The 2018, 31st Annual Portland Waterfront Blues Festival, ran from Wednesday, July 4th through Saturday, July 7th, to support the Oregon Food Bank in its efforts to combat hunger in Oregon and the Southwest Washington State areas. The Waterfront Blues Festival is the primary fundraising event for the Oregon Food Bank and features over 100 artists, 4 stages, blues cruises on the Spirit of Portland cruise ship and off-site, after-hours performances at the downtown Hilton and Rose Hotels. Its the largest Blues festival west of the Mississippi River. Only the Chicago Blues Festival is larger. Along with this, the Portland Police Bureau’s Sunshine Division was collecting canned food donations at the gate as it reintroduced canned food donations after having been absent for several years. This year, the festival was under new management as the Oregon Food Bank elected to step away from directly managing the event as it had for the previous thirty years. This year’s admission was $15/day plus a donation of a can of food.
The crowds averaged well over 25,000 daily visitors There was media coverage from all of the major Blues magazines, local and regional publications, numerous music and entertainment blogs and ezines (including DMNDR.com) along with a live simulcast from a regional FM radio station. Some of the music organizations supporting the Blues Festival were the Cascade Blues Association (who sponsors the Journey to Memphis competition), the Cascade Zydeco Association (who sponsors the Zydeco music performances and dance lessons and competitions) and the Delta Music Experience (who puts on the Blues Cruises).
In addition, there are numerous corporate and private sponsors that front the money required to pay bands to come and perform. Along with these are the numerous private benefactors who give generously to help the blues festival and the Oregon Food Bank. Underlying all these are the hordes of volunteers, and the tireless Stage Crews and Stage Managers who make it all go, without whom there would be no Blues Festival.
The Waterfront Blues Festival features a mix of national acts, regional, and local acts. As part of this, there were all types of acts that the traditional blues umbrella has covered and that music has evolved from the original blues masters of yesteryear including Zydeco, Soul, Funk, Gospel, Creole, Swing and Rock. Among the subsets to be found were New Orleans brass marching bands, Texas blues, country rock blues, Tex-Mex rock, and blues, along with traditional Chicago and Delta blues and West Coast blues.
Some of the special featured events were the blues, guitar and Gospel workshops, the Bill Rhoades Harmonica Blow-Off, Blues and Zydeco dance instruction and competition on the Front Porch stage dance floor, the Journey to Memphis blues band competition (to determine which band would represent Portland in Memphis, Tenn. at the International Blues Challange competition) and two full days of Zydeco bands on the Front Porch Stage. The four stages are the Miller Brewery South Mainstage, The Front Porch stage, The Fedex Crossroads stage (where workshops take place) and the North Blues Stage. In addition, on the 4th of July evening, there was a singing of the National Anthem and fireworks show over the Willamette River.
Some of the headliners this year included: Robert Randolph and the Family Band, The Mavericks, Marc Broussard, Ruthie Foster, The Motet, Beth Hart, the Grammy Award-winning Zydeco artist Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band and closing the festival, the legendary George Thorogood, and The Destroyers.
The Waterfront Blues Festival appeals to all ages and all types. It’s family friendly and makes special accommodations for those with disabilities. It welcomes service animals. All these groups were to be seen in the crowd. Now, there’s one thing this writer needs to make clear to the readers: there is a great misconception that the Blues and Blues Festivals, in general, are for OLDER PEOPLE ONLY and that they DO NOT attract a younger crowd. NOTHING can be further from the truth. This year’s crowd demographics was a clear 50-40-10 percentage. That being 50% older, 40% younger and 10% little kids. The dance floor area was filled primarily with a younger crowd.
Younger people were bringing their little kids who would remember the festival and then start bringing their own little kids. So in fact, the Blues Festival crowd is generational and hence it has survived and thrived for the past thirty-one years while becoming the main event on the 4th of July in Portland, Oregon.
As mentioned before, the music at the Waterfront Blues Festival has evolved and changed from strictly traditional blues as know from the past. Some would gripe that it’s no longer even a Blues Festival. And yes, many of the newer bands don’t play traditional blues. Their styles are of a generational evolution. But if you listen closely, you WILL hear the elements and basis of original blues contained within their modern styles and sounds. It’s that way for all music.
None stays static and predictable. Yet, all of it has those basic grooves and beats that get the huge crowds at the Blues Festival up on their feet cheering and crying out for more. It’s what keeps em’ coming back year after year.
Now, of course, this writer had his favorites (as with every year). This year it was Portland’ own “BoogieCat” Norman Sylvester Band, Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band for Zydeco, The Motet for volcanic stage performance,
Beth Hart for sizzling female show, the GRINDING Tex-Mex groove of The Mavericks, the BLISTERING FAST pedal steel slide guitar of Robert Randolph and for traditional blues, Kid Ramos and The Proven Ones. And “Who Do You Love” by George Thorogood.
Many performers at the Waterfront Blues Festival have been appearing for years and have become crowd favorites. One of these is Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band. Chubby Carrier began appearing at the Blues Festival in 1994. Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp band tour over 150 days per year and play at all the major blues festivals nationwide and internationally. They have recorded ten CD’s over the past twenty-two years and won the 53rd Annual Grammy Award in 2011 for Best Cajun or Zydeco Album,
“Zydeco Junkie”. Carrier believes that the Portland Waterfront Blues Festival is one of or the best that they appear at both in terms of supporting the Oregon Food Bank and the way the performers are treated and taken care of. He explained, “I love the idea of feeding all these hungry people. Everybody stepping in for a good cause. Here these people attend to the artist and make sure everything we need is on hand, food, stage gear, hotels. With others, you’re just in the band. But here they treat you right! With this festival, they are introducing the music to their families. I’m seeing families out here. When I played here in 1994 they were babies, now they ‘re bringing their babies. My music was introduced to their families. What this festival brings to the people is a lot of joy and happiness and that’s exactly what this world needs right now.” He talked about their new CD, “Black Pot”, “We were thinking of making this album like a consistency of a gumbo, a mix of all styles of Cajum, Blues, and Zydeco. It’s the seasoning of the music and we put it in a black pot and it’s a good recipe for my style of Zydeco.” He was very excited to have the opportunity to be showcased on DMNDR.com, a new and different media forum than the usual Blues and Zydeco magazines. He also specifically asked the DMNDR.com readers to give his new album a listen (or mp3’s) and offer him some feedback and direct comments on how the band is doing with its music and recordings. He said this, “I always encourage people to give it a listen and give it a spin and I invite DMNDR.com readers to give me some input, advice and feedback insights on what we’re doing right or wrong.”
Chubby Carrier said it best about the Waterfront Blues Festival, “I love the idea of feeding all these hungry people, everybody stepping in for a good cause”. And that’s what it all comes down to at Portland’s Waterfront Blues Festival and the Oregon Food Bank, feeding hungry people and everybody stepping up for a good cause. Whether it’s the performers, visitors, volunteers, corporate sponsors, stage crews, benefactors, media or anyone else that attends or helps, its all happens for one cause, fighting hunger in Oregon and Southwest Washington. DMDNR.com would like to thank the Portland Waterfront Blues Festival for the opportunity to provide media coverage and introduce it’s readership to the Waterfront Blues Festival and bring the Blues and Zydeco to DMNDR.com.