It's back! Blues fest returns to waterfront - South Waterfront
Huge crowds on the banks of the Willamette River and people listening to musicians on multiple stages will again be part of Portland's biggest summertime event, the Waterfront Blues Festival. Make plans for 2022 at Waterfront Park.
For now, the Waterfront Blues Festival remains on the banks of the Willamette River, just a bit upriver at The Lot at Zidell Yards at South Waterfront, and it'll include one big stage of music and 600 spectators nightly, Thursday, July 1, through Monday, July 5, separated into pod seating because of health and safety guidelines associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
But, it'll also include live broadcasts on KBOO 90.7 FM (and website) during the day and the Waterfront Blues Festival website and Facebook page during the night. So, people from all over the world can listen and enjoy the music. Mind you, it's not like attracting fans from 50 states and many foreign countries, which usually happens for the Waterfront Blues Festival, but "something's happening, at least," said Peter Dammann, artistic director.
The Lot at Zidell Yards was created as an outdoor venue by Tyler and Christina Fuller with Fuller Events, which has long been part of the festival's production, and it'll host events throughout the summer. So, it made sense for Waterfront Blues Festival to be there; last year, musicians went into neighborhoods with a mobile stage to perform during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's spacious, by the river, and kind of an interesting little pocket of the city," Dammann said. "Zidell Yards is just a raw space, we're starting from scratch."
With the pod seating, Dammann joked, "it's intimate and a lot more civilized than a zydeco mosh pit."
The theme of the festival is, fittingly, "Upriver!," and Dammann had to search for musicians to appear, as the "routing and touring" schedules have not restarted in the wake of time off because of the pandemic.
The festival unofficially starts Thursday, July 1. Longtime Portland blues star Curtis Salgado takes part in the Blues Fest Cares Concert, which benefits Meals on Wheels and The Jeremy Wilson Foundation. Singer LaRhonda Steele also performs along with guitar player Hershel Yadovitz.
Then, it's the festival itself. The lineup:
• July 2 — Samantha Fish, Little Village Foundation: Sonny Green, Tia Carroll & The Greaseland All-Stars, Northwest Women in Rhythm & Blues, Karen Lovely and Ben Rice, River City Riot! Brass Band.
Said Dammann: "(Little Village Foundation) is dedicated to finding under-the-radar musicians who are not viable through mainstream labels. All the revenue goes directly to artists."
• July 3 — Marc Broussard, Curley Taylor & Zydeco Trouble, Bayou Boyz / Soul Cookin' Throwdown, Too Loose Cajun Zydeco Band, Northwest Bone Gang.
Said Dammann: "We're big fans of (Broussard's). He's coming with a core group and augmenting the band with horn players up here."
• July 4 — MarchFourth, Johnny Rawls, Outer Orbit featuring Sarah Clark with special guests LaRhonda Steele and Arietta Ward, Kevin Selfe, Norman Sylvester, Bloco Alegria.
Said Dammann: "Johnny Rawls is a Mississippi soul blues great who has won a bunch of awards."
• July 5 — Ghost-Note, Jubu Smith, Tony Coleman's Tribute to the Three Kings, Hillstomp, BrassRoots Movement.
Said Dammann: "Ghost-Note was started by the drummer/percussionist of Snarky Puppy. They are really phenomenal musicians. … And, Jubu Smith, the man who invented the modern soul R&B guitar, has a great resume."
It's a very good lineup, he added.
"I have a deep affection and connection to straight traditional Chicago blues," Dammann said. "But, I've always wanted to push the envelope of the genre, because it needs to be pushed. There is a lot of innovation and dynamics happening on the periphery of the genre, it's important to acknowledge that and it's exciting to me.
"We're doing the separate four-act concerts. We tried to book each of those as kind of representative of eclectic mix you'd find at the full blues festival."
Dammann said it was important to bring back the festival for the fans, and musicians — "for many of them, this will be the first paid gig since the pandemic began."
Fuller Events took over the festival production from Oregon Food Bank in 2018, although the Fullers, including Tyler's father Clay, had been involved in the festival for years.
Having to cancel the 2020 festival was "heartbreaking," Christina Fuller said. "We were holding out hope that (the pandemic) would pass. None of us saw that it would be a year and a half."
Restrictions have loosened enough that 2021 Waterfront Blues Festival could be expanded and include more fans, but planning began months ago and "we had to take it slow and safe," Fuller said. "For most people, it's the first event in a year and a half. We want to be mindful and thoughtful about varying comfort levels."
Some tickets remained for shows, particularly July 5 and afternoon shows. For more: waterfrontbluesfest.com.
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