This Portland Music Festival Packs a Punch for Fourth of July

Bombino plays to a packed crowd at the Waterfront Blues Festival at Tom McCall Waterfront Park
Bombino plays to a packed crowd at the Waterfront Blues Festival at Tom McCall Waterfront Park | © Anthony Pidgeon / Redferns via Getty Images
Casey Hatfield-Chiotti

The largest city in Oregon marks the start of summer in style with the Waterfront Blues Festival – a four-day celebration of soulful music, food and fireworks.

What’s happening?

The Waterfront Blues Festival (July 2-5, 2021) has been a Fourth of July summer tradition in Portland since 1987 and is now the largest blues festival west of the Mississippi. More than 30 acts play music on various stages, with the city’s wide Willamette River and many bridges as their scenic backdrop (Portland is known as Bridgetown for a reason).

Curtis Salgado plays into the night at Tom McCall Waterfront Park

Over the festival’s four days, musicians play from morning until late into the evening, and plenty of activities keep the party going into the wee hours, such as midnight blues cruises and after-hours shows. The savviest festival-goers lay blankets down or place folding chairs on grassy lawns early – it gets crowded later in the day – and soak in the sun and the music, from rhythm and blues to catchy Cajun beats, all day long. Greats such as the Steve Miller Band, R&B and gospel singer Mavis Staples and blues guitarist Buddy Guy have all played the festival locals simply call Blues Fest.

Doubling as an Independence Day celebration, the festival normally features a rousing fireworks display on July 4th, along with vendors proffering Oregon beer and wine. A fine excuse to make a weekend of it, we’d say, with our collection of hotels and experiences – bookable on Culture Trip.

Who’s there?

At times, it seems like the entire city turns out for the Blues Fest, which celebrates the unofficial start to summer in Oregon’s largest city. Crowds of people from all walks of life dance shoulder to shoulder at the marquee shows after the sun goes down. The festival has a more mellow vibe earlier in the day when you might find families chilling out and couples enjoying Ethiopian food and sipping on cold beers. “The festival brings together diverse backgrounds, happy to be grooving to the music, unified by the love of great blues. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind weekend in downtown Portland,” says Christina Fuller, producer of the Waterfront Blues Festival.

Anne Harris and Otis Taylor dazzle the crowd with their music |
People stand shoulder to shoulder to listen to Ryan Shaw |
Musicians energize the crowds from morning to night |

Don’t miss

In addition to its thriving culinary scene, Portland’s easy access to the outdoors makes it an exciting place to explore on a long weekend. The city’s crown jewel is Forest Park, a 5,200-acre (2,104ha) green space with more than 80mi (129km) of trails. With hundreds of plant species and old-growth fir trees, it provides a welcoming refuge on a hot summer’s day. Park your car at Lower Macleay Park and hike to the Pittock Mansion (about a 5mi/8km round trip). The French Renaissance-style château is the most stately residence in Portland. Timed tickets are available if you’d like to tour the historic house museum, or you can simply plop down for a picnic on the grounds (pick up provisions at Elephants Delicatessen on 22nd Avenue) and enjoy a panoramic view of the city and Mount Hood in the distance on a clear day.

Take a guided or self-guided tour of the gorgeous Pittock Mansion

Not far away, the neighborhood surrounding the leafy NW 23rd Avenue is a perfect place to shop and snack. Check out Twist for chic jewelry and art. Visit the US flagship store and HQ of Japanese outdoor lifestyle brand Snow Peak for tents and furniture that seems too stylish for the outdoors, and also a Japanese restaurant with a wood-fired hearth for cooking. Stop by Salt and Straw for a scoop of wildly wacky pear and blue cheese or Arbequina olive oil ice cream. After all, it’s not a party without ice cream, right?

Keen to make a weekend of it? Browse our curated collection of hotels & experiences available over Waterfront Blues Festival – bookable on Culture Trip.

landscape with balloons floating in the air

KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?

Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

X
Edit article