In the days before COVID, there were outdoor music festivals. And there was one you could watch from your boat. Here’s a flashback to an article that was published elsewhere in 2014. A reader asked about it, so here you go…

“Hiding out from humans.”

That’s my usual response when asked about plans for an upcoming holiday weekend. Most people are surprised: they know I love to go outdoors, preferably on my boat. Why aren’t I planning some adventure? The truth is that crowds scare me. And crowds are what I always encounter on holidays.

But over the weeks leading to Independence Day, my curiosity has been piqued by a growing fleet moored in the cove near downtown Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park. The first few boats arrived in early June, anchoring dangerously close – or so it seemed – to the rocky shore. The next week, as workers in the grassy park began setting up for the Waterfront Blues Festival, which takes place on the July Fourth weekend, I noticed rows of additional boats forming, then a temporary dock; and finally, a floating porta-potty appeared.

I was intrigued by the variety of craft assembled out there. As I biked over a nearby bridge on my way to and from work, I spotted everything from a dismasted fiberglass sailboat to a bright new Bayliner. There was even a wooden Herreshoff yawl, happily bobbing with anchors set fore and aft. Since boat people are generally nicer than average folk, I decided to pay them a visit. Sure, it was a crowd. But this was my kind of crowd. So one evening, a few days before the holiday, I launched my rowboat, set my son Merry at the oars and went meet some Blues Fest boaters. I wanted to find out what this event meant to them.

Pat, the first sailor I interviewed, seemed pleased, “that all sorts of people and boats,” end up on the waterfront. But he was a little guarded about the origins of the floating dock he was moored to, so we rowed on.

In a prime spot overlooking the festival grounds, just a few hundred feet from the main stage, I found Patty relaxing on the stern of her charming cruiser, C Jewel. I learned that she’d been coming here since 1996. I should arrive early, she advised, if I ever planned on bringing my own boat to the festival. She had been moored here “since right after Father’s Day.”

A guy playing bongos on the deck of Kiitos next drew our attention. The sailboat’s captain, Scotty, said that this was his seventh straight year attending the festival. “I come for the nautical debauchery and shenanigans,” he joked. Just then, a neighboring boater handed up a freshly grilled hamburger, and Bongo-Man stopped playing to eat.

Chad was reading a newspaper aboard Plan B when we rowed up to admire his brightwork. “The first year I came to check it out, I anchored, and the next thing I knew, I was four boats down having a drink,” he told us. “And when you’re out here on the water, you can hear the music and have a conversation with your friends.”

I was starting to see a pattern of camaraderie here.

Next we headed for the biggest boat we could find. Would the good vibes carry throughout the moorage? High above us, having drinks on the front deck with some friends, was Bradley, captain of C’est la Vie, a classic wooden motor cruiser. They were happy to tell us about their tradition of attending the festival over the last fourteen years, and how much fun they had together.

Rich was enjoying the sunset aboard Rain Ie. “Poor or rich, big or small, everyone gets along out here,” he said about the assemblage of boats at the festival. “There’s no other community in the world like it.”

After meeting and talking to all these “Blues Boaters,” I now know that anyone planning to see the Blues Festival from the water should get there early, bring lots of fenders, and carry two good anchors. Oh, and bring plenty of ice. You’ll need it to cool drinks, meet new friends, and enjoy the show. And with such a nice bunch of humans present, maybe you’ll even see me there.