Passing the Torch, and Celebrating New Orleans’ Recovery 10 Years After
– by Polly O’Keary
The 2015 Portland Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival will tie tomorrow and yesterday together in two big ways this year. The first is to celebrate the survival and revival of New Orleans music, 10 years after Portland rallied to support the city following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The second is to celebrate the passing of the torch from founding legends of blues and southern rock to the up and coming stars that will reinterpret those traditions for coming generations.
In late September of 2005, while America was still trying to understand the scope of the disaster wreaked on the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina, some of New Orleans’ finest musicians headed for Portland.
The festival, since its start in 1987, had established a long history of working with Louisiana musicians such as Irma Thomas, Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Rosie Ledet, and the Nevilles. So the festival organizers worked fast, putting together a huge benefit concert to give back to the state that had given them so much. The concert went on to raise $125,000, and the Oregon Food Bank sent two trucks of food and eight staff members to the Gulf Coast for several months to help with recovery efforts.
This year marks a decade since Hurricane Katrina, and again some of Louisiana’s finest musicians are headed for Portland’s Waterfront, this time for a special 10 Years After Katrina Recovery Celebration, a day-long event featuring the vastly diverse music of New Orleans, from the frenetic “bounce” funk of Galactic to the grit of bayou blues-man Lil’ Buck Sinegal, the zydeco of Chubby Carrier to the celebratory R&B of Charmaine Neville.
“We are celebrating New Orleans recovery,” said Waterfront organizer Peter Dammann. “To those of us who visited soon after the floodwaters subsided, it wasn’t at all clear that the Crescent City would survive. It’s been a hugely inspiring that New Orleans music scene didn’t just survive, but is today thriving.”
The 10 Years After Katrina Recovery Celebration will fill Friday, July 3, one of four days of music featuring southern rock and blues legends, up and coming soul and blues musicians, and much more.
Throughout the festival a second theme will emerge: that of passing the torch. Many fathers and mothers of modern music will be there, including Charmaine Neville, Allen Toussaint, Buddy Guy and Gregg Allman; at least one, Gregg Allman, will have his son (Devon Allman) with him. The rest will be able to see the generation of young, rising blues stars that are following in the path they cut: stars such as 16-year old Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, 30-year-old blues guitar phenomenon Jarekus Singleton, and 16-year-old Quinn Sullivan, who will appear with his mentor Buddy Guy.
With a lineup up like this year’s, you won’t want to miss any of it. Get a “Buddy Pass” for early entry to the festival grounds, guaranteed reentry even if the park is too crowded to admit new entries, and entry to the After Hours parties at the Marriott Ballroom.
Thursday, July 2
Thursday will contain a heaping helping of all things Allman, as Gregg Allman appears after health concerns forced him to cancel last year. This year he’s back, and he’s not alone; appearing the same night will be Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band, the project of drummer Jai Johanny Johanson, long-time Allman Brothers Band band mate and co-founder; as well as the Devon Allman Band, fronted by Gregg Allman’s son.
Gregg Allman Band
Blues fans who were disappointed last year when Gregg Allman had to cancel his performance for health reasons will be excited to know that the Gregg Allman band is back this year, because Gregg Allman wanted to make it up to the festival and offered them an unbeatable deal.
Today, Allman is stronger than ever, says festival organizer Peter Dammann. “People, I think, will be blow away by Allman’s power and vocals,” he said. “I expect a massive opening night.”
Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band
Another founding member of the Allman Brothers Band, drummer Jai Johanny Johanson, better known as Jaimoe, will appear the same day with his jazz rock band Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band. Jaimoe toured as the drummer for Otis Redding before joining the fledgling Allman Brothers Band. He stayed with the band until back problems forced him to retire for a while in 1980. He returned to the band later in the decade, and formed Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band to play while the band was on breaks, and the band often tours with and opens for the Gregg Allman Band. Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band combines jazz with blues, rock and R&B, playing both original music and remixes of classics.
Devon Allman Band
Gregg Allman’s son Devon grew up in St. Louis, where he emerged as a respected musician in the 1990s. After experimenting with a number of styles, he found he was best suited to blues and rock. He toured extensively with his band Honeytribe before joining supergroup the Royal Southern Brotherhood with Mike Zito and Cyril Neville. Devon put out his first solo album, “Turquoise” in 2013, which includes a duet version of “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” with Samantha Fish.
Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds
Thursday also features Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds, a seven-piece soul band from New York. The band formed around sister and brother Arleigh and Jackson Kincheloe, she a songwriter and performing singer from the age of 9, and he a harmonica virtuoso. Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds started out in 2009 playing every Saturday at New York’s Rockwood Theater, where they got exceptionally tight and developed a large and enthusiastic following. The band’s first tour in 2011 covered 50,000 miles, and since then, the band has released three more albums, including Weather Below in May.
Late Night DME “Hoodoo Moon” Cruise
Thursday comes to a close with the Late Night DME “Hoodoo Moon” Cruise, a boat cruise of the waterfront with upstairs and downstairs stages that will feature the Devon Allman Band; Bentonia, Mississippi Delta blues man Jimmy “Duck” Holmes; 15-year-old Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, whose recent performance credits include a gig at the White House and an appearance on the Rachel Ray Show; and Australia’s singer and songwriter Harper, known worldwide for his harmonica, soulful vocals and creatively played didgeridoo.
Friday, July 3
Friday, July 3, is the all-day 10 Years After Katrina Recovery Celebration, with a stellar line-up of New Orleans and Louisiana talent.
Galactic with Macy Gray
For 18 years, Galactic has been playing the most cutting edge of New Orleans music and exporting it to the nation. The five members of the group, all master musicians, put together funk, brass, jazz, and the frenetic New Orleans funk known as “bounce” for a truly unique sound. The band has no lead singer, but instead frequently collaborates with other singers from soul queen Irma Thomas to cross-dressing “sissy bounce” diva Katey Red. At Portland Waterfront, the band will feature R&B Grammy winner Macy Gray.
Appearing for the first time at the Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival is Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Allen Toussaint, one of New Orleans R&B’s most influential artists. In 40 years, Toussaint has worked with or written for Paul McCartney, Joe Cocker, Paul Simon, the Rolling Stones, Elvis Costello and Etta James among many more.
Charmaine Neville, daughter of Neville Brother’s saxophonist Charles Neville, has been a star in her own right for more than 20 years, due in large part to her electrifying stage performances. She and her band, joined this year by her former saxophonist Reggie Houston, now a Portland resident, play searing blues, funk and R&B with technical proficiency and enormous flair.
Christone “Kingfish” Ingram
Teen prodigy Christone “Kingfish” Ingram is a don’t-miss act. The native of Friar’s Point, Miss. took up the drums at age 5 and bass at 8, picking up guitar at age 11. At 16, the young singer and guitarist has already toured in Europe and played for the Obamas at the White House, was a guest on the Rachel Rae Show, and has a video clip on youtube that boasts more than 8 million hits.
After Hours Party at the Marroitt Ballroom
A highlight of the festival every year is the After Hours Party at the Marriot Ballroom, where some of the best acts of the festival appear to do less formal shows and even jam with each other. Friday night, get to the ballroom early to watch Galactic work their magic , with Portland’s own Roseland Hunters opening the show, joined by special guests Charmaine Neville, Reggie Houston and zydeco master Chubby Carrier.
Saturday, July 4
Phil and Dave Alvin
When they were teens, brothers Dave and Phil Alvin were both captivated when they first heard the music of Big Bill Broonzy. The two went on to form cult favorite band The Blasters, playing an eclectic mix of Americana, punk, rockabilly and blues. In 1986, Dave Alvin left the band to start a successful solo career, and the two did not work together again for nearly 30 years. But after a near death experience reunited the two, the brothers returned to their roots, recording Common Ground, a selection of songs of Big Bill Broonzy’s.
The Paladins are giants in the history of rockabilly. Formed during the rockabilly renaissance of the early ‘80s, the band went on to tour all over the world (and put in two of Waterfront’s most memorable performances in 2000 and 2004) until the band was put on hiatus while band members pursued other projects, including the Hacienda Brothers. The Paladins reunited in 2010 and began doing select performances. This appearance is one of a handful the band will do in the United States this year.
This up and coming San Francisco soul band draws on the tradition of James Brown and Sly & the Family Stone, as well as more recent R&B masters such as D’Angelo, and features dynamic showman Ziek McCarter, a young man of inexhaustible energy.
Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas
Detroit-based Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas bring a blistering fusion of rockabilly, surf, jazz and reggae to the festival Saturday. Hernandez’ clear, quirky and powerful voice and Betty Page retro cool look combined with the clever sass of the band’s material, makes for a show impossible not to enjoy.
A new act not to miss is Jarekus Singleton; of whom Downbeat magazine wrote “Jarekus Singleton is one of the most exciting blues guitarists to come along in years.” Just 30, Singleton was nominated for three BMAs this year, including two for his debut album on Alligator records.
Terry ‘Harmonica” Bean
Fans of roots and traditional blues will love Terry “Harmonica” Bean, a Mississippi native whose father taught him both how to play the blues and how to pick cotton. He started playing festivals at a young age as a one-man band and has made a long career of touring overseas and, when home, playing juke joints and venues around the Delta.
After Hours at the Marriott
Preview Sunday headliner Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and get down with the Paladins.
Sunday, July 5
Buddy Guy with Quinn Sullivan
Much of what the blues is today, it owes to Buddy Guy. One of the last players of the great age of Chicago blues, Guy’s influence on modern music extends far beyond Chicago; Eric Clapton said seeing Guy’s trio gave him the idea that eventually became Cream, and both Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page were heavily influenced by Guy. He is not only in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he holds six Grammies, and even got President Obama to join him on a chorus of “Sweet Home Chicago” during a concert at the White House.
Joining Guy, in keeping with the theme of passing the torch, will be Quinn Sullivan, 16, who started playing at 3 and was joining legends on stage by the age of 7. He met Guy at the age of 8, and astonished the blues great with his skill. Guy invited him to appear as a guest at his show that night, then later got him to record some tracks on his album Skin Deep. Sullivan will play a set with his own band, then joins Buddy Guy during Guy’s set.
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
Swing fans will get a fix from Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, a swing revival band from Southern California. The band got its name from an encounter band co-founder Scotty Morris had with Albert Collins, who signed one of his concert posters for Morris with the inscription “To Scotty, the big bad voodoo daddy.” From the band’s formation out of the punk rock scene of the 1980s, the group has gone on to appear on film and television soundtracks (including 3rd Rock from the Sun), played at the 1999 Super Bowl half time show, and continues to be regulars at major festivals and on television shows such as The Tonight Show and Dancing With the Stars.
Rick Estrin and the Night Cats
Returning to the Waterfront Stage will be long-time favorites Rick Estrin and the Night Cats. This dynamic band was formed in 2008 out of the band Little Charlie and the Nightcats, and led by harmonica man and master front man Rick Estrin, who is known as much for his suits and humor as his skills as a songwriter and musician.
Little Village Foundation Revue: Ron Thompson, Wee Willie Walker, John “Blues” Boyd
Little Village Foundation—a non-profit founded by former Robert Cray/Etta James keyboardist Jim Pugh to discover, record and expose unsung blues/soul talent—presents this riveting revue featuring Bay Area guitarist Ron Thompson, Mississippi bluesman John “Blues” Boyd, and Minneapolis soul singer Wee Willie Walker. The late Stevie Ray Vaughan said on his first visit to San Francisco, “The only guy I want to hear in California is Ron Thompson, the rest are all bulls–t.” Born in Greenwood, MS and now part of the burgeoning South Bay scene in California, John “Blues” Boyd is a powerhouse vocalist in the tradition of Junior Parker, BB King and Wynonie Harris. He is currently working on a release of original blues songs that features Rick Estrin, Kid Andersen, Jim Pugh and Big Jon Atkinson. Long based in Minneapolis, soul singer extraordinaire Wee Willie Walker cut a number of sides for the Memphis Goldwax label in the 1960s. The backing band for this lineup includes members of the Nightcats as well as Pugh and the phenomenal Mississippi blues drummer D’Mar (Derrick Martin).
Turkuaz is not to be missed. Bestnewbands.com described the nine-piece Brooklyn horn funk band as “like tossing a lit match into a dumpster full of fireworks,” and they are as visually stunning as they are musically amazing.
The Stone Foxes are a San Francisco rock band with a vast following and politically aware sensibilities; the band has recorded some of their music in homeless shelters, including the voices of the homeless, to create a recording that will appear later this year. The band sound is rock with roots deep in the blues; according to the band, “the rock is raw, blues is the filter.”
Sail on Sister Cruise
Conclude the festival with this popular cruise, but be aware it sells out every year. The river cruise features some of the top women of the festival, including headliner Charmaine Neville in a laid-back trio setting. Also performing will be Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas, and the NW Women in R&B—a powerhouse lineup that will include Karen Lovely, Sonny Hess, Lady Kat and more.
Look for the festival’s complete schedule—including such regional blues/soul stars as Duffy Bishop, Ben Rice, Andy Stokes, Ty Curtis, Lisa Mann, and more — in the special July issue of Blues Notes.
For complete lineup, info on ticketing, artist bios and more, visit www.waterfrontbluesfest.com