Words + Photos by Tom Dellinger

The Waterfront Blues Festival is the largest and longest running (since 1988) blues festival on the west coast, and with acts like Buddy Guy, Gregg Allman, and Allen Toussaint, the event shows no signs of slowing down. As a vehicle for raising funds for the Oregon Food Bank, it carries a special kind of vibe for both performers and attendees. This year they raised an impressive $870,000 and props must be given to the community and fans for their unwavering support.

More than a straight up blues festival, there was also room for other genres, such as Zydeco, soul, Americana and surprisingly, a handful of up and coming indie rock bands that included Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas and The Stone Foxes, who all delivered exciting, crowd pleasing and high energy performances.

Local favorite, Scott Pemberton lit up the stage with his energy and unusual guitar technique. Up from the bay area, San Francisco’s Con Brio, with one of the most dynamic frontmen (Ziek McCarter), no doubt picked up many new fans as he came out and did his thing. In constant movement, it’s hard to take your eyes off him for fear you’re going to miss something. The stylistic energy and mojo of Michael Jackson or James Brown are alive and well with him. With four stages going non stop for four days, there was plenty to take in.

Opening day had a bit of an Allman Brothers theme running through it with Gregg Allman as the closer, The Devon Allman Band playing a set just before Gregg’s, and an earlier set from original Allman alum, Jaimoe with his Jaimoe’s Jassez Band. For Gregg Allman, this was a “make up” date as he was forced to cancel his headlining spot last year due to health issues. This year, however, he and his band were in top form as they rambled through his extensive catalog with great style and grace. It was a classic and elegant closing for opening day at the festival.

Friday had a New Orleans theme running through it as Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band got a dance party going on their stage in the latter afternoon, followed by the great Allen Toussaint and closing out the day with Macy Gray, backed by New Orleans funksters, Galactic. Also, young blues artist, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram continued to establish himself as a rising force in the blues world with a well received set early in the day. The sixteen year old would later join Buddy Guy during his set on Sunday night.

Saturday was about the traditional 4th of July festivities, and would culminate with fireworks over the Willamette River. Some of the highlights of the day included Jarekus Singleton, Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas, Con Brio, Dave and Phil Alvin and a closing blues revue featuring all Portland based artists. The closing set of the evening featured Lisa Mann (bass & vocals), Andy Stokes (vocals) and LaRhonda Steele (vocals).

Sunday found a highly anticipated set from one of the living legends of the blues, Buddy Guy. At the age of 78, it was remarkable that both his vocals and guitar work remain razor sharp. He was in very good spirits, and musically remains at the top of his game. In addition to inviting young Christone “Kingish” Ingram to join him, another young artist (Buddy’s protégé), Quinn Sullivan also made a guest appearance during Guy’s set.

Prior to Buddy taking the stage, Quinn (also only 16 years old) had a set, backed by most of Buddy’s band and this was one of the major highlights of the four days. Quinn is a stunning guitarist and reached the crowd in a very big way. There’s no doubt that he has huge potential and we can expect to see his star rise in the world of blues and beyond. He seemingly has no limitations.

It was an unseasonably hot weekend over the 4th of July in Portland, with temperatures running in the nineties all four days. If the fans found it challenging, it must have been even more so for the performers. But in hindsight, it wasn’t that obvious. Even for the acts you would call “high energy”, they gave it their all onstage.


TheWaster.com | Portland