Every summer, blues lovers and musicians from across the country descend on Portland’s downtown Waterfront Park for the Portland Blues Festival, or as it’s officially called, the Waterfront Blues Festival, a rousing five days of music and festivities. With the festival taking place over 4th of July weekend and the last night and the final act occurring on the 4th, this well-loved, well-attended event finishes off with a bang as a sparkling fireworks show fills the night sky.
Whether you’re from Portland or you’ll be visiting during the festival, be sure to carve out some time for this musical phenomenon done Portland style, complete with local food, wine, and craft beers.
Portland Blues Festival Logistics
To ensure a truly blissful experience, it’s good to know what’s allowed and what’s not. While there’s a section for chairs, space is limited, and so is the view. If you must bring a chair, make sure it’s a low one (no more than 12” off the ground). Your best bet is to bring a blanket (6’x8’) and stake your claim on a piece of grass.
Outside Food and Drinks
You’re welcome to bring a small, soft-sided cooler or tote (16”x16”x8”) and as much factory sealed water as you can carry. Outside alcohol is not allowed, but plenty is available for purchase at the event. If you want to save a few bucks, you can even bring in your own food and snacks (although the food is definitely a highlight, so make sure you budget for plenty of sampling!).
Bring your phone and personal cameras, so long as your lens is no longer than 4”. You’re also welcome to bring a stroller if you’re coming to jam out with the kids. And of course, don’t forget your pass and whatever you need to keep yourself safe from the glorious sunshine—hats and sunscreen recommended!
Transportation and Parking
If you absolutely must drive, consider parking across the bridge on the east side of the Willamette River where you’ll find less congestion. If you want to keep things simple and avoid the hassle of traffic, take mass transit. The MAX and bus routes will get you within a few blocks of the event, with the Hawthorne #14 bus dropping off right next to the event entrance. There’s also bike parking if you want to two-wheel it over and be eco friendly.
Portland Blues Festival Passes
Daily Pass – The Daily Pass will get you in the door for as long as you want to stay. Just be sure you’re ready to leave when you step outside the entrance, as this pass doesn’t allow re-entry.
Basic 5-Day Pass – The Basic 5-Day Pass gets you inside for all five days, anytime you like. With this pass, you can leave for lunch, catch your breath, recharge, then return for more fun.
Blues Buddy Pass – With the Blues Buddy Pass, you can show up early (30 minutes before general admission) and pick a prime spot for the day. And just like with the Basic 5-Day Pass, you have priority readmission. You’ll also get a commemorative festival button and admission to after hours concerts for only $5!
Benefactor Pass – The Benefactor Pass allows you entrance 45 minutes before general admission all five days, priority readmission, and excellent seating and viewing, as well as tasty snacks and much coveted shade. Parking is also included in this pass, as are four food and drink coupons and admission to after hours concerts.
Patron Pass – This top-level pass not only gives you early entrance, readmission, parking, and admission to after hours concerts—you’ll also have access to the Sponsor Hospitality Pavilion, which offers catered buffets, shade, and VIP restrooms, as well as on-stage seating at two main stages and an invitation to the Independence Day barbecue and riverside seating for the fireworks show.
The festival also offers cruises on the Willamette River, which leave from the far north end of the park by Salmon Street Springs Fountain. Afternoon and evening cruises are available and feature no-host food and drinks, as well as soulful blues music. What better way to experience blues in the City of Bridges than to get out on the water and gaze at the night lights while you sip your favorite beverage under a beautiful summer night sky? Just be sure to reserve your tickets ahead of time, as these cruises sell out quick.
Food & Drinks at Portland Blues Festival
Year after year, local dining establishments post up at the Waterfront Blues Festival and keep blues lovers’ bellies full and satisfied. Options range from burgers, corn dogs, and curly fries to jambalaya, yakisoba, and burritos. And of course, for your sweet tooth, you can savor funnel cake, ice cream, and sweet, crispy watermelon.
With few trees and little shade—save for the very few covered seating areas—it can get very hot, even though you’re by the river. To help alleviate overheated blues fans, the festival offers misting and water stations. If you buy $1 bottles of water, you’re helping a worthy cause: all proceeds from bottled water sales go to the Oregon Food Bank.
If you want something other than water to wash down your meal, check out the south side of the park and treat yourself to local and regional craft beers and wines. And, if you happen to have a pass that allows re-entry, dip out for an hour or two and explore some of Portland’s many nearby bars and restaurants.
Whether you’re a returning Portland Blues Festival attendee or this year is your first, you’re sure to leave happily exhausted and ready to come back next year!
Featured photo courtesy of Evan Lovely
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