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.)

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