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Leo 'Bud' Welch
Leo 'Bud' Welch

Hidden gems: 2016 Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival

BY SCOTT CUNNINGHAM // Look beyond the headliners and you'll find some tremendous music

Portland's annual Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival kicks off today and is probably my favorite PDX event every year. Being whisked away by the sweet, soulful, blues each summer on the banks of the Willamette is tough assignment to draw, but I'll do my best to carry on.

One of the best things about major festivals is the joy of discovery. Each time I attend one, I get turned onto someone new to me. Last year it was Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds. Can't wait to figure out who it will be this year.

If you are looking to make your own discoveries, the Fedex Crossroads Stage is the first place I'd suggest checking out. These small, intimate sessions are packed with stories from the artists, how-to's, and stripped down versions of songs being performed pretty close to the way they were first written.

Check out Leo 'Bud' Welch on the Crossroads Stage Friday at 8:40 and Saturday noon on the Front Porch Stage and Sunday at 5pm on the Crossroads Stage.. Welch, who was born in 1932, is one of a number of old-time blues cats to be discovered, if that is the right word, late in their years. His gospel-based blues is as raw and authentic as any you'll hear.

Seek the sounds of Louisiana and ye shall find them. I'm always amazed that more people don't wander back to the Oregonian Front Porch Stage to catch some ridiculously great music. This year, the two hardest working cats at the festival will be Chubby Carrier and Curley Taylor. You can check out their Lafayette infused sounds on Saturday and Sunday at various times, as they rotate Zydeco duties with several other great bands.

Dr. John makes his first Portland appearance in a very, very long time when he hits the Brewery Stage at 6:45 Sunday. He'll be tickling the ivory and conjuring up some serious voodoo-esque sounds with his blend of New Orleans funk, mysticism, and feelgood.

But wait, there's more. JJ Grey & Mofro follow the good doctor at 8:00 across the way on the First Tech Blues Stage. Grey cut his rockin' teeth on the likes of Jerry Reed, Otis Redding, and Stax-related soul as well as the funk to be found in New Orleans. This just might be the sneaker, crazy good show of the festival.

Fresh on the heels of releasing a great new album, Curtis Salgado gets to close out the festival on Monday evening. Portland's hometown favorite will certainly get lots of love, and deservedly so.

Leading up to Salgado, though, are two acts that have huge futures in front of them. The California Honeydrops hit the Brewery Stage at 3:15 and will throw down a great party on stage with their blend of funk and soul. At 6:45 The Record Company takes the stage. Every time I think rock is about to die, a band like them comes along and restores my faith in the musical order of the universe.

With 120 different acts, I've obviously just skimmed the surface here. By design, I've left off the really big names like Tedeschi Trucks Band, who I'm sure most people will catch anyway.

Follow along with us on these pages as we post photos, stories, and updates throughout the festival. Come find us in the DMC Louisiana Pavilion and say hi. I'll be posting photos and updates on Twitter as well over at @musicscott.

Happy Festing!

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