Last year, I had the great honor of covering the Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival alongside a friend. She needed a photographer, I needed to experience Portland in a blues frenzy. She got what she needed, and I got what I'd come for. Not only is this the largest blues festival west of the Mississippi (and how many other festivals are as big as this one with 100,000+ people in attendance each day for FOUR DAYS in a row?) and second largest festival in the nation, but it benefits the Oregon Food Bank.
Last year, the festival broke all records, taking in over $650,000 and 100,662 pounds of food. Pretty amazing, isn't it?
The way the festival works is that a daily donation of $10 and two cans of food to benefit the Oregon Food Bank are all you need for admission. Once inside the gates, there are a host of options available to you. There are clothing and art vendors, food vendors (really, really good food available all over the park) with one of my favorites being Safeway's Rancher's Reserve steak, and another favorite being Dave's Killer Bread (especially the Rockin' Rye), so I fully anticipate their return as well as mine. We can't forget the music, but we'll get there soon enough.
The main section of the park is devoted to the two main stages right on the river, and a third, smaller stage (workshops/more intimate performances) behind some carefully arranged trailers and vendors. There's a lot of action to be found in this area and you don't have to wander far to find anything you could possibly need. However, if you do choose to wander afield a bit, you head toward the bridge and underneath you find a few more vendors, clean portapotties, and the entrance to Wonderland. Okay, so many it's just the fourth stage, booths for the Delta Music Experience, a blues society, and some artists...one or two musical artists playing between sets and then actual paint and other medium artists. Always something fascinating going on there!
The fourth stage is billed mostly as the zydeco stage, but you can find plenty of blues happening there throughout the day as well. That's where I first caught Karen Lovely last year, Robbie Laws, Lady A (I believe that was her name), Duffy Bishop, and Terry Robb, along with John-Alex Mason. Additionally, I met the great folks from United By Music back in this less-crowded area. It's the perfect place to sneak off to for a bite to eat at a picnic table and perhaps to rest your ears a bit. Don't get me wrong, I can handle music all day and night, but there does come a time when you need to cut off the music just so you can adjust to the sensory overload that such a big festival produces. With so much to see, hear, and do, it does get a little overwhelming in the most pleasant way possible. I just happen to find decompressing for 10-15 minutes twice a day to be a good thing.
Also very near this section of the park is the walkway down to the boat where, for a few extra bucks, you can jump on board for a river cruise with some fantastic bands! Last year, I went the first night and got to hear Lucky Peterson, Michael Burks, and Moreland & Arbuckle. It was a lot of fun. Of course, being on the cruise that night, I missed the all-star jam at the Marriott or the other jam over at the H50 Bistro (at Hotel 50) (both jams are add-ons that aren't too expensive when you buy a Buddy Pass for $75 and that covers you for all the nights). For the next couple days, there are also daytime cruises to be had, although, you risk missing out on some great bands on stage! Oh well, you pick the artists you most want to see and jump in wherever you can.
Now, for the photographer/reporter covering the event, you start planning for the next year...oh...around five minutes after you leave the festival. Of course, being the solid photog/reporter that I am, I did being making plans right away and uh. the packing, well, it's taking a bit longer. I have four days to get everything together, really THREE, but I can do it. I've been good about keeping batteries charged, lenses cleaned, cards clear -- despite shooting heavily the past few weeks -- and generally trying to stay on top of laundry so I can pack in a hurry. However, I have no idea what the weather will entail. Coming from Las Vegas, where it's only about 5 gazillion degrees (in the shade -- by law, we have to say that to make it sound super hot and keep tourists indoors gambling away), and Portland, Oregon is slightly cooler. Last year, it rained a bit the first day. Okey dokey, I created a makeshift raincoat for my camera out of a shower curtain and rubberbands. I happen to have an ample supply of both leftover so those are coming with me. Do I take one or two pairs of jeans? Do I take two or three pairs of crop pants? See? These are the things a girl worries about. I'm likely overpacking, but I don't want to worry my host with laundry just so I don't stink up the car as we head over each morning. I try to be a good guest. I really do. I also try to limit myself to one well-packed suitcase that I'll check and my camera/computer bag that stays with me, and one other carry-on for emergency essentials, like light yoga pants, t-shirt, sweatshirt, socks, underwear, and basic toiletries. That way, I'm covered if my luggage is delayed. It's the smartest way I can think of to travel when you have heavy gear and a bad back.
Once I'm in town, this year, I'm going to have a couple days lead so I can explore the city a little more. I've been there before to visit friends, but finding all the best music hot spots is better left to musicians and those who love hanging out with musicians and who happen to be local. I'll have plenty of those with me this time.
So, who's playing this year? I'm glad you asked. Here's a list of artists scheduled to perform at the Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival:
It's a pretty good lineup if you ask me. I've been fortunate enough to see many of the performers and I look forward to seeing them again. Others, like Buddy Guy, Lucinda Williams, Maceo Parker, Chubby Carrier, and many more, they've been on my must-see list for so long, it's as though God Himself blessed me with such a list!
I would like to give a little shout out to Nathan James, whom I've known for several years, and who I watched head off to Memphis with Ben Hernandez as they represented Blues Lovers United of San Diego at IBC (and won). Nathan will be playing a solo set and with James Harman. Either way, he'll be putting on a fabulous show...he always does. There's a fairly large San Diego contingent that attends the Waterfront Blues Festival, so I know I won't be alone cheering him on!
That said, I'm keeping my mind and ears, not to mention the shutter on the camera, open for all the excitement that happens July 1-4, 2011, in Portland, OR. I promise to do my best to send photos and short reports back to our big boss here, and wow, I may have to have him hookup my Twitter feed for quick updates as I run around. I was hoping I'd be taking a small digital video recorder with me for short interviews this time, but I don't think that's going to happen. If it does, you'll be amongst the first to know.
I hope this has given you a bit of a look into my horribly chaotic mind as I prepare for an incredible trip. And I also hope this gives you an idea of possibly joining me in Portland next year!
Any suggestions of places I may want to see while I'm in Portland? We got comments here, so fire away!