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Nothin but the blues

Local blues fans got no place else to go as annual festival fills stage with hot acts
by: COURTESY OF VALERIE K. DAVIS, Weather permitting, the Waterfront Blues Festival takes place in a picturesque setting along with the Willamette River with Mount Hood in the background.

Maybe the skies will brighten and the Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival won't be troubled by rain. That would make the feel-good event on the banks of the Willamette River with Mount Hood shimmering in the distance feel even better.

The 23rd annual blues festival, July 2 to 5 at Tom McCall Waterfront Park, benefits the Oregon Food Bank. It serves as one of best bargains for good blues anywhere. Just a $10 donation and two cans of food get you in, and organizers believe the 2010 lineup of acts ranks as one of the best ever.

A crowd of about 100,000 is expected for the four-day blast of music, food and dance.

There'll be more than 150 performances. The schedule of headliners:

• July 2, 3 to 10 p.m.: Taj Mahal, John Mayall with the Bluesbreakers, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, Walter Trout, Moreland and Arbuckle, porterdavis.

• July 3, noon to 10 p.m.: Booker T., Bobby Rush, Michael Burks Band with Lucky Peterson, Cedric Burnside and Lightnin' Malcom, Super Chikan and the Fighting Cocks, Paul Cebar, Northwest Women in Rhythm and Blues, Zydeco Swamp Romp with Curley Taylor, Donna Angelle, Andre Thierry, Corey Ledet.

• July 4, noon to 10 p.m.: Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen, Curtis Salgado, Janiva Magness, Mingo Fishtrap, Norton Buffalo's Knockouts, Kara Grainger, Sultan's of Slide, Harmonica Blow-off. And, fireworks light up the night sky.

• July 5, noon to 9 p.m.: Galactic with Cyril Neville, Little Feat, JJ Grey and Mofro, Chris Thomas King, Baskery.

Each day, the Downtown Marriott will continue the festivities with live blues until 1:30 a.m.

It's a great cause, admission going to the Oregon Food Bank, given the state of economy and more people out of work. 'The need for emergency food remains at alarmingly high levels,' says Rachel Bristol, Oregon Food Bank chief executive officer. 'The magic of this festival is that it brings people together from throughout the world and from all walks of life to not only enjoy great music but also to create hope for people in need.'

Passes and tickets are also available in advance for the festival. A Blues Buddy pass goes for $75. For all information, go to www.waterfrontbluesfest.com.

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Taj Mahal and John Mayall are two headliners back for another show, but the Waterfront Blues Festival has a markedly younger, local appeal.

The Ty Curtis Band from Salem has really been turning heads. Barely out of high school, Ty Curtis and his band finished second in last year's International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn.

Since then, the band has played major festivals throughout the Northwest and beyond, including the Montreal Jazz Fest and the Virgin Islands Blues Fest.

'They're really great,' says Peter Dammann, blues fest talent coordinator. 'It's probably the best young blues act to come out of the Northwest in a generation.

'The harmonica player (Hank Shreve), he's as good as anybody out there. Ty Curtis is the guitar player and songwriter, and he's great. They're getting out there and getting heard.'

Mac Potts, also fresh from high school in Kalama, Wash., is a young piano and saxophone player, who also happens to be blind.

'Very gifted,' Dammann says. 'He's been playing the blues festival for several years in various context. The last three or four years he's gone to New Orleans for the Jazz Fest and made lots of acquaintances. He now gets to sit in with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Harry Connick, Jr., and the guys with Galactic know him.

'I'm not sure there's another musician from the Northwest who has played as many gigs in New Orleans. When I was at the Jazz Fest in May, Mac was playing two or three gigs a day.'

Two other regional acts at the Waterfront Blues Festival are Sultans of Slide with Monti Amundson, Henry Cooper and Franck Goldwasser and Northwest Women in Rhythm and Blues with specials guests Tahoe Jackson and Nicole Fournier.

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Salgado, the preeminent blues artist from Portland who has been in all but one Waterfront Blues Festival, has been teaming again with guitarist Lloyd Jones. The two had played together in an old band called In Yo' Face.

'I heard him about four months ago,' Dammann says. '(Salgado, Jones) have this great chemistry. To me, it's the best Curtis and his band have sounded.'

Salgado won the Soul Blues Artist of the Year at the national Blues Music Awards this year.

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Fresh off a planned appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, Trombone Shorty will be appearing again at the blues fest. He's a phenom from New Orleans, who used to be a street musician. Dammann remembers standing on the street in New Orleans listening to then-12-year-old Shorty, mesmerized as the kid played Bach and Coltrane's 'Giant Steps.'

Shorty has since played with Lenny Kravitz and U2 - heck, he played with Bo Diddley at age 5.

'People in the know were already calling him one of the best in the world,' Dammann says. 'He's getting a lot of attention right now.'

He's 24, and also known as Troy Andrews.

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Dammann likes the lineup.

'There's a lot of diversity and strong representation from lots of different sub-genres,' he says.

Super Chikan is something to behold. He builds his own guitars from spare mechanical parts. 'There's nothing like him out there,' Dammann adds.

The Waterfront Blues Festival continues to attract high-level artists, although 'there are some acts out of our range, like B.B. King and Bonnie Raitt - they would take half of our budget,' Dammann says.

He adds: 'We do really well with the level (of artists) just below that.'

Given good weather, he says, the setting alone puts the Waterfront Blues Festival among the premiere events in the country.

'It's such a spectacular place,' Dammann says. 'There's an easy vibe to it, it's laid-back, not a corporate sort of vibe. People really respond to that.'