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Five days of blues is a commitment.

I signed to defend the blues by water.

The Waterfront Blues Festival has nice river seating. For boats.

The rest of us land locked fans see the blues flotilla as background, a tangled background combined with the Tillicum, Marquam, and Ross Island Bridges crossing their lines.

When the big boats throw a wake all of the masts swing like a chorus line.

A blues chorus line choreographed to the band in the film version.

Waterfront Blues Festival by land



The crowd is current and involved in the blues?

Even a Boss fan in a 1992 World tour t-shirt digs the sound. He knows Bruuuuce could do the blues better than they’ve ever been done.


Waterfront Blues Festival Smoking Lounge


Either Portland is laying off the weed, or blues people light up less.

Cigarettes were the puff of choice with a carpet of butts for proof.

At least they weren’t in the river?

How to navigate the Waterfront Blues Festival like a pro


Start with the right hat. The wrong hat ruins the whole feel of the blues.

Choose between Kentucky Derby, or pork pie, and park your car in the garage on SW Alder between 3rd and 4th Ave.

Why there? It’s a got a clear elevator. Park on 8 for a great view of the city going down.

Walk to the river wall entry, check in, and hike the western rim between the big stages to the southern side.

Have a nice lunch. The stage is to the right.

Boogie and dance and chair dance and woohoo and don’t forget the Zydeco dance lesson on the Back Porch Stage.

Take a blues break and walk the midway.

The bathrooms are under the bridge.

Waterfront Blues Festival tip: if you’re on a date, and you’re the guy, your date may need to use the women’s restroom.

Make the trek together, hoping you’re the only one racing the pee-clock.

The men’s room line? There isn’t one. Women’s room? About twenty deep.

Have your date walk behind you in tight step, like step for step, and walk into the men’s side, find a green tagged port-o-can, and wait for her outside the door.

If your date explains this trick to you, how she’ll close walk behind you in the men’s side to an empty outhouse, do what she says. She’s racing the same clock.

My wife explained the plan to me. We’re married over three decades and still new things. And it worked.


The national and world interest in Portland shows at public events.

The people come out and mix, all together for five days.

I’ve seen the same people day after day.

The balding older man with a curly ponytail and lifestyle goatee, the kind that takes special care.

On second thought, half the crowd looked like the same guy. But enough about me.

The huge haired lady dancing an interpretive blues tango until an old ponytail asked her to sit down.

Plates of fried catfish I’ve seen for three days without taking the bait. Yet.

The crowd shows Portland is a racially diverse city. At the Waterfront Blues Festival.

Portland is culturally advanced. At the Waterfront Blues Festival. Instinct must kick in when so many people eat and drink and snooze in public like Newport sea lions.

There’s not a better show all summer.


Things change fast here.

One moment it’s the blues in French with a sing along in French.

Then a harmonica symposium.

Around the next corner it’s summer at the beach, boats on the river, and the blues in a cold hard city.

That’s what I signed up for.


Where else in the world can you drop into so many worlds at once.

I’m adding something to the Oregon Food Bank, supporting the heck out of live music, and haven’t once noticed a twelve bar solo stretch into twenty four when it should have been six.

It’s every guitar hanging off every guitar player, from men farming the music in Robert Johnson suits to tank-topped lightning fast runs to a voice from Janis howling it out over the Willamette, past the Hawthorne, over Sauvie’s, crossing borders and genres and still holding together.

On day four it’s the holding together part that stands out.

About David Gillaspie


  1. […] When I find a topic for boomerpdx I tend to work it hard, like the Portland Blues Festival. […]

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