The 42nd annual Waterfront Blues Festival started off with a bang July 2nd, as Gregg Allman, his son Devon, Ural Thomas & The Pain, Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band and Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds all played wonderful sets, and showed the festival’s willingness to showcase music other than just traditional, straight up blues. The diverse lineup also wins points for showcasing both the older acts and the next generation of bands playing blues influenced music, which made wandering from stage to stage all the more entertaining, especially on opening night.
Portland treasure Ural Thomas and his crack backing band played yet another entertaining set, with the 73 years young Thomas emoting like someone half his age. At this point, if you live here and haven’t seen Mr. Thomas yet, you’re not doing Portland music right. Do so, post haste.
For my group and I, the next act on the list was Sister Sparrow and The Dirty Birds, and the Brooklyn collective didn’t disappoint in the slightest. I was very intrigued to catch Arleigh Kincheloe and company throw down live, and that’s exactly what they did. I was reminded a bit of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, but a harder driving and far more blues/hard rock influenced than that group. The band recorded their May release The Weather Below at nearby Bear Creek Studios in Washington and seemed genuinely enthused to be back in the Pacific Northwest. The hype around their live show is deserved and the beyond soulful performance placed the band firmly on my radar, great stuff.
The evening ended with a bevy of Allman Brothers related activity, with original drummer Jaimoe playing with Jaimoe Jasssz Band, then Devon Allman’s Honeytribe leading into his father’s closing set. Jaimoe’s set was predictably great and his band features some top notch players whose blend of blues and jazz is among the best you’ll see. Devon Allman treated the crowd to a nice set, but personally I could have done without the bar band covers (“No Woman, No Cry” among them), although they seemed to be a hit with the crowd, who at this point was pretty “in the cups” and enjoying themselves.
Brother Gregg had to cancel his festival closing set last year due to his ongoing liver problems, but when he did cancel (at the very last minute), he promised he’d be back, and sure enough, Allman came through. Allman is now 67 years old, although when you consider the mountains of blow that have gone into his nose, the oceans of vodka that have swam through his liver, and the fact he was married to Cher, his real age is probably closer to 180 or so. As such, one expects his playing to be not what it was, but fortunately his band, led fantastically by band leader Scott Sharrard, is absolutely top notch. Time and again Allman and Sharrard led the band through solid jams out of numbers like ABB classic “Whipping Post”, it’s great to see Allman has found someone he can trust to lead the band so admirably when the time comes to stretch out songs, and he deserves kudos for putting his ego aside for the good of the music.
What’s also top notch is Gregg’s voice. While his famous B3 might be turned down a bit in the mix these days, and he might need to take a break during the set (who can blame him), there is not a damn thing wrong with those golden pipes of his. While of course there is a bit of wear and tear apparent on his vocal cords, time after time I was taken aback by Allman’s ability to hit all the notes and emote like a singer half his age, especially on the band’s cover of “These Days” (which was written by Allman’s old roommate Jackson Browne). As a Georgia boy born and raised, it was wonderful getting to hear a lot of these songs sung by Gregg live. I very much hope I (we) have a chance to seem him again, health permitting.
All in all I can’t think of a better way to kick off the Waterfront Blues Festival, nor a better way to start the 4th of July weekend. ‘Merica.
Photos – Caitlin Webb Photography