A Tale of Two Festivals: FloydFest and the Waterfront Blues Festival
FloydFest and the Waterfront Blues Festival are, in many respects, opposites. Whereas FloydFest is off the beaten path in the middle of a forest that’s in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Floyd, Virginia, the Waterfront Blues fest is in downtown Portland, Oregon, and takes place, as its name implies, on the waterfront.
What they have in common, however, is a dedication to roots music and a social cause.
The Waterfront fest concentrates on blues, with some rock thrown in for good measure, and raises funds and food for the homeless. It began in 1987 as the Rose City Blues Festival, sponsored by the Cascade Blues Association. In 1991, the festival was renamed the Waterfront Blues Festival.
During the past 29 years, the festival has grown in size and reputation and is now considered one of the nation’s premier blues festivals. Since 1988, the festival has raised more than $10 million and over garnered 1,000 tons of food to benefit the Oregon Food Bank. Last year, the festival raised over a million dollars to fight hunger in Oregon and Clark County, Washington.
FloydFest is more varied. It began in 2002, with on-site camping and featuring rock, bluegrass, folk-reggae, folk-Cajun, Zydeco, African, traditional, world music, and the arts. A theme is selected each year: this year’s was freedom. This year the fest also incorporated a food drive that benefited Plenty! Food Bank in Floyd.
The blues fest is a downtown fest in a large metropolitan city, with hotels, restaurants, and other amenities close at hand. Once you are in Portland, you are there. FloydFest, meanwhile, is right off the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Parkway is a gorgeous mountain road that many drivers, bikers, and cyclists do day and weekend trips on. As it is also a national parkway, signage is limited to the parkway itself. Thus, to get the festival site, you have to know where you are going. It can be tricky.
Plus, as the FloydFest site sits at a crossroads where national, state, and county jurisdictions intersect, there appears to be a certain amount of extra scrutiny that festivalgoers may be subject to before reaching the festival grounds, which sit on private peoperty. Once there, however, festival rules pretty much apply.
While I have attended FloydFest, the closest I have come to the Portland fest is a phone call from a couple of MerleFest buddies who held the phone up to music and told me to eat my heart out. What can I say? So many festivals, so little time.
I encourage West Coast ND readers and blues lovers to check out the Waterfront fest, and East Coasters to venture near the birthplace of country music and visit FloydFest at least once. One of these days, I’ll hop on a plane and surprise my buddies with a phone call of my own.
In the meantime, we are fortunate to have two of ND’s regular photographers covering these fine festivals. So, you will see Peter Dervin’s photos from Portland, and Todd Gunsher’s from FloydFest. check out Peter’s Waterfront photos of Fantastic Negrito, Kingfish Ingram, Elvin Bishop, Chris Isaak, JJ Thames, Big Head Blues, Eric Gales, the Lil’ Smokies, and Southern Avenue; and Todd’s FloydFest photos of The T Sisters, honeyhoney, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Larry Keel, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, The Steel Wheels, Strange Americans, Michael Franti, Rebekah Todd and the Odyssey, JD McPherson, and Danny Knowles.
Some of these names are new to me, and my general feeling is that if one of the ND photographers thought enough of the performance to shoot it, then it’s worth it for me to check the artist out. I suggest you do the same.