Bishop Takes Night: Check!

July 4, 2017 at 11:59 am (Cosmic Encounters, Waxing Nostalgic)

Portland Waterfront Blues Festival

I am a Portlander through and through. Though I was raised in Sandy, Oregon I was born in Portland, and the minute I was allowed to ride the bus by myself I was all over the city, investigating, pretending to be a cop or a criminal or wherever my imagination (and TriMet) would take me. Much like these days, I’d rather be out walking around, soaking up atmosphere and enjoying my weird city.

Back then, there was a thing called Neighborfair. It was an end-of-summer day-long concert, and a good reason to load up on cheap wine and head for the park. When I heard there was going to be a blues festival?

I was down there waiting when the opening act took the stage.

I may be wrong, but I remember Terry Robb being the opening act. Long known around town for his blistering blues guitar, he was the perfect fishhook. He’d opened for Foghat when we sat front row-center. Like most all-day festivals, I ducked out well before the final act, John Lee Hooker. If I had been more blues knowledgeable I’d not have missed him.

I attended a lot over the years, especially when it was free. Two cans of food will get you in? Here homeless, eat some cubed carrots and tomato soup. I’m gonna see Ellen Whyte and Reflex Blue!

Of course it got popular, and unless you showed up at dawn with blankets and chairs and three friends there’s no way you could hold a primo seat all day. Adding to that, most of my friends being fans of either the heavy metal or soda pop music genres, and the blues were meant to be experienced alone.

Until thatgirl came along. She and her daughter took me about ten years ago, and that was the last time I went. Since then I’ve been working the stores just up the way, selling beer, water and cigarettes to the unsuspecting soon-to-be-poorer folks from Gresham, Beaverton and the other suburbs.

I’ve missed a few that I wish I’d gone to, but the only two that REALLY make me wish I’d gone were Buddy Guy and Isaac Hayes. To hear the Theme from Shaft performed live at Waterfront Park? That would be a soundtrack-of-your-life moment. Work be damned, I tried getting close. You couldn’t get within five blocks of Waterfront Park. That cat Shaft *is* a bad mother.

So, when I got a promotional email offering a 5-day pass with unlimited coming and going, I moved some money around and bought a week’s worth of entertainment. Imma be a bluesman!

For $40 I could have sat in the rafters and watched Roger Waters perform Pink Floyd songs, but I went for the long-term investment. If nothing else, the girl-watching would be premium!

I went down the list of performers, two or three stood out. I’d seen Booker T & the MGs, and he/they always sound great live. Cedric Burnside, grandson of RL Burnside, was also on the roster, but he was playing Saturday afternoon. No way I can finagle around that one. But-

Elvin Bishop is playing the main stage just as I get lunch! It’s like the gods are on my side…

I bought my ticket online, printed it at the library, and secured my wristband before work. All set. It was payday, so I deposited my check into the ATM, took a couple big pulls on my smokeless, and marched into the festival.

That was the first night, in the main stage area, and excluding musicians I counted FOUR black people. Everyone was pushy, and everywhere I stopped to listen an usher would come right up and tell me to move along. Quickly tiring of this fascist regime, I started walking realll slooow… I listened to Elvin Bishop from the edge of the stage barrier, toe-tappin’ and jammin’ away. As his set ended, it occurred to me that he was going to play his big hit record. Shit, here come the waterworks. Fooled Around and Fell in Love was probably my first favorite guitar solo, and I couldn’t help but puddle up. So this is why musicians always have sunglasses on?

I hit the exit back to work as he was playing Traveling Shoes. The rest of the workday went smoothly, but I snagged my wristband on a nail at work and it almost tore off. I scurried back to the ticket line, put on my puppydog eyes, and the nice young man gave me a new wristband.

Which I’m still wearing. It’ll stay on there until I get tired of talking about The Blues Festival.

I managed to get in for a little bit of music each day. On the final day, I saw Canned Heat perform Goin’ Up The Country, a song I’d always disliked for its falsetto vocals. Age and gravity have the lads moving slower and deeper, and I truly enjoyed that song for the first time.

And then came the part that made it all worthwhile: The Great Harmonica Blow-Off. Bill Rhoades (of Party King fame) hosts every year, and though I’ve specifically bought tickets for this before, it was my first time attending. Back in the day I’d purchased a couple harmonicas from Mr Rhoades at the Upper in Music Millennium. When I walked past the front of the stage he stared at me hard, like he was trying to place the name. It’s been 20 years, sir, and I look a LOT different.

The Friendly Place

The Front Porch Stage was much friendlier. The faces were more of a mixture, it felt like a party instead of a contest, even though there was a dance contest going on. The alcohol monitors were too busy keeping people’s drinks off the dance floor to worry about where I was standing, sitting or smoking. I’d drift over to the seawall to puff, occasionally hearing a chablis-swilling blonde bimbo complain about the “smell of marijuana.” Get used to it, bitch. It’s as legal as your fermented grape juice.

I would cross paths with customers, good for a hug or a dap or a high-five-uh! About 8:30 PM I knew it was time to run. Otherwise I’d be stuck on a bus until after midnight.

I managed to catch the last Hawthorne bus before they shut down the bridges. We detoured up the transit mall to Burnside, getting a sightseer’s view of the river, boats, and sunset. I’m not a fan of fireworks, or it would have been the perfect night.

When I got to my neighborhood, it made up for missing the fireworks show. Streets blocked off, every other driveway resembling a launching pad for North Korea. (“We don’t know where the missile is going, but it’s gonna blow up real good when it gets there!”) The neighbors were on fire patrol, and Luna was hiding under Niece’s desk. When I came in, she took her place at my side, and stayed as long as I was in the room. She knows who daddy is. I was touched by her allegiance.

And now, things settle down, back to the road warriors, tweakers and “I just got outta jail”-ers driving me to the edge of annoyance.

Maybe I’ll jam out to some Elvin Bishop on my way to work…

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