Monday, August 9, 2010

On The Waterfront – The 2010 Safeway Blues Festival

By Robert Horn

There was "The Mississippi Stage" and "The Louisiana Stage," but I saw Chicago, Portland, and Seattle area performers on each of the four stages of the 23rd Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival over the July 4th weekend. It happened in Portland, but it seemed to actually take place in heaven: due to the reverse culture shock I felt returning to earth. Years ago, a friend said that Waterfront is "how I would like to spend my whole life," and I can't disagree with her. Festival booker Peter Dammann looks like a genius when it is over: year after year, Peter and his behind the scenes team does a first class job selecting some of the world's best blues talent.
I was astounded by many I heard on day one. I thought I heard Etta James, but saw that it was Portland's own Lisa Mann. I loved hearing Bob Shoemaker, followed by Walter Trout, followed by Trombone Shorty, followed by Cedric Burnside and Lightning Malcolm, followed by John Mayhall, followed by Taj Mahal, etc... all within the first few hours. It got better over several more days.
I was fortunate this year to meet and talk with many performers. Stay tuned to these pages as I'll feature some of the conversations I had "On the Waterfront" with musicians like Kevin Selfe, Lloyd Jones, Rick Knapp of the Walter Trout Band, Chris Thomas King, and Jeff Herzog.

I talked to Kevin Selfe, and it was surreal. We talked onstage in the guest area while Alligator recording artist Michael Burks' band were in sound check. There were five drum beats in between each word Kevin said, and a guitar riff would punctuate - or dominate - our conversation.

Playing The Game"I was a late bloomer in terms of music," said Kevin,. "I didn't start getting interested in music until I was about 16. My dad got me my first guitar when I was 18. It was a cheap junker like one every dad should get his kid just to see if they really liked playing it after trying it a while."

I was listening to AC/DC with Angus Young on guitar, "he continued in between the drum beats. "They did a rendition of 'Baby Please Don't Go' and I wondered who wrote that song because I knew that they didn't. I researched it and it lead to Big Joe Williams and the blues. Then, when I was in college, my roommate who was a bass player and listened to all kinds of music pulled out Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, ...and when I heard 'Smokestack Lightning' a light went on in my head. That was it for me."

Kevin described his first band. "I was coaching high school football after college and some guys who were about 16 years old formed a band. They got in a little over their heads. They booked a gig at a bar. They played songs like those of Pearl Jam. The band entered a contest, and one of the prizes was studio time. They won. Then, a local blues band heard me on guitar, and they were looking for a guitar player. I auditioned and got the gig. I was 22 and opened for The Fabulous Thunderbirds before 10,000 people. It was the first time I met Jimmy Vaughn."

2 Man Wrecking CrewIt was a pleasure to hear and see Cedric Burnside and Lightning Malcolm perform this year. The two of them seem to carry the spirit of Cedric's grandfather, R.L. Burnside. Cedric received the Handy statuette for Blues Drummer at this year's Blues Music Awards, and last year, their Delta Groove Debut, 2 Man Wrecking Crew received the Best New Artist Debut Blues Music Award. On the Waterfront, these guys were indeed a two-man wrecking crew on guitar and drums.

ChikadelicOn day two, I attended a workshop led by Chris Thomas King. I knew of Chris' considerable achievements: he's sold over 10 million records, and received a Grammy and a Country Music Award for his contributions to the score of the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? I have always heard of some rare people who could walk into a room and their presence would be felt; almost overwhelming. Chris Thomas King is like that. He wore what I saw him wear on the screen when he played bluesman Tommy Johnson. He was still and calm, but took over the space around him. I thought he was a combination of Robert Johnson and Buddha, and it was a treat hear him play some Robert Johnson.

Later that day, I caught great sets from Super Chikan, Booker T., Bobby Rush, Paul Cebar, Jim Mesi, Janiva Magness, the Norton Buffalo Band, and Commander Cody. The Slide Guitar Showcase that included Henry Cooper was exceptional.

Thanks to Tim and Michelle Burge, I had the opportunity to talk with Chris Thomas King. He isn't a tall guy, but he is a giant. He was polite, but he also seemed to be analyzing me as much as I was analyzing him. I saw the wheels turning in his head and they were big fast wheels underneath a completely calm face and body.

I asked when he first played the blues guitar.

"Nobody has ever asked me that question before," he said. His dad and his family were all great performers and he was a prodigy. "I was never forced to play blues, I came to it later. Parents should not force kids to play blues. I think they should encourage a respect for the arts, and a lot of different genres. The arts are a lot of what makes life worth living. Some parents may try to force their kids to play blues, and I can't understand people like that."

Later that night, Curtis Salgado and Lloyd Jones were on stage together and the audience went crazy. Up until then volunteers had control of the crowd, but there was no way to control such a force of nature that is unleashed by Curtis and Lloyd together. They sounded great, and the next morning, The Oregon Music News reported that "Curtis Salgado either sounds a hell of a lot better live than on record or he had a very big set Sunday night."

Our mutual friend Rose Allen introduced me to Lloyd later, and he talked about how performers don't always know how they sound to the audience, and may not even know if the microphone is on unless someone tells them. I assured him sounded fine. At one point, I mentioned the Healing Power of Blues Project. He said "I am glad you mentioned that, the healing power of blues, because that's why I do this."

Still The RainI'd be remiss if I didn't mention the great sets from Karen Lovely, Bill Rhodes, David Vest, Son Jack Jr and Michael Wild, Paris Slim, Gary Farmer, The Twisters, Cyril Neville, Duffy Bishop, Kolvane, Little Feat, Kim Field, Nicole Fournier, Terry Robb, and hundreds of others.

As the music wound down on Monday, I caught up with Cascade Blues Association President Greg Johnson. I thought it first, but he said it first.

"I don't want it to end," said Greg

I agreed. Living life at the 2010 Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival for eternity is my idea of heaven.

1 comment:

  1. It was an awesome festival, the best one so far in my opinion!