Fourth of July festivities began at this year’s Safeway Waterfront Blues Fest on Tuesday, July 4 at around 11 a.m. in celebration of the annual concert’s 30 years of service helping Portland’s hunger-affected communities.
The festival itself began in 1987 thanks to the Cascade Blues Association as the Rose City Blues Festival. The CBA publishes a monthly news print called Blues Note and meets regularly to ensure that Portland “keeps the blues alive.”
Wendy Shumer is the current CBA vice president, and the Vanguard spoke to her at the CBA Blues Fest merchandise booth where she and Bonita Davis, CBA volunteer, were raising money for the organization selling raffle tickets.
Every year the CBA raffles off a guitar that is normally signed by the current year’s performing lineup. This year’s prize was a white Squire Fender electric guitar that had been signed by numerous Blues Fest performers not only this year, but also years before.
“This is a special guitar because it has a unique story,” Shumer said, who went on to explain how the guitar was originally raffled off two years ago and won by a local doctor. The winning doctor, however, was also administrating chemotherapy to a CBA member, and in support of the CBA, he donated the guitar back to raise more money again.
Mike Todd was the CBA vice president 20 years ago and soon approached the booth to purchase his own raffle tickets in hopes of winning. Todd spoke enthusiastically about an acoustic guitar piece he won in the past that had been signed in 1992 and 1993.
“He [Todd] buys tickets every year,” Davis said. “People who win like to hang these [guitars] up on their wall at home.”
Another featured Blues Fest merchandise booth was selling framed prints of annual BF concert posters that regular attending guests purchase as collector’s items. The framed prints were tagged anywhere between $30–50.
One of the more expensive items displayed was a framed concert print created in honor of the 100th birthday of blues icon Robert Johnson. The print featured an illustrated Van Gogh-inspired portrait of Johnson playing the guitar while the devil lurks over his shoulder.
Johnson is known for the Faustian folk myth that claims he sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads in Mississippi, which can be attributed in part to his famous tracks “Crossroad Blues” and “Me and the Devil Blues.”
Johnson was born on May 8, 1911 in Hazlehurst, Mississippi and began recording his blues music in 1936, which is long before Elvis Presley began playing music and allegedly created “rock ‘n’ roll.”
Not only did Johnson begin the road to American rock music, but he is also one of the first members of the “27 Club,” which unfortunately allots membership to rock ‘n’ roll figures who die at the age of 27.
Johnson is one of the many blues legends who are celebrated every year at the Blues Fest through song covers, music memorabilia, and artistic merchandise.
Los Angeles natives Canned Heat took to the First Tech Credit Union Blues Stage at around 6 p.m. while intermittently announcing sentiments for political and environmental activism. “We must save the planet,” announced Dale Spalding, Heat’s lead singer and guitarist. “We need to save the animals! And the people too!”
Canned Heat has been performing blues music since 1966 and has performed at many notable events including Woodstock. The band’s lineup for Tuesday’s performance included Spalding, Larry “The Mole” Taylor on bass and vocals, and John “JP” Paulus on the guitar. Regular guitarist, Harvey “The Snake” Mandel was unable to perform due to serious health issues.
Despite the bad news of Harvey’s absence, the band continued on with show while crooning out the bluesy lyrics, “Cryin’ wont help you” before beginning the next song of “Rollin’ and Tumblin.’”
“That’s the fact of life y’all,” Spalding said. “That’s the blues.”
Duffy Bishop Band performed next at 8 p.m. to a large crowd with the bright waxing moon rising above the waterfront with the cloudless, blue sky behind.
Duffy Bishop, the band’s lead singer, began the first song while sitting on the FTCU Blues Stage, bare feet dangling and singing a slow, danceable melody nostalgic of the legendary blues singer Janis Joplin. Mothers could be seen swaying and dancing with their children around to the slow tempo in circular rounds.
Bishop and her husband Chris began performing as a band in 1991 and have performed at Blues Fest many times since moving to Portland in 1994. The CBA awarded Duffy with the “Female Singer of the Year,” which was later renamed the “Duffy Bishop Award.”