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Josh Stone was superb Monday night at the 2017 Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival ~ Photo by Scott Cunningham
Josh Stone was superb Monday night at the 2017 Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival ~ Photo by Scott Cunningham

Day 4 wrap up: 2017 Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival

BY SCOTT CUNNINGHAM // Joss Stone, Booker T Jones, and Dustbowl Revival were the highlights of the day

Last night's performance by Joss Stone was so magnificent, I'm going to start this Day 4 wrap up of the 2017 Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival with the last set of the night in the main bowl in Tom McCall Waterfront Park in downtown Portland.

Most folks wouldn't immediately associate Stone with the blues, let alone the headliner for a night at a major blues festival. When I first saw the schedule for this years 30th Anniversary of the festival, it took me a while to really connect the myself.

And am I ever glad I did.

If you look her up on Wikipedia, you'll see her genres listed as R&B, soul, blue-eyed soul, and reggae. While I whole-heartedly concur, her performance last night was transcendental in its genre-bending take on these styles.

Decked out in a flowing pink gown and a long shawl that was wrapped around her microphone stand, she looked as stunning as she sounded. The setting sun and changing sky colors provided the perfect backdrop for the set.

She did get off to a slightly late start, close to 10 minutes past 9:00PM as her monitor engineer worked to get her vocal line dialed in correctly and to chase down a faulty or incorrect cable run. I did here some grumbling in the crowd, but being an audio guy myself, I'm glad they took the extra time to get her wedges dialed in right. More on that in a bit.

Her vocals were sweet, airy, and lofty all at the same time as she ran through a good portion of the tracks from her 2015 release "Water for Your Soul". She isn't an artist that drops a new album every 18 months, but the quality of her work from the last 15 years absolutely shined last night.

He genuineness and authenticity were on full display as well. She can be somewhat reclusive and for that reason I was pleasantly surprised to see her be as open and real as she was between songs. It was clear that Stone was touched, maybe even a bit intimidated, by the size of the crowd and the reception she received.

Booker T Jones was the other act from Monday that was brilliant. Jones, of course, is one of the most legendary soul and R&B artists ever and his much too short hour-long set was billed as the Booker T Stax Revue.

I'd suggest a more appropriate name would be the Booker T Soul School.

Booker T Jones ~ Photo by Scott Cunningham

Jones is a perfectionist and it showed as his band, including his son Ted on guitar, was as tight and solid as any you'll ever see. Jones dazzled on the B3. I suspect he could make the organ do its thing by just looking at it.

His playing was spot on as they rolled through classics like Green Onions, Dock of the Bay, Respect, and Knock on Wood. Before each song, Jone would take a minute to explain a bit of its background, including his connection to the song before laying it down. Each song in the set has been honed to the point where a recording of any gig would be a special album.

Except for last night. Remember the slightly late start by Stone? The reason I was so grateful they took the time to get it dialed in correctly was because the on-stage monitors were so terrible during the Booker T set. In fact, monitors on the north and south stages have had very noticeable squeals (hint to the monitor engineers: they are somewhere around 8k) throughout the festival. I can understand an occasional screech early in a set as everything gets dialed in, but it was so persistent during Booker T's that it was not only irritating to me, it clearly bothered the band. With ten minutes left in their alloted time, one of the horn players became so frustrated that he called out to the monitor desk. I was stunned to look over and find no one sitting there. These artists deserve better than this.

Rant over, let's get back to the other huge highlight of the day.

Loyal readers (thanks to all, btw) know how stoked I am about Dustbowl Revival. They've managed to piece together a sound unlike any other out there right now. I know they've been compared to Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, but the comparison is based largely on overlapping fan bases. The two share some underlying commonalities in style, instrumentation, and their high energy performances but diverge in some significant ways.

Steve Berlin has sat in with a number of artists during the festival ~ Photo by Scott Cunningham

Dustbowl has a broader base in terms of the styles they draw from and these styles were in fine form as the band was at their absolute best during the last set of the night on the Oregonian Front Porch Stage. The 75 minute set was folksy and up tempo as the band drew from bluegrass, soul, New Orleans, and some undercurrents of the blues.

Their take on The Band's classic Up on Cripple Creek was superb, as was the fabulous rendition of Down by the Riverside, a song with roots that stretch back to the Civil War.

Zach Lupetin of Dustbowl Revival ~ Photo by Scott Cunningham

The crowd loved every second of the set and it was refreshing to see so many younger people being connected to this stream of musical history. They may not know the rich heritage of some of these songs but they love the vibe Dustbowl brings.

After their set, I got a chance to chat with one of these younger fans and she, along with many of her friends, is totally enamored with the band. She had caught their show last month at Mississippi Studios and can't wait for the band to come back around, which could be as early as late fall.

I'm really hoping the folks at some of the mid-size rooms in the area have taken notice of the band. The Wonder Ballroom would be an absolutely perfect venue for them to do a 21+ gig as it has lots of space to bust a move, which you definitely need to do when they come back around.

Scott Pemberton ~ Photo by Scott Cunningham

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