What to listen to as Oregon’s music festivals return this summer


The Waterfront Blues Festival returns to Tom McCall Waterfront Park this year from July 1-4.

Shirley Chan/OPB

Many of Oregon’s beloved music festivals are returning this summer after taking a break earlier in the pandemic. OPB Music Director Jerad Walker recently joined OPB’s “Think Out Loud®” to talk about the bands and artists he’s most looking forward to hearing on stage as the weather warms up.

The Waterfront Blues Festival will take place July 1-4 at Tom McCall Waterfront Park in Portland. The festival was canceled in 2020 and last year the organizers held a stripped-down event at a different location from the traditional location. This year, he is back in force with headliners such as Taj Mahal and Grace Potter and regional pillars that many people in the North West will recognize as Curtis Salgado. Walker’s pick for this festival’s go-to artist is the least well-known Adia Victoria.

“She’s based in Tennessee and just has an incredibly powerful, atmospheric brand of southern gothic blues,” he said.

The following weekend, July 8-10, is the Oregon Fairback after a two-year hiatus.

“It’s the mother of all hippy-dippy festivals,” Walker said. “It was founded in 1969 and its roots are firmly in the counterculture movement of the late 60s. It has a sprawling program with everything from spoken word poets to dance troupes and circus acts , but the music has always been the centerpiece.

Walker says he’s very excited to see the Portland Sávila band.

“This is a project made up of well-known musicians from the Portland music scene: Fabi Reyna, Papi Fimbres, Brisa Gonzalez. They play dreamy, rhythmic, Latin-inspired music,” Walker said. “Their most recent album was heavily influenced by the sound of Oaxaca, a state in southern Mexico that has a glorious and unique cultural tradition. It doesn’t sound, taste or look like the rest of Mexico.

The Northwest Ropes Summit will take place from July 21 to 24. The festival features roots and bluegrass music and is celebrating its 20th year, which will also be the festival’s last. The festival will appeal to a wide range of fans with headliners such as Del McCoury Groupwhich features a legendary 83-year-old second-generation bluegrass musician as well as more modern-inspired bands like Yonder Mountain String Band.

Walker can’t wait to see the Portland Fruition band.

They’ve quietly become one of Oregon’s biggest bands over the past decade, almost entirely through their live performances, which are very energetic, rooted, and they fit into this really jammy rock and roll vibe , “Walker explained.

After two years, the Pickathon The music festival returns to Pendarvis Farm in Happy Valley August 4-7.

“I think it’s probably the most eclectic lineup you’ll find in the state, maybe even the whole country,” Walker said. “They have everything from bluegrass to hip hop to metal. I’ve seen it all at Pendarvis Farm over the past few years, and this range is no different.

Margo Cilker, who has roots in eastern Oregon, is on the bill this year. But Walker says his first choice for Pickathan is a hip hop artist Sampa the Great.

“She was born in Zambia, raised in Botswana, spent time in the United States and is now based in Australia: a true citizen of the world. Simply put, she’s one of the most electric rappers in the world…and I’m so excited to see her perform live.

Walker also highlighted another international band – a band called Wet Leg from the Isle of Wight in England.

“They’ve exploded onto the rock scene over the past year,” he said.

Other festivals to watch this summer include the Oregon Jamboreea country music festival in Sweet Home, Oregon, July 29-31. Portland Hip Hop Week is August 20-26, and PDX Pop now! is from August 22 to 28. The latter is a volunteer-run festival focused on Portland’s independent musicians.

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