Broken Arrow Review of Waterfront Blues Festival

2 Sep



Broken Arrow was the only music magazine that I was still working with and it just went on Sabbatical for a year, so the last article that I wrote for it probably won’t get published. Therefore, I will publish it on my blog and here it is Courtesy of Broken Arrow.

The Portland, Oregon Waterfront Blues Festival took place for the 27th year over the July 4th weekend on the West Coast of the U.S.A.. The festival featured over 100 different acts, that raised over 1 million dollars for the Oregon Food Bank. It’s the largest blues festival West of the Mississippi and it lasted for 4 days beginning on Thursday, July 3 and ending on Sunday, July 6, 2014. The festival features acoustic blues, electric blues, gospel, R&B, funk, Zydeco, and a variety of headline acts that may not be in the blues genre, but whose output consists of the blues both in content and influence.

When Dylan made the public transition of folk, from acoustic to electric at the Newport Folk festival in 1965, he was backed up by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, one of the first American Babyboomer blues bands to hit the scene. The Newport festival regularly featured some of the seminal blues artists that established the genre like Sleepy John Estes, Skip James and Mississippi John Hurt, right alongside Dylan, Joan Baez and Pete Seeger.

When electric folk rock hit the airwaves it exploded in a dozen different directions with the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield spearheading a couple of them that later morphed into Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, along with Poco and a solo Neil Young. Like Jimi Hendrix, Young came from an R&B background with a folk influence, especially through Dylan’s mid 60’s output. Blues is one of the oldest genres of American pop musicSo it is seemed logical to check out the biggest Blues Festival West of the Mississippi and enjoy some of the acts that had evolved out of the same influences.

Los Lonely Boys and Los Lobos played on Wednesday night both separately and together creating a total guitar assault on everyone attending the festival. Los Lonely Boys is a family band made up of 3 siblings, that includes Henry Garza lead guitarist extraordinaire as well as lead singer, Jojo Garza on bass and Ringo Garza on drums. They learned their chops by playing with their dad as his backup band, for the same reason that Pops Staple formed his children into the Staple Singers. Both had problems with undependable band members so they replaced them with their own children. The last band of the first night that closed the festival that night was Los Lobos. As usual they were tight and hot, although David Hidalgo was absent because of surgery for a hernia, so Cesar Rosas and Louie Perez recruited Henry Garza to fill in for the absence for much of the set.

The artists from the other days of the festival were comprised of everyone from Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen to Maceo Parker and Charlie Musselwhite. One of the big treats as well as the biggest disappointment came on Sunday, when Joan Osborne and Boz Skaggs played. The disappointment came from Greg Almanns cancellation because of a medical condition. The afternoon was ablaze with everything from Louisiana Zydeco to Gospel from the deep South in the form of the Holmes Brothers, who began their set with β€œAmazing Grace.” After they performed a few songs alone, co-headliner, Joan Osborne came out in a flaming red dress and wowed the crowd with her amazing voice, as she became part of the band, whose last album she produced, as well as performing her own material with them backing her. One of the highlights of the set was when Osborne sang β€œOne of Us,” her 1996 Billboard top 10 hit, with only a keyboardist accompanying her.

Since I was covering the festival for Broken Arrow, I looked for a connection with Neil Young through every artist that I saw. I figured that someone would eventually do a blues or R&B version of β€œKeep On Rockin’ In the Free World” or β€œDown By The River,” but it never happened. By the time that Boz Skaggs took the stage early Sunday evening, I gave up hope, when suddenly I saw an apparition standing before me that told me not to loose heart. Boz Skaggs did all his radio hits from β€œLido” to β€œBrother Can You Lend Me A Dime,” but I kept seeing Neil Young performing them. Sure it was an optical illusion that was exacerbated by my desire, but what about the photos that I was taking. The final straw came when Boz put on a Panama hat to shade his sunglass covered eyes from the blinding sun setting in the West sky directly in front of the stage. Skaggs looked like Young on the poster for Jonathan Demme’s documentary β€œHeart of Gold.” Maybe next year Peter Damman, the festival music coordinator will invite Neil to perform as the Sunday night headliner.


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