On Friday July 2, 2021, the 34th Annual Portland, Oregon Waterfront Blues Festival took place for four days over the Independence Day weekend. This year there was limited attendance that was socially distanced because of COVID19 restrictions that were in place until just before the event occurred. To allow a larger audience to see the festival all four days were live streamed on the internet by KOIN 6, Portland’s local TV station. All four shows are still available to view for their entire 4-hour sets using the link at the end of each day.
Day 1 featured “Women of the blues” and opened with an ensemble of “Northwest Women in Rhythm & Blues” put together by guitar virtuoso Sonny Hess. “Lady True Blue Kat” sang “Leave Your Hat On” and “Radiohead’s” “Creep” as Hess wailed on her guitar and Lisa Mann thumped her bass. After their set was over while the main stage was reconfigured for the next act, the secondary stage, known as the “Front Porch Stage” took over. Ben Rice began performing “Country Blues” on a resonator guitar and after a couple of songs Karen Lovely joined him singing “There Was A Time” and Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love.”
The “Little Village Foundation” featuring Sonny Green and Tia Carroll with the Greaseland Allstars” rocked the main stage with their explosive R&B set. Sonny and Tia alternated singing lead with BMA nominated guitar aficionado Kid Anderson accompanying them with his stratospheric guitar solos.
Ben Rice and Karen Lovely returned to the alternate stage for another set before the night’s headliner, Samantha Fish took the main stage with her band. Fish’s band was comprised of Sarah Tomek on drums, Ron Johnson on bass, and Matt Wade, keyboardist extraordinaire. She opened with “Wild Heart and then proceeded to play selections from her catalog of albums, which included“Chills and Fever,” “Dream Girl” and “Love Letters” to list some. Samantha changed guitars throughout her set and concluded by using a slide on her cigar box guitar for a rip snorting bring down the house rendition of “Shake Em On Down.” Unfortunately because of the strict curfew in the current location encores cannot occur when the show ends at 10:00 PM
Day 1: Watch here
The second day was dedicated to Cajun and Louisiana style blues opening with the “Bayou Boys” doing their “Soul Cookin’ Throwdown.” The band featured two stellar Northwest guitarists with blues rocker Ty Curtis and Lloyd Jones providing a jazzier guitar style. Steve Kerin provided some amazing keyboard work and vocals, including covering Dr. John’s “Right Place, Wrong Time.” The band was rounded out by Dave Kahl on bass and Brian Foxworth’s drumming providing a solid rhythm section. They covered Johnny Guitar Watson’s “A Real Mother For You” and “Iko, Iko along with Ty Curtis singing “Wild, Wild Ways.”
The “Front Porch” side stage featured the “Too Loose Cajun Zydeco Band” that included festival artistic director and former Paul Delay band member Peter Dammann on lead guitar. Steve Kerin joined them to play keyboards and they covered everything from “What Are You Going To Give Me For That Cornbread” to a cover of Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou.”
Curley Taylor & Zydeco Trouble” took the main stage with Taylor singing lead and playing his accordion as the band rocked behind him. They ran through “Be a Creole Man,” “Country Boy” and the “Rascals” “Groovin’ on a Saturday Afternoon” before they invited dancers on the stage to add more color to their finale.
After the “Too Loose Cajun Zydeco Band” did another set, Marc Broussard and his band, the headline act of the night took the stage. The band was comprised of the amazing Bobby Junior on lead guitar, Zach Jones on drums, and Jay White on bass. Broussard explained that it was a new band it was only the second time that they had played together live. Their set list was comprised of a variety of original compositions and covers that included everything from Parliament Funkadelic’s “Mothership Connection” to James Brown’s “Sex Machine” and Stevie Wonder’s “Superstion.” Broussard talked about writing a children’s book titled I Love You For You along with a lullaby album to raise money for a homeless shelter in Baton Rouge, LA for women and children. The night concluded with the band doing a blowout performance with a concluding medley that included Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” and gave the band a final opportunity to jam to high heaven as day #2 came to a conclusion.
Day 2: Watch here
They provided tickets for the first two days of the festival and then I watched the next two nights live streaming on the link provided on the blues festival’s website. There is nothing compared to a live concert but in this case, after sitting fully exposed in the 90 degree heat with the bright sun for the first two days it was actually enjoyable to watch the other two days from the comfort of my air conditioned home with the bathroom next door and my refrigerator filled with beer.
Day #3 began with “Grammy Award” winning “Soul Blues” vocalist Johnny Rawls singing the “Rolling Stones” “Beast of Burden,” His band was comprised of Ben Rice on Guitar, keyboardist Dave Fleshner and Dave Melyan on drums and Lisa Mann on bass. Peter Dammann joined the band to play guitar on “Country Boy.”
Legendary Northwest blues guitarist/singer Norman Sylvester played on the alternate “Front Porch” stage. His set included “Put the Woman in Charge” and Muddy Water’s “I’ve Got My MOJO Working over the course of the evening. “Outer Orbit” is an ethereal R&B band that features Sarah Clarke on vocals with special guests LaRhonda Steele and Arietta Ward.
The headlining act of the night was “March Forth” a marching band with acrobatics that in some ways reminded me of “Paliament Funkadelic.” They played a variety of styles including hard blues with a blue backdrop that included stilt walking and balancing acts. LaRhonda Steele closed the night on July 4th by singing a beautiful soulful rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” without the usual fireworks this year because of the danger of fires after last summer’s forest fire inferno.
Day 3: Watch here
The final day of the festival was on Monday, July 5 since everyone was off. Legendary blues drummer Tony Coleman kicked off day #4 with a “Tribute to the Three Kings,” Albert, Freddie, and BB as he began playing “The Thrill is Gone.” Coleman played with all three guitar legends over his career. Once again Peter Dammann took the stage to help out with his stellar guitar playing. Not only did Coleman play drums for the already mentioned legends but for Bobby Blue Bland and John Lee Hooker as well.
The “Front Porch” stage featured “Hillstomp” a punk/blues band to entertain the audience during the interim that the main stage was set up for the next act. “Hillstomp” is a two man group consisting of Henry Christian playing a variety of stringed instruments and John Johnson on drums. They performed both original material and unique renditions of traditional songs in a style that resembled Appalachian blues with a touch of insanity.
Juba Smith took the main stage and began playing “I’ve Got the Blues.” Kingfish Ingram credits Juba for his influence on his guitar playing which becomes apparent after listening to him play. His style ranged from jazzy to Reggae and included some amazing intense driving fret runs. At one point Juba told the audience, “Jimi Hendrix is from this area a couple of hundred miles north and we’re going to honor him as he began to play “Little Wing.” Everybody in the band was wearing a Juba Smith T-shirt with his photo on it and he had the audience sing happy birthday to his brother Aaron who would turn 50 the next day.
The final act of the night and festival was “Ghost Note” a funk R&B band with members that played with some of the biggest names in music from Jay-Z, Janet Jackson, and Prince to Kirk Franklin, Justin Timberlake, and Beyonce`. The band is led by drummer and keyboardist Robert “Sput” Searight and percussionist Nate Werth. Their performance was highlighted by the colorful antics of bass player, Dwayne “MonoNeon” Thomas energetically thumping his instrument in a unique style reminiscent of Bootsy Collins. Guitarist Peter Knudson’s performed some amazing fretwork followed by a killer horn section. The band performed everything from Prince’s “Make Your Mama Happy to their original Mr. Groovy before they closed the festival for another year.
Day 4: Watch here