How blue did they get
Big-time congratulations to everyone connected with the 16th annual Waterfront Blues Festival here in town. I'm confident it broke all attendance records. Perfect weather all four days combined with the growing word of mouth about how doggone much fun this event is, to bring huge crowds from curtain to curtain. We knew the place would be packed for the fireworks on the Fourth, but when I showed up for what I thought would be a sleepy Sunday lunchtime scene today, I was greeted by wall-to-wall music lovers, already in a groove. Even the fair weather blues fans were out in full force.
I remember the first of these events, inaugurated on a sweatshirt-weather gray Fourth back in the mid-80s. There was one stage, up around the Morrison Bridge somewhere, maybe a few rows of benches, a handful of vendors. Now it's, well, a true festival, with four stages, dozens of booths, African delicacies -- even wine tasting, for Pete's sake. The lineup of acts went top-drawer long ago, and this year we caught the likes of Taj Mahal, Terry Evans, Etta James and Pinetop Perkins along with fantastic Portland acts like Bill Rhoades and regional favorites like Too Slim and the Taildraggers, who I think come up from Sacramento. [CORRECTION: They're from Spokane. Same difference.]
In my early days at this festival, I took the music so seriously that I couldn't understand the huge segment of the crowd that was there just to socialize, eat, drink, and people-watch. But this year, I must confess, I was in the latter category. I had out-of-town guests with me on Saturday afternoon, and a toddler was my date for Sunday. So although I heard the show, it was at a slight distance most of the time.
It was still great.
You know who really impresses me? Portland singer Linda Hornbuckle. Last year, she and pianist Janice Scroggins held together a loose gospel jam so that we could hear the preacher stylings of Howard Tate. This year, the gospel segment was so tight that it positively rocked the place off the ground. I think that was Terry Evans up there with them, but whoever it was, when they belted out a version of "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," you could definitely feel those hands around that crowd.
Adding to the warm feelings was the fact that this event is a benefit for my favorite charity, the Oregon Food Bank. My friends from Wisconsin were wowed when I told them that admission was five bucks a head plus two cans of food. Even my 2-year-old now knows that we gave some food to the "music show people" so that they could give it out to other people who don't have enough to eat and are hungry. When she handed over a little can of tomato paste to the beautiful volunteers at the gate, I realized what a special deal this was.
One thing I reflected on while I strolled the festival grounds was how much Portland has changed over the last decade and a half. At the first blues festival, everybody knew about half of the other people. This year, walking to and fro on both weekend afternoons, I saw hardly anyone I recognized. Tom Wendt, KBOO Radio's blues chief, was there, of course. But in those thousands of others? Nobody I knew.
O.k., I did see Jean Kempe-Ware, the public relations officer for the Food Bank, shooting some kind of video. I know Jean from her former job, p.r. director for my employer, Lewis & Clark College. I couldn't interrupt the shoot, but I wanted to say, Jean, we need you now.
As frustrated as I get with the political "leadership" in the City of Roses, there are times when I'm unspeakably happy and proud to live here. Sitting on the grass down at the Blues Festival is guaranteed to be one of those times.