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Day 1 of the Waterfront Blues Festival got an added treat with a terrific sunset.
Day 1 of the Waterfront Blues Festival got an added treat with a terrific sunset.

2018 Waterfront Blues Festival: Day 1 Wrap

By SCOTT CUNNINGHAM // Taking a look at the best of the first day of the 31st Annual Waterfront Blues Festival

Day 1 of the 31st Waterfront Blues Festival is in the books, albeit with a few changes.

Most notably, the festival is no longer partnered with the Oregon Food Bank. This year's charitable cause partner is the Sunshine Division of the Portland Police Bureau. Just as in past years, festival attendees can bring canned goods to donate at the gate, so grab what you can and bring it with you to support a good cause.

Before getting to the action on the larger stages, I have to mention the FedEx Crossroads Stage where smaller workshops and performances are being held. My favorite part of the day was watching the percussion demonstration by the G.R.E.S. Criancas de Zumbi Samba School of Northeast Portland. Led by Chuck Barber, the fascinating performance was centered around the different forms of Samba techniques from Brazil.

Once again the festival has three major performance stages: the main Brewery Stage at the south end of Tom McCall Waterfront Park, the Blues Stage to the north by the Hawthorne Bridge, and the Oregonian Front Porch Stage at the far north end of the festival site. All three stages offered up some great music yesterday and are well worth checking out each day.

Norman Sylvester held a wonderful tribute to the legendary Candelight Room. Joining Sylvester on vocals were his daughter Lenanne Sylvester-Miller and LaRhonda Steele. Backed by Sylvester's band, the three went through some classic soul, blues, and R&B as Sylvester took the appreciative crowd down a trip through Portland's memory lane. The Boogie Cat rocked an incredible purple suit and wins the style award for the day.

Norman Sylvester

In a lot of ways, the afternoon was a showcase for some of Portland's best talent and if the day was a contest, that award would go to LaRhonda Steele and the Steele Family Band. LaRhonda is Portland's reigning female soul singer and fronted a terrific set with daughters Lauren and Sarah joining her on vocals. Both girls are amazing vocalists in their own right and have great futures in front of them. Joining them on keys was LaRhonda's husband Mark, Tyrone Hendrix on drums, Doug Rowell on guitar, Andre Zapata on bass, and Renato Caranto on sax.

LaRhonda also hit a home run as she sang the National Anthem at 10:00PM in front of the fireworks celebration.

The Proven Ones are made up of a solid collection of legit blues' cats, fronted by vocalist Brian Templeton and the incredible Kid Ramos on guitar. Members of the band have played with such luminaries as Fabulous Thunderbirds and Mannish Boys. Ramos will be hosting a blues guitar workshop today on the FexEx Crossroads stage at 3:00PM and I'm looking forward to hearing more about his technique.

My big surprise of the day was the duo Larkin Poe, comprised of sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell. Interestingly, the two are related to Edgard Allan Poe, something I'll have to dive deeper into. Rebecca handled lead vocals while Megan played some truly top-notch lapsteel guitar.

Megan Lovell

Anyone who grew up listening to classic rock has at some point been exposed to Commander Cody and his staples Hot Rod Lincoln and Riot in Cell Block No. 9. Heading into his set, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Would he and his Airmen rest on their laurels and phone it in or would this be a legitimate effort? I grew even more nervous when I saw the band grow frustrated at the difficulty in dialing their stage monitors in.

Alas, the technical issues got figured out and as the band launched into the first song of the set all of my trepidations melted away. Cody isn't quite as mobile as he used to be, but his keyboard playing is as solid as ever and he has surrounded himself with a stellar group of musicians.

Commander Cody

The day wrapped up with Robert Randolph and The Family Band. I've been a big supporter of Randolph but hadn't had a chance to see him live until last night and I was not disappointed in the least. His steel guitar playing is as good as any you will see and the set was everything I hoped it would be: Upbeat, driving, soulful, and full of electric blues.

Today promises to be even better and my must-see acts include McKinley Moore, Beth Hart, Curtis Salgado and Alan Hager, Dirty Revival, and The Revivalists.

Don't forget to bring some canned goods to donate and be sure to lather up with sunscreen, blue skies are in the forecast, which is perfect for a blues festival.

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