The Canada geese are being chased from Tom McCall Waterfront Park.
The plump migratory birds usually rule the roost on the scenic walkway along the riverfront. But it's now filled with workers setting up tents and stages. Meanwhile, the water is under blockade from a fleet of small boats. The few geese that remain fight a losing battle to hold onto their park. Shit-covered grass is all that remains of their once great empire.
The Waterfront Blues Festival is coming.
The festival gives Portlanders an opportunity to see big rock and blues acts while helping fight hunger through donations to the Oregon Food Bank.
It's also a good excuse to get drunk on a boat.
The pirate boat
Two weeks ago, we met Finger, a self-proclaimed "partial pirate" who busks at Voodoo Doughnut and spends his spare time drumming. Back then, his hobo floatilla was just two boats and a small dock. Now, it's turning into a thriving floating community. Dare we say an aquatic Occupation? A slew of nautical vessels ranging from motorboats to a wooden sailboat flying a Jolly Roger are anchored offshore along with him. The pirate motif is echoed across much of the fleet, interrupted by the occasional PBR-logo sun umbrella.
Boats anchoring offshore and partying during the festival is hardly a new phenomenon. But it seems to be growing.
The festival itself is reaching out to these marine campers, offering flags emblazoned with the 25th anniversary logo for a donation of $50, the same price as a five-day festival pass. The boaters do not need to buy this flag, of course, as they sit on public water. But it's a way for festival organizers to maybe get a donation from boaters enjoying the concerts as part of the expanding Waterworld.
“There are always a bunch of boats out there this time of year, but this is the first time they’ve brought a dock out here
,” says Sergeant Travis Gullberg of the River Patrol, which will station a boat at the event. “It’s always difficult to respond to emergencies when there are so many boats in one area.”
Potential problems aside—Gullberg says things are no worse than any other place where drunk people congregate—the party in the river is going ahead as planned.
“We got the raft ready, set up some chairs and stuff over near those umbrellas, and the stripper pole will be here in time,” says Finger, wearing a red life-jacket with his nickname scrawled across the back.
His Huck Finn-style raft and some smaller dinghies will ferry people to and from the floating docks, at which point they will hop from boat to boat. Anchored between the two stages, it's the perfect spot to soak in the music while also soaking up the booze.
Ladies can join Finger and his merry band for free, but guys might have to bring “a lot of girls or some beer or pay five bucks or something.”
“We’re a bunch of single guys,” Finger says. “We’re not trying to have a sausagefest.”
Just as the tents and stage are were not fully set up for the Blues festival, the river camp is still waiting for new people and things to arrive before the big five-day event.
While catching up with Finger, a truck pulls up along the shore. A man eagerly hops out and grabs a plastic heather dinghy out of the back, tossing it in the water. Without a moment’s pause, he jumps in. The dinghy dips ever so slightly and water begins to spill in. Before long the man is drenched up to his belly button as laughter rings out throughout the fleet.
“I didn’t know the new dinghy was also a submersible,” jokes Finger as he paddles back toward his dock.
Come hell, high water, or submerged dinghies, the hobo pirate fleet will be ready for Bluesfest.