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The live event returned July 1-5, bringing live music back to Portland to a limited audience.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN VILLAGOMEZ - Jane Manning (blue dress) and her friends Johnaa Timmes, Tonya Zumach, and Shannon Barton, dance at the blues fest.
Portland's musical community rejoiced over the July 4 weekend as hundreds gathered for the return of the Waterfront Blues Festival, which was canceled last year due to public health guidelines.

Starting with a charity concert featuring Curtis Salgado on Thursday, July 1, fans sat in socially distanced seating pods as they enjoyed performances July 1 through Monday, July 5 at The Lot at Zidell Yards, just upriver from the usual venue, Waterfront Park.

Fans were delighted to see the festival's return — and the return of the music.

Everyone can enjoy blues, said Kathryn Grimm of the Northwest Women in Rhythm & Blues, a group organized by Sonny Hess, which performed July 2.

"It's simple, it's real, it's honest," Grimm said. "Everybody loves it."

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN VILLAGOMEZ - Sarah Tomek, drummer for Samantha Fish, rocking out at the Waterfront Blues Festival on July 2.Not only does everyone love to listen to music, but they love to move to it, too. Festival attendees Kaylee Nilan and Jeff Trager said blues is their favorite to dance to as they hit the dance floor in front of the side stage.

Professional "Boogie Igniter" Harry Loflin said he was hired by singer Samantha Fish to dance and excite fans at this year's festival. Loflin has been firing up crowds for more than 60 years professionally, according to his business card, and rousing blues fans is no exception.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN VILLAGOMEZ - The Tilikum Crossing bridge lit up shortly after sunset at the blues fest on July 2.
"It's the energy and the passion, when you get a group of people all into the same wavelength grooving to a beat, there's no better joy," he said.

"Blues is for everybody," said attendee Amanda Sparks. "It's something anyone can move to. You can't not feel it," her mom, Kathleen Feuz, added. Feuz said she and her daughter have only missed one festival since it began in 1987. They only missed 1988, the year Sparks was born.

Sparks and Feuz said they were sad the festival had to be smaller and different this year, but still, the setup was great, according to the family. "It's welcoming," Sparks said. "It's like you're hanging out on your back porch listening to live music."

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN VILLAGOMEZ - Tia Carroll with The Greaseland All-Stars was the third band to perform on July 2 at the Waterfront Blues Festival.Fans and performers alike think of the Portland blues community as a family of its own.

"The community is accessible," said Karen Lovely, who performed July 2 with Ben Rice. "(Fans) can come up and meet the artists and get hugs and we talk and it feels like family. This is like seeing family I haven't seen in two years."

Johnna Timmes said she never misses the festival and comes each year with her friends. She said she was excited that it was back, but said she was disappointed that this year's festival was so inaccessible and expensive.

A day pass at the festival used to be $20, but this year's attendees paid $75 to $100 for a four-hour slot. Using social distancing pods, organizers also brought attendance down from 20,000 people to just 600 per session.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN VILLAGOMEZ - The River City Riot Brassband based out of Vancouver, Washington kicked off things July 2.Timmes also said the blues festival is a unique event for Portland, as it brings together different types of people.

"It's a part of Portland that's as diverse as you're going to get in Portland," Timmes said. "I can see people who look like me, and other white folks who care deeply about music."

Christina Fuller of organizer Fuller Events said planning this year was difficult, but she was excited to keep the festival alive and think of creative solutions to keep it running.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN VILLAGOMEZ - Ben Rice played on his guitar, accompanied by Karen Lovely on July 2.Fuller said the event was like a light at the end of the tunnel and a symbol to Portland that "we can get out of this, we're going to get out of this, and we're not going to be living in 2020 forever."

Though Fuller isn't originally from Portland, she takes ownership in the city and wants to help move it forward after a tough couple of years.

"We've got to get out of it. And it doesn't just happen," she said. "And it takes some projects and focus and a little bit of risk."


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