July 16, 2007

Portland Waterfront Blues Festival – Saturday

A little delayed in finishing this, as it’s more than a week ago, but I thought I’d finish up, even so. Saturday’s schedule was heavy with zydeco bands, especially on the stage with the dance floor. I can appreciate zydeco – and there were some good bands – but I sometimes tire of washboard polka, even with lyrics in French. There were plenty of other fans, though, and the dance floor was teeming with sweaty dancers. So, after a good sample of the beat, I spent most of the afternoon wandering the grounds and sampling the two larger stages, where there were other delights to be heard.

I got to hear the last part of Buddy Flett and The Bluebirds, who played excellent, electric blues, though I note from their Web site that their latest CD features acoustic work. They were rocking for this set and I want to hear more.

I’d not heard of Teresa James before that day, but I was glad I did hear her then. That woman can sing. She has a strong, earthy voice and can pull both the humor and the, well, the blues out of a song. Her band, the Rhythm Tramps, was an excellent support. Another find of the festival for me.

We took the street car into the Pearl district for a dinner at the Bridgeport Brewpub, where we met our friend’s son and had a nice dinner. We closed out the festival with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and, best of all, Mavis Staples and the Staples Singers. Whew! What she lacked in voice, she more than makes up for in soul. And, as she performed, she took the time to remind us of what life was like for so many of our citizens while this music, her music, was being developed. It was a fitting closing to a wonderful experience. Great friends, great site, great music.

July 7, 2007

Portland Waterfront Blues Festival - Friday

We spent the better part of the day at the Festival, under hot skies moderated by a good breeze. While we waited for the "Delta Music Experience" cruise to begin, we wandered the grounds. S signed up for green power and cruised the samples at the Kashi booth (this is Ecotopia, after all). The Front Porch stage was hosting an amazing little band, fronted by Gunnar Roads (is that his real name?), a boy who looked to be fourteen, singing and playing guitar. The harmonica player also did some singing, but the kid was the hook. He could use some seasoning (maybe even a voice change) for the singing, but he played a pretty good blues guitar. I later saw him on the workshop stage with several other guitar players, hopefully soaking up what he could of their experience.

I enjoyed the cruise, up and back on the Willamette, on board the Portland Spirit. There was more security here (MARSEC 1), I suppose because we were on a boat, different and less flexible regulations applying. Once on board, that little unpleasantness was quickly behind us and it was music (and three bars) and scenery for the rest of the afternoon. We started on the top deck, for the scenery mostly, where the band was the Dylan Thomas Vance Trio, an acoustic slide guitar, violin, and drummer band. They played a rootsy, Appalachian-flavored blues vigorously and with passion. Vance played guitar and sang in a fine, deep voice, while the violin player really made that bow work. I bet he changes a lot of bow strings. The drummer did all his work standing up, using a series of drums hanging from his shoulder. Very good.

I listened to Too Slim and the Taildraggers, with Henry Cooper, for the return journey. I'd heard of them for years, mostly on Seattle radio adds, so it was cool to finally hear them, and up close. Very good rockin' blues -- a tight little trio, with Too Slim singing and playing a mean slide guitar, and a bass player and drummer. Henry Cooper joined for half the set, singing and playing a more blues-flavored slide guitar, too. They more or less repeated that set later that evening in the park.

There were a lot of people dancing on the cruise, but none of them could keep up with what looked to be a ten year old boy -- team jersey, long baggy shorts, and blocks of shoes -- who bopped and bounced and shimmied for the whole set, amazing everyone. His parents seemed amazed themselves, though this can't have been his first experience dancing. Too Slim, who was playing right in front of the kid for the whole set, seemed amazed himself, and gave him a Taildraggers logo t-shirt at the end of the cruise.

That evening, aside from Too Slim and Henry Cooper's set, was dedicated to some names from the past. Savoy Brown, who's name I only vaguely remembered from the sixties, played a really excellent set, I thought. The front man, Kim Simmonds really seemed to link up with the crowd, told some insightful stories, and played in a way that suggested that he was still in it for the music, rather than after that past glory. He played both old, some of which were familiar, and new songs.

The night's closer for us (though the Festival continued) was Eric Burdon and the Animals. I had never really connected with his music back in my youth, but he and his excellent band put on a good show. My youthful experience with his music was not, apparently, shared by most of the people around me, as they enthusiastically cheered and sang along to several of the old favorites. One neighbor remarked that "I've got to get our of here" was the unofficial anthem of his high school class. I enjoyed it, more for another example of how one can have a long career in music if you stay with the music. (Old hits don't hurt, but you'd better keep them fresh.)

July 6, 2007

Portland Waterfront Blues Festival – Thursday Night

I remember two things about the last time I attended the Portland Waterfront Blues Festival, in the late eighties or thereabouts. The first was seeing the somewhat grand, old man of British blues, John Mayall and his band.

The second is that I first saw and heard an Andean band. They were playing in a margin of the festival, but had drawn quite a crowd, and I was transfixed. I loved the exotic sound, the mix of roots and new, and the cheerful energy of the music. Not so different, in some of those ways, from the blues. Musically, that is the real memory of my first Festival.

From that time, and for the next several years, bands of itinerant musicians with lutes and little guitars and black derbies could be seen all over the country. I wonder what happened to them.

Thursday night's highlight, for me, was seeing Joan Armatrading. I've always admired her song writing and singing and it was good to hear that her voice is as strong as ever. She plays a mean guitar, too. I had a cassette of Me, Myself, I that I wore out. Time to get a CD or two.

July 4, 2007

I Can't Improve on the Professor

From Howard Zinn, on Alternet (thanks to Rick on OlyBlog):
On this July 4, we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.

Is not nationalism -- that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder -- one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?

These ways of thinking -- cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on -- have been useful to those in power, and deadly for those out of power.