Portland has long been a birthing place for new and exciting musical talent. From the Kingsmen and their garage rock anthem “Louie, Louie” to grunge rockers Everclear to Grammy winners Esperenza Spalding and the late Elliot Smith; Portland, Oregon is home to some fine musicians. This is evidenced, in part, by the annual Waterfront Blues Festival.
Every Fourth of July weekend since 1987 (when the festival was called the Rose City Blues Festival and put on to raise money for the homeless), Portland, Oregon’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park is populated by local and national blues and rock acts and their devoted fans. That first festival was headlined by the likes of Curtis Salgado and John Lee Hooker. The following year, the festival raised money for the Oregon Food Bank where it brought in over seven thousand dollars and almost seven hundred pounds of food. It became Waterfront Blues Festival in 1991, and has remained a mainstay of Downtown Portland’s summer schedule ever since. In the process, it has raised more than seven million dollars for the Oregon Food Bank.
Our kids aren’t big into blues, but, my wife and I love to come down here every year with some friends. We hire a sitter and then hop the MAX, which drops us off right in front of the festival. The festival isn’t cheap, but, for quality entertainment and a good cause, I’m more than willing to shell out some hard earned cash.
We enter the festival and are greeted by our friends and the sweet, sweet tones of a blues jam band. I begin to bob my head and tap my foot as we weave through the festival and visit the beer garden. On our way, we walk by the art of Gary Houston, which dots the entire festival. Houston has been doing the art at the festival since 2001 and he provides continuity to an otherwise ever changing musical landscape.
As we drink our brews, I take in the killer sounds of some of the best blues musicians in the world. It’s no wonder this festival has won so many awards and accolades. London based Essential Travel Magazine listed the Waterfront Blues Festival as one of the top ten festivals in the United States. It’s also won the Keeping Blues Alive Award and the Oregon Festivals & Events Association as Oregon’s Best Festival, Civic Celebration or Community Event.
As we walk the grounds and soak in the music, we visit with local artisans, eat some fantastic local cuisine and marvel at the gorgeous surroundings. The fact that some of the world’s best musicians—blues or otherwise—make this a yearly destination is truly humbling, and a testament to the greatness of this city. We’re pleased to live in a city with so many fantastic events so close to home.