Annual Waterfront Blues Festival taps into big night with Robert Plant, Taj Mahal and Mavis Staples out in front

by: COURTESY OF JOE CANTRELL/WATERFRONT BLUES FESTIVAL - The premier blues festival west of the Mississippi River hits the Willamette River waterfront July 4 to 7. The four-day, $60 pass is the best way to gain admission, and re-admission. See the guy who sang about “moving through Kashmir” to a singer named for the most famous mausoleum in India, this year’s Waterfront Blues Festival boasts one of the more intriguing lineups of the storied annual event.

July 7, dubbed “Sensational Sunday,” features Robert Plant, former Led Zeppelin singer-harmonica player, who will close out the festival at 7:30 p.m., with his latest band The Sensational Space Shifters.

Meanwhile, other blues, rock, zydeco, swing, funk and folk luminaries performing that day include country bluesman Taj Mahal, at 4 p.m., and gospel-soul queen Mavis Staples, at 5:20 p.m.

Admission to the July 4, 5 and 6 concerts costs $10 each day and two cans of food, to be donated to the Oregon Food Bank. Unlike in previous years, you’ll need a $50 pass for the July 7 shows. If you buy the $60 four-day pass, you’re fine. Passes give you priority re-admission as well.

The festival also features musical workshops for guitarists, harmonica players and rub-boarders. You can find out more information at

Here’s the day-by-day lowdown on the premier blues festival west of the Mississippi River; in next week’s Tribune, some of the performers will share their stories with our readers:

Thursday, July 4: Highlights of the day include the Journey to Memphis Finals on The Oregonian Front Porch Stage, featuring several area acts competing for a chance to represent the Cascade Blues Association at the International Blues Challenge in Tennessee next January.

Performers include Lisa Mann & Her Really Good Band, Tevis Hodge Jr., The Ben Rice Band and The Mojoblasters. You also can check out last year’s winner, Franco Paletta & The Stingers, at 4:15 p.m., as well as last year’s Solo/Duo winner, the Muddy Sons, at 3:15 p.m., and the 2011 Solo/Duo winner Ray Bonneville at 5:15 p.m.

Other highlights include the Bill Rhoades Harmonica Blow-off, featuring several area masters of the Mississippi saxophone at 6:15 p.m. on the Back Porch Stage, as well as the March Fourth Marching Band playing the Miller Stage at 9 p.m., right before the fireworks.

Big shot: Joe Louis Walker plays the First Tech Blues Stage at 4:15 p.m. The fiery guitarist has jammed with John Lee Hooker, Thelonius Monk, the Soul Stirrers, Steve Miller and Jimi Hendrix. Walker recently was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame and is one of the hardest-working performers out there right now.

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: KEVIN HARDEN - A couple of youngsters dance at the front porch stage at a recent Waterfront Blues Festival. Thousands of folks will gather for the popular event, July 4 to 7.Friday, July 5: Highlights include: Rae Gordon, named Cascade Blues Association’s Best Female Vocalist in 2011, singing with her Big Band on the Miller Stage at 4:15 p.m.; multi-instrumentalist Blind Boy Paxton, a relative of Mr. Crossroads himself, Robert Johnson, and a purveyor of old-timey country blues, who plays the front porch stage at 1:15 p.m; and WORTH, the experimental project of Portland’s Christopher Worth, who incorporates folk, rock, blues and soul into his “bohemian blues hop.”

Big shot: Eric Burdon, famed lead singer of The Animals and War, takes the Miller Stage at 9 p.m.

Saturday, July 6: Zydeco lovers can get their fill at the Front Porch Stage from noon to 11 p.m., when a variety of groups get folks to eat-a-beat. Performers include The Pine Leaf Boys, Lil’ Wayne and Same Ol’ Two-Step, and Horace Trahan and Ossun Express.

You also can check out: North Carolina soul singer Nikki Hill at 6 p.m., on the First Tech stage; Scottish singer-songwriter Sandi Thom at 6:45 p.m., on the FedEx Crossroads Stage; and Arthur Moore’s Harmonica Hoedown at 8:45 p.m., on the Crossroads Stage.

Big shots: Three-time Grammy nominees the country-blues North Mississippi All-Stars play the Miller Stage at 6:45 p.m., followed by John Hiatt, the hitman behind the hitmakers, having penned songs made famous by Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville. Oh yeah, he plays guitar pretty good, too, and you can hear him at 8:45 p.m.

Sunday, July 7: As we noted before, Sunday is when Mahal, Maples and Plant hit the stage, but there’s a lot of other cool stuff going on that day, including former Portland resident Cooper, who now calls Nashville home. The upbeat rock ‘n’ soul singer — a former Miss Multnomah County (2008) — performs on the Miller Stage at 1:30 p.m.

Other performers not to miss that day include: Grammy nominee John Primer, a singer and slide guitarist who’s been a sideman with Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters and Magic Slim, and who plays the First Tech Stage at 12:45 p.m., as well as the Front Porch Stage at 6:30 p.m; and the return to Portland of pianist David Vest, formerly of the Paul deLay Band, who takes the Crossroads Stage at 1:30 p.m.

Elsewhere around town:

• The Decemberists’ John Moen will mark the release of his second solo album “Revise Your Maps,” with a show at 9:30 p.m., Friday, June 28, in the White Eagle Saloon, 836 N. Russell St. Recording under the moniker Perhapst, the tenor vocalist has released a somewhat dreamy pop-rock record, very well produced, and dang if Moen doesn’t sound like George Harrison at times. $8. Info: 503-282-6810,

• Speaking of the blues, a bevy of belles are getting together to pay tribute to the late great Etta James. “Tell Mama! A Tribute to Etta James” will feature the DK Stewart Band with Duffy Bishop, Lisa Mann, Lady Kat, LaRhonda Steele and Rae Gordon in two shows, 7:30 and 10 p.m., Saturday, June 29, at Jimmy Mak’s, 221 NW. 10th Ave. $12 for guaranteed seating, $10 for general admission. Info: 503- 295-6542,

• Portland’s The Welfare State split the scene in 2011, but are getting back together for a show with DJ Noah Fence. If you never heard The Welfare State, they wrote literate rock songs with elements of New Wave, punk, jangle rock, you know, all the good underground stuff, all with an alternative edge, sort of intelligent guitar-friendly rock ‘n’ roll for older folks who would still rather go out on a Saturday night than sit around and complain about there being nothin’ on the radio. The free show kicks off at 9 p.m. Sunday, June 30, at The Matador, 1967 W. Burnside St. Info: 503-222-5822, www.thematador

Contract Publishing

Go to top
Template by JoomlaShine