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Originally Published August 11, 2004
17th Annual Waterfront Blues Festival
Fourth of July Weekend
By Bob Gersztyn
Beginning at noon, on Friday, July 2, 2004, Portland, Oregon’s Waterfront Blues Festival, sponsored by Safeway for the benefit of the Oregon Food Bank, opened its gates. This year was the seventeenth for the second largest Blues festival in the nation. Admission was still only five dollars and two cans of food per person, which is a bargain that can’t be beat, especially with the escalating price of concert tickets. The festival raised over $350,000 for the Oregon Food Bank and 95,000 pounds of food, with over 100,000 people attending it over the four-day weekend. According to Terry Courrier, one of the annual festival’s organizers, this year festival concentrated on familiarizing the audience with lesser-known Blues artists, like James and Lucky Peterson, and Motor City Rhythm and Blues Pioneers.
Friday’s show was headlined by Keb’ Mo’, The Holmes Brothers, and 1960′s Blues/Rock pioneers Canned Heat. Keb’ Mo’ has come a long way from the time that I first saw him in 1998, when he opened up for Bonnie Raitt. After his involvement with Martin Scorsese’s Blues film series, his visibility has been augmented. The Holmes Brothers trio combined Gospel, Blues, Soul, Country, and Western into their own unique creation. They’ve performed and recorded with Peter Gabriel, Van Morrison, Willie Nelson. Odetta, and Joan Osbourne, among others. My last contact with Canned Heat reached back to 1970, at a Halloween concert at the Eastown Theater in Detroit, Michigan. At the time, Harvey Mandel had replaced founding member Henry “Sunflower” Vestine on guitar. Today, drummer Adolfo “Fito” de la Parra is the sole surviving founding member. Some concert attendees praised them for sounding as good as the legendary Canned Heat that once included Bob “The Bear” Hite, Allen “Blind Owl” Wilson, and Larry “The Mole” Taylor at Woodstock. Roy Book Binder was also up on Friday and his solo performance was one of the early highlights, along with local Bluesmen including, Terry Robb, Bill Rhodes, and Norman Sylvester.
Some of the highlights from Saturday included “Women of Blues,” featuring many of Portland’s local talent, including Sonny Ness, Lisa Man, Megan James, L.J. Porter, Brandy Hess, Lady Kat, and Janice Scroggins. The Mannish Boys featured Kid Ramos and Paris Slim on guitar, along with Mississippi John Dyer, Randy Chortkoff, “Mississippi” Johnny White, and a guest appearance by Lynwood Slim. Ramos and Paris Slim took turns delivering searing guitar rants, while Dyer and Lynwood Slim alternately accompanied them on the harp. One of my favorite acts was the father/son team of James and Lucky Peterson. Lucky had accompanied his father on keyboards, at the age of five, on the Willie Dixon-produced album, The Father, Son and the Blues. Lucky took the stage with his guitar and after fronting the band for a few songs introduced his father and moved over to the organ. Together they brought the audience to its collective feet and invoked the spirits of former protégé’s like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Sonny Landreth immediately followed on the alternate stage. His most recent collaboration was playing slide guitar with John Hiatt and the Goners. The Mississippi-born guitarist has worked with a variety of artists including Robben Ford, Mark Knopfler, Dolly Parton, and Junior Wells. His mastery of the slide guitar is a site to behold and his three-man power trio was reminiscent of Cream’s heyday. The final act of the night was Cyril Neville, who is the youngest of the four Neville Brothers. He combined Funk, Reggae, and R&B into a voodoo stew imported from deep in the heart of Crescent City. By the time he was half way into his set he had members of the Wild Tchoupitoulas, the famed black Mardi Gras Indians, joining him on stage.
Sunday’s shows included a Gospel summit, another lineup of the Mannish Boys, a Harmonica Blow-Off, and a tribute to Stax Records. The Paladins, from San Diego, rocked out with their Roots Rock, as they collaborated with the Texas Horns. Motor City Rhythm & Blues Pioneers, Joe Weaver, Stanley Mitchell,and Kenny Martin played their version of the Blues, Detroit style, where they first started recording for Fortune, and Deluxe back in the 1950s. After Lucky Peterson closed the music for the night, the fireworks began and concluded July fourth.
There were also a variety of different workshops regularly occurring, over the four days. Some of the workshops included Blues historian and photographer Dick Waterman, Howlin’ Wolf biographer and musician Mark Hoffman, and one by Blues entertainers James and Lucky Peterson. There was also a “Divas Workshop” with Angela Strehli, Tracy Nelson, and Ruthie Foster; a variety of guitar workshops, including Piedmont Guitar and Delta Blues Guitar; as well as workshops for Blues keyboard and harmonica for both kids and adults, and many others. One of the other features of the festival was the “Blues Cruise,” which took place on the Portland Spirit, which cruises the Willamette River with its passengers, who are made up of both the audience and performers. A variety of acts performed on the cruise this year, including Canned Heat, The Holmes Brothers, and Roy Book Binder.
Monday, July 5, was the final day and it featured a number of new acts including Canadian-born Anthony Gomes, who now lives in Memphis and was voted the “Artist of the Year 2004″ by the readers of BluesWax. His set sometimes bordered on a tongue-in-cheek old-time Gospel Hour, as he ran through a series of songs, including “Amazing Grace,” “I’m a Soldier In the Army of the Lord,” and a cut off his new album titled, “Darkness Before the Dawn.” Then there were the Strat Daddies, Texas Johnny Brown, and Hubert Sumlin with the Paul Delay Band, alternating between stages. Curtis Salgado took time out from his tour as the opening act for Steve Miller to play the main stage at the Blues festival again this year. Salgado is currently featured on the cover of our sister publication, Blues Revue.
My mind was completely blown by Monte Montgomery and his band. Montgomery is a native of Austin, Texas, and was named as one of the top fifty guitar players of all time by Guitar Player magazine. He pulled sounds out of his acoustic guitar that many couldn’t get out of a Stratocaster. The closing act of the night and of the entire festival, for the first time since 2000, was the phenomenal Jonny Lang. The first time I saw Lang perform was when he opened for the Rolling Stones during their “Bridges to Babylon” tour back in 1998. He was only sixteen at the time and sounded like a forty-year-old man who smoked three packs of cigarettes a day since he was ten. It’s still hard to believe that the voice comes from a twenty-three-year-old. The crowd enthusiastically enjoyed his closing set and by nine o’clock was leaving the park, while wondering who would be in next year’s lineup.
The Waterfront is one of the best festivals in the world and one that you should try to get on your schedule for next year.
By Bob Gersztyn
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