hendrix style, including a killer version of “Hey Joe.”
Cyril Neville’s Swamp Funk took the stage at 7:00 PM and played “Talking About New Orleans” and dedicated a song to the late Dr. John as he sang about the eroding coastline in New Orleans and performed “Money and Oil” with some kick ass guitar. Mary Flower was performing folk blues on the Crossroads stage that we stopped at until Shemekia Copeland’s set began. Copeland’s set rocked the blues to the max as the band wailed with screaming guitars providing the fills between verses. She sang “We Ain’t Got Time To Hate” with passion, and then told the story behind the song, “Would You Take My Blood?” Trombone Shorty was the closing act of the festival as he brought his New Orleans blend of jazz, rock and blues to the stage. All in all it was a great festival, both talent and weather wise.
For more information go to http://www.waterfrontbluesfest.com/
Review by Bob Gersztyn