Watching Bettye LaVette perform on the Miller Stage at the Waterfront Blues Festival last Saturday, my peripheral vision caught something moving off to my left side, and I turned my camera toward the river. I have no idea what this impressive apparatus is all about, but it reflects my high spirits when I make my almost-annual pilgrimage to Tom McCall Waterfront Park, Portland, for this wonderful festival.
The festival is linked to the U.S. Independence Day, and this year the July 4 holiday fell on a Wednesday, making the festival a five-day event. The organizers booked more or less the usual number of bands but allowed longer sets. It was a refreshing change not to have great musicians racing through 45-minute or one-hour sets.
I faithfully attended the first four days. Day five was Sunday, and Judy and I spoke at Reedwood Friends Church. After a wonderful lunch with friends at Super Torta, I decided to follow Judy over to Ministerios Restauración, the Spanish-speaking Mennonite congregation--where we were invited to speak again! Unlike most Friends meetings I know, Ministerios believers don't adhere to a rigid ending time for their services, so they had no problem fitting us into the service, even with questions and answers. By the time we were done, I was as blissfully tired as if I'd spent the day at the festival.
This year's completely subjective list of favorites:
Overall best: Bettye LaVette. Maybe not strictly blues, but I put her at the top simply because of her amazing delivery and audience rapport, and because she worked so hard and well despite the hot summer son shining relentlessly on the stage during her hour. Among her songs was a very touching interpretation of Paul McCartney's "Blackbird." Her "Close as I'll Get to Heaven" was the perfect end for her set--although none of us, I'm sure, were ready to see her leave the stage.
The Chicagoest: The Mannish Boys really passed the homesickness-evoking test for me. I could close my eyes and really believe I was back there. The wonderful band this time included Frank Goldwasser and Kid Ramos. Elvin Bishop, a headliner in his own right, joined the band for one song.
Outstanding elder statesman of the blues: For me at this year's festival, this could only have been Charlie Musselwhite. Aside from the piercingly familiar blues sound, and the extraordinary harp and ensemble playing, I loved watching Charlie interacting with his young band.
Outstanding elder statesman of soul: Again a significant part of the fun was watching the leader and his young musicians. This time it was Booker T. Jones. Toward the end of his set he invited Charlie Musselwhite to come out and take a bow with him--two of my musical heroes on the stage at once!
Best of the small stage: I spend most of my festival time on the benches at the Front Porch Stage, a place for bands that are more specialized (zydeco; the Bill Rhoades Harmonica Blow-off; the competition to send a local band to the International Blues Competition), or less well known, or headliners doing a second acoustic set or sitting in with another band. Here are some of this year's wonderful Front Porch Stage musicians.
Two items from Christianity Today: "A Tale of Two Scientists: what really happened 'in the beginning'?" ... and an interview with Os Guinness, "Why American Christians should work to sustain the American experiment." From the interview, this teaser:
You could actually take in a lot more people than you do now if, when they came, they were taught what it is they were coming to, what it is to be an American citizen. So again, as Huntington puts it, it's relatively easy to become an American and get your papers. It is very difficult now to know what it is to be American."Bible, Flowers, and Relevance"--on visiting Amsterdam's Bible museum.
"Becoming the wife God wants me to be."
How can I justify going to a festival for four days when others are so busy? (I recommend this thoughtful meditation on "doing enough.")
"Translating the Trinity for Muslims."
My camera is old and shaky, but here's a small sample of the Blues Festival, from the opening day's Bill Rhoades Harmonica Blow-off.