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Shari Pourto put on a dazzling performance Saturday. Photo by Scott Cunningham
Shari Pourto put on a dazzling performance Saturday. Photo by Scott Cunningham

Day 2 wrap up: 2017 Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival

BY SCOTT CUNNINGHAM // All the highlights from Day 2

Day 2 of the 2017 Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival started out on the cooler side, but it didn't take long for the sun and music to heat up Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

Saturday was the day the annual Zydeco festivities really geared up on the Oregonian Front Porch Stage. Portland's Too Loose Cajun Band, as always, put in a great set. Steve Kerin has put together a fine lineup and has crafted one of the most authentic sounding Zydeco bands this side of Lafayette.

Be sure to spend some time at the stage on the north side of the bridge for more Cajun and Zydeco infusion, including appearances by none other than Chubby Carrier, who threw down a great set late last night celebrating his 50th birthday.

It wasn't too much of a walk over to the First Tech Blues Stage to catch Shari Puorto and her fabulous band. Puorto, who has mysteriously been off my radar, is a dynamo packing a huge vocal punch combined with a high energy stage performance.

There is a running debate as to whether she's more similar to Janis Joplin or Etta James. My money is on a mashup of the two. She has the stage presence of Joplin, but with vocals more similar to James, rather than Joplin's rawer, throaty voice.

If you missed her set yesterday, go jump on the boat with her Tuesday. She'll be playing on the DME "Driftin'" Blues Cruise at 2:30PM. Be sure to wear your boat shoes.

I spoke with her briefly and she doesn't get through the Northwest that often, despite having close ties to the area. So, this might be your last chance to see her for a while. I'll see what I can do to change that!

And, speaking of DME, did you know that stands for Delta Music Experience? Run by Amanda Gresham, DME organizes multiple music-related trips and events throughout the United States during the year. More, importantly, however, are their ties to United by Music, a nonprofit organization that supports musicians with developmental and intellectual challenges and delays. It is truly a wonderful program. Be sure to stop by their tent and learn more.

Amanda Gresham and Barbara Gresham Hammerman at the DME and United by Music Booth

Die-hard blues fans have literally watch Christone "Kingfish" Ingram grow up since he first came on the scene several years ago. he's now 18 and has recently graduated from high school, quite an accomplishment given how heavily involved he has been with his music career.

Ingram has become a regular at the fest and he's been referred to as the festival's unofficial mascot. All of his considerable talents were on display Saturday afternoon as the mid-day sun blasted the Brewery Stage. Joining him was Portland bassist John Mazzaco, who did a fantastic job holding down the bottom end.

I've been fortunate to see Ingram several times in multiple settings and to to confess I'm still not sure what to make of him. He's at his absolute best when his style leans toward B.B. King, which it did yesterday. I've never asked him this, but I'm quite certain he has studied tapes of King to take in all he can about the master's style. Not only can he coax similar tones from his guitar, his body language and facial expressions could very easily be taken for a younger version of the Beale Street Blues Boy himself.

My tastes definitely run more toward this style and I he continues down this road. I've watched him absolutely shred a guitar and forget that tone and nuance are what carry the Delta blues, not playing triplets at 180 BPM.

Kingfish Ingram

Don't think, though, that he is merely trying to copy King. His influences also run toward the Chicago style of Buddy Guy and other similar artists. Late in his set, he even launched into the Star Spangled Banner, immediately making me think of Hendrix at Woodstock.

Next up were the Greyhounds for the four-o'clock hour. The band includes Anthony Farrell and Andrew Trube, who formed the band in the 90's. In 2009, they joined JJ Grey's band Mofro, which they left last year to put their efforts back fully into the Greyhounds project.

Working now as a three-piece, they generated a huge sound with only guitar, drums, and some funky drum work. Their musicianship was top notch and hopefully they've got some great things in their future. Trube told me he's hoping they'll be back through the area late this fall, so keep an eye out for that.

Andrew Trube of the Greyhounds

Eric Gales is a man full of passion and he's on a mission, a combination that led to an explosive performance on Saturday. His mission? Being clean.

His band took the stage and started playing before he came out, adding his electric guitar to the mix. He then, rather abruptly and unexpectedly, shut it all down.

"Before I start playing, I have to you my story," he announced to the crowd. "For 25-plus years I lived as high as I possibly could and it almost killed me. I stand here today as a changed man. I told myself I got tired of driving that car (of life) in the wrong direction."

On July 15 of last year, he gave up the drugs and became clean.

"Portland, Oregon, I'm gonna play my ass off for ya and that's all I can tell you."

Fired up doesn't even come close to describing his performance. Even the quieter moments were full of drive and intensity as he played his latest release in its entirety and in order. He told the crowd he had 80-some CDs with him to purchase after the set and something tells me he'll be leaving town with an empty merch suitcase.

And, during his set, I ran into the original blues brother himself, Curtis Salgado. He'll be playing a one-hour set on Tuesday the 4th. The performance will be his first since quadruple bypass surgery following a mild heart attack this past spring. He tells me he's filling great and really looking forward to the set. If you missed it, be sure to check out this week's Coffeeshop Conversation where Salgado talks about the health scare, performing, and the general state of blues music right now.

JD McPherson broke onto the national scene two years ago with his "Let the Good Times Roll" release. And roll they have.

If Friday night's Chris Isaak was retro troubadour night, then McPherson's turned yesterday into throw-back rockabilly day a la Carl Perkins and Little Richard. He's been captivating crowds with his authenticity and straight from the heart sounds.

He played a few new cuts, including Desperate in Love, a great lil' ditty that worked really well for him. New music generally means a new record and tour, so keep an eye out for him coming back through.

JD McPherson

Where he really shined, though, was during the final ten minutes of his one-hour set. Head Over Heels got the crowd on their feet with its instantly catchy piano riff. He then launched into I Can't Complain, which came decked out with a thumping bass line and perfect guitar work, along with his finely crafted rockabilly voice. Much to his credit, McPherson has resisted the urge to go full-on twang and his voice seemed like it had just warmed up during these last few songs.

He concluded with Let the Good Times Roll, an original take on a classic vibe. Good times, indeed.

If you caught my piece yesterday previewing Southern Avenue, you know how stoked I am about this new band from Memphis. They've just released their first full-length album. On the iconic Stax label, no less.

Their 8:00PM set was perfectly timed as the bowl was overtaken by the shadows cast as the sun crept behind the downtown skyline. Sweet, soulful, and powerful: Everything about their set was all I hoped it would be. They even threw in a cover of Al Green's Tired of Being Alone, nailing the song in a way few covers can.

During the set, I also had a fascinating chat with a cat named James, a local blues fan. He had nothing but great things to say about his festival experience and went out of his way to talk about how he, a long time rock and roll guy, has gravitated to the blues because of its genuineness.

"I think for the city of Portland, this is the biggest event of the year. And it's for a good f'n purpose," he said.

That purpose, of course, is the Oregon Food Bank, which festival proceeds help support. Be sure to grab a few canned goods as you head down to the festival, all the donations are sorely needed.

Big Head Todd and the Monsters have a huge following and have solidified a spot on the international blues scene. They are absolutely revered in their home state of Colorado, where they can sell out Red Rocks any time they want to.

BHTM is fronted by Todd Park Mohr, an honestly righteous devotee of blues history. In 2011 they released a tribute to Robert Johnson that received lofty praise and accolades.

This time around, Mohr is paying homage to Willie Dixon and in grand style. He's teamed up with Billy Branch, Cedric Burnside, and Mud Morganfield. If the name Morganfield rings a bell, it is because his father is none other than Muddy Waters himself.

Todd Mohr

I was expecting good things from this set and boy did they deliver in a huge way. Mohr's guitar work, which included some serious slide, was in fine form. Somehow he just keeps getting better. Morganfield, Burnside, and Branch were also spectacular in their own ways.

But it was the combination of those three and BHTM that really took this set to another level as they payed homage to one of the founders of what we consider the blues. Little Red Rooster, Come On In My Kitchen, and Seventh Son were just outstanding and a fitting close to the events of the day in the main bowl area.

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James Salsbury

I just wanted thanks Scott. In really enjoyed chatting with you. You are a man of your word! Thanks again for our chat!

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