Guide to Portland Waterfront Blues Festival 2012

Portland Waterfront Blues Festival, coming up July 4-8, is one of the world’s biggest blues festivals. It also is the biggest annual event in Portland — an interesting idea, for any city’s big party to be a blues festival, and especially a Pacific Northwest city without a blues tradition of its own.

First let me tell you about my own involvement in this year’s fest. I will NOT be stage-managing or emceeing the Workshop Stage this year. I had fun doing it last year. It was great to see a lot of friends and fans, and make new ones, there. And I enjoyed introducing and interacting with all the great acts that performed there. But unfortunately I will not be doing that job again this year.

I WILL perform at the fest. My slot is 3:45-4:30 p.m. July 5, on the FedEx Crossroads Stage (that is the stage that used to be the Workshop Stage — it is being renamed, relocated and restaffed). My program is called “Myth and Reality of the Crossroads” to christen the new stage. I’ll talk about what Robert Johnson and Tommy Johnson did or didn’t do at the Crossroads, where the Crossroads might actually be, what it means, etc., and sing relevant songs…or as much music and chatter as I can pack in in 45 minutes! Come on by.

Here are some other acts I recommend you check out this year:

  • Toots and the Maytals — the great Jamaican soul and reggae singer graces our festival.
  • Arthur Moore Harmonica Hoedown — Local harpist/teacher Moore invites anyone with a harp to come up and play a solo!
  • Goodfoot Allstars’ Tribute to James Brown — I haven’t heard this act, but it’s hard to go wrong with good musicians playing the Brown soundbook. JB was not just a great singer and entertainer — he was a great songwriter as well.
  • James Cotton Harmonica Workshop — This is not a how-to workshop, but the veteran harpman (who has worked with Muddy and Wolf)  talking about his life and music and showing us how it’s done. He also blows with Elvin Bishop later that night (July 6).
  • Zydeco — Stop by the Front Porch Stage to check out topnotch zydeco acts playing over several days. Includes dance demonstrations and lessons, and plenty of room to dance.
  • Lloyd Jones Big Band — Jones sounds great whether solo or with any kind of group. Here’s a chance to hear what he can do with his own big band.
  • Bobby Rush — This ageless chittlin-circuit performer has so much fun joking about his sexual prowess, admiring his lovely and flexible dancers of various sizes, doing some acrobatics of his own, and singing with a crackerjack blues-soul-rock band backing, that you will have a great time too. He performs with the band and dancers on the Miller Stage on July 7, then probably solo (he plays guitar and harmonica) on the Crossroads Stage on July 8. Both shows should be terrific, and very different from each other.
  • Otis Taylor and Don Vappie — The banjo came over from West Africa with the slaves, then became the quintessential white country instrument in America. In recent years it has been reclaimed by black players of blues, pre-blues and old-time, including Taylor, who sometimes plugs in and  veers into rock. His pairing with New Orleans jazz banjoist Don Vappie on the Crossroads Stage on July 7 should be acoustic and interesting. They also play together earlier that day on the First Tech Stage, joined by Portland banjo virtuoso Tony Furtado.
  • Cedric Burnside — This wunderkind is a grandson of the great North Mississippi bluesman R.L. Burnside. And he is not just trading on the name. Playing as a young teenager with his granddad, Cedric quickly distinguished himself as a killer drummer, and became sought after by various acts in and out of the blues. Cedric went into singing and songwriting, while still drumming, in a duo with Lightnin’ Malcolm. He has since taken up the guitar. He plays three times at this festival, and it could be something different each time.

OK, folks, that’s my advice. Make sure to bring $10 and two cans of food per day (the festival benefits Oregon Food Bank) and extra money for beer, food and Empty Bowls (handmade bowls that further benefit the food bank). See you out there!


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