Some people called him the space cowboy. Some called him the gangster of love. But none other than the god of guitars himself, Les Paul, called Steve Miller a great blues guitarist — which is surprising since he’s best known for his ’70s rock staple “The Joker.” But that goes to show how influential the blues can be: With deep roots in jazz, it’s also heavily affected popular rock.
From July 4-8, you can experience the influence firsthand at the Waterfront Blues Festival. Taking over downtown Portland’s Waterfront Park, this Independence Day celebration of America’s most heartfelt musical genre features masters like Booker T, James Cotton and the Steve Miller Band alongside acclaimed upstarts like The California Honeydrops and Cedric Burnside. Marking its 25th year of wailing into the waters of the Willamette, this annual event is the largest blues festival west of the Mississippi and second biggest in the U.S. Five days of music bring thousands to the popular Portland park, where more than 100 acts jam from morning ’til night.
Midnight blues cruises and after-hours shows help spread the music all over town. But, no doubt, the biggest scene is on the waterfront, where festive sunbathers soak in the tunes, stretch out on blankets and dance on the grass while the blues artists do as Steve Miller said, and play their music in the sun.