The Waterfront Blues Festival Is Going Forward This Summer at a New Location

It’s moving to the Lot at Zidell Yards, a new socially distanced performance space where groups of attendees sit inside fenced-in “pods.”

It's shaping up to be a summer of purgatory for the live events industry.

While the light at the end of the pandemic is coming into view, it's still too soon for a full return to normalcy, which means many of Portland's seasonal traditions that got axed this time last year are having to make hard calls on whether to go forward this year.

And one of the biggest just announced its decision: It's on.

After canceling its 2020 edition, the Waterfront Blues Festival will return Independence Day weekend, July 2-5—but with a few significant alterations, starting with the location.

In normal years, the 34-year-old music festival has drawn upward of 30,000 people to Tom McCall Waterfront Park for four days of blues, rock and R&B acts, which in the past have included everyone from Buddy Guy to Robert Plant. But with the city refusing to issue event permits due to COVID-19, the festival is moving "upriver," to privately owned Zidell Yards, which is launching a new "socially distanced" performance venue called the Lot that will also host drive-in movies, Pride NW and another music festival in September.

That also means the actual experience of the Blues Fest is going to be different as well. Instead of thousands of people crowding the riverbank with towels and beach chairs, groups of up to six attendees can purchase tickets to sit inside fenced-in "pods," which, based on renderings on the festival's website, look like mini-backyards:

Since the crowd will be stuck facing one stage, the total number of acts will also be drastically reduced, with four or five artists playing two separately ticketed shows each day.

The lineup, ticket on-sale date and further safety measures will be announced in May. Tickets from the canceled 2020 iteration will not roll over, but organizers are offering refunds beginning April 19 and will give those ticketholders early access to purchase tickets for this year's festival.

Related: Oregon Venues Are Petitioning Gov. Kate Brown for Industry-Specific Reopening Guidelines.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW’s journalism through our Give!Guide Fundraising page.