In the before times I got a weekend pass to the Waterfront Blues Festival over the July 4th weekend. The lineup was a mix of funk and soul with acts like Lettuce, Mavis Staples, Femi Kuti and Positive Force and Antibalas I was interested in seeing. The Greyboy Allstars were even playing a late night show at the Marriott across from the festival. It was going to be a great time so I got a weekend pass. As we all know that plan turned to shit and the festival was cancelled. They brought it back for 2021 at the The Lot at Zidell Yards but for me the lineup wasn’t nearly as good so I didn’t go. Many bands were just not touring at that time.
When they announced the return to Tom McCall Waterfront Park for 2022 many of the bands from the 2020 festival made their return including Lettuce and Femi Kuti. The price had increased dramatically from 2020 and the lineup wasn’t as interesting to me so I didn’t get the weekend pass. Some friends planned a BBQ on July 4th and I wanted to attend plus I have a regular event on Fridays. I decided to attend the show on Saturday only where The Wood Brothers where closing it out with several other acts I wanted to see that day. The weather was going to be absolutely perfect on Saturday with it being mostly cloudy and temps in the low 70’s.
I have been to Tom McCall Park many times and couldn’t picture how they where going to setup the stages. They opened the park at 11am with music starting at noon but I was in no hurry to get there. You could bring in low beach chairs and empty water bottles which was nice. Early afternoon I walked over to the park to enjoy several hours of music. The main area of the park had a stage on either side and they acts would start/stop on the hour so there was constant music from these two main stages. Never a lull in the music which was really nice.
When I walked into the main area I finally could visualize how things were setup. The bowl in the main area is not flat. In the center lots of people had setup chairs facing directly towards the water. Along the water’s edge were several jumbo trons streaming each main stage and speakers so you could hear. Off to each side were the actual stages and for the most part few people stood in front of the stage. Most took a seat in their chairs or blankets in the center. Behind this were vendors and near the Hawthorne Bridge were all the food vendors. Just past the food was the zydeco stage with a huge dance floor and the smallest stage of the festival which was no bigger than 10’x10′.
I arrived to start the day with John Bunzow and some blues. A classic setup with several band members sitting in. It was a full stage of musicians and good blues. After that I walked to the other side of the bowl to see Son Little. I saw him when he co-headlined with Eric Krasno earlier in the year. This time it was his own backing band and some really good stuff. He has a different sound to him, especially how he sings. Then Diunna Greenleaf for some gospel. It wasn’t Sunday but it sure felt like it. Lady A I heard about after Lady Antebellum changed their name and tried to coop the original Lady A. I thought that was a dick move by Lady Antebellum. This was the original Lady A and she was amazing. The entire band was dressed in white and she stood out in her flowing green blouse. She spoke several times about covid and how hard it has been for everyone and I couldn’t agree more. The War and Treaty just got back from Italy and their European tour. Tanya Blount had laryngitis just two days before so it was good to hear her sing that day. After that I skipped the next main act and headed to the zydeco stage to hear Mason Trail & Zydeco Rhythm which was nice. The dance floor was packed with people which was awesome.
With the sun setting I headed over to the main stage to secure a spot for The Wood Brothers. I got there in time to set them setup and do a short soundcheck. You couldn’t hear what they where playing but with their sound engineer they were making sure all the mics and instruments were all setup and ready to go for that nights performance. People started to fill in close to the stage which was good to see. Hundreds for sure packed the sage and man more lounged across the field as we settled in to close Saturday and the second night of the festival.
I last saw The Wood Brothers when the brothers opened for Medeski, Martin and Wood at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden back in 2009. That was just a single set to open the show in a beautiful garden. That day thunderstorms threaten to let loose but they stayed away and it was a great show. Tonight’s performance was just as good but this time with Jano Rix on drums/percussion/keys doing an amazing job. They played many of their hits which I recognized from Jam On which was cool. Near the end of the set they brought out an old school microphone and invited Michael Trotter Jr. and Tanya Trotter from The War and Treaty for a song which was really cool. The set even ran late which was a surprise. We got a solid hour and a half of music including encore and then the houselights.
What a great day full of music. The park had an interesting setup but you gotta work with what you got. Like most venues in the city I was able to walk to it which was nice. The weather really played along and made for a great day and entire weekend in fact. I can’t wait to see who they book next year and if it’s a strong lineup, I will definitely get a weekend pass. Having a festival so close to my house is nice.
List of artists I saw on Saturday:
- John Bunzow
- Son Little
- Diunna Greenleaf
- Lady A
- The War and Treaty
- Mason Trail & Zydeco Rhythm
- The Wood Brothers