People sit on picnic blankets at a waterfront park in Portland, while boats gather on the river and a bridge is visible in the background.

The Waterfront Blues Festival is returning to Tom McCall Waterfront Park this year July 1-4.

Shirley Chan / OPB

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Many of Oregon’s beloved music festivals are coming back this summer after taking a hiatus earlier on in the pandemic. OPB Music Director Jerad Walker recently joined OPB’s “Think Out Loud®” to talk about the bands and artists he’s most excited to hear live on stage as the weather warms up.

The Waterfront Blues Festival is coming up July 1-4 at Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park. The festival was canceled in 2020 and last year organizers put on a pared-down event at a different location away from the traditional spot. This year, it’s back in full swing with headliners such as Taj Mahal and Grace Potter and regional mainstays that a lot of people in the Northwest will recognize like Curtis Salgado. Walker’s pick for the must-see artist at this festival is the lesser-known Adia Victoria.

“She is based out of Tennessee and has just an incredibly powerful and atmospheric brand of southern gothic blues,” he said.

The following weekend, July 8-10, is the Oregon Country Fair, returning after a two-year hiatus.

“This is the mother of all hippy-dippy festivals,” Walker said. “It was founded in 1969, and it has its roots firmly entrenched in the counterculture movement of the late ‘60s. It’s got a sprawling program with everything from spoken word poets to dance troupes and circus acts performing, but music has always been the centerpiece.”

Walker says he’s most excited to see the Portland band Sávila.

“This is a project made up of well-known musicians in the Portland music scene: Fabi Reyna, Papi Fimbres, Brisa Gonzalez. They play dreamy, rhythmic, Latin-inspired music,” Walker said. “Their most recent release was heavily influenced by the sound of Oaxaca, which is a state in southern Mexico that has a glorious and unique cultural tradition. It doesn’t sound, taste or look like the rest of Mexico.”

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The Northwest String Summit is coming up July 21-24. The festival features roots and bluegrass music and is celebrating its 20th year, which will also be the festival’s last. The festival will appeal to a wide range of fans with headliners such as Del McCoury Band, which features a legendary 83-year-old, second-generation bluegrass musician as well as more modern inspired bands like Yonder Mountain String Band.

Walker is looking forward to seeing the Portland band Fruition.

They have quietly become one of the biggest bands in Oregon in the past decade, almost entirely on the back of their live performances, which are really high energy, rootsy, and they fit in that really jammy kind of rock-and-roll vibe,” Walker explained.

After two years, the Pickathon music festival is returning to Pendarvis Farm in Happy Valley on Aug. 4-7.

“I think this is probably the most eclectic lineup that you’re going to find in the state, maybe even the entire country,” Walker said. “They have everything from bluegrass to hip hop to metal. I’ve seen all of those on Pendarvis Farm in the last few years, and this lineup is no different.”

Margo Cilker, who has roots in Eastern Oregon, is on the bill this year. But Walker says his top pick for Pickathan is hip hop artist Sampa the Great.

“She was born in Zambia, raised in Botswana, has spent time in the United States and now is based in Australia: truly a world citizen. Simply put, she is one of the most electric rappers in the world ... and I’m so excited to see her perform live.”

Walker also highlighted another international band – a group called Wet Leg from the Isle of Wight in England.

“They have just exploded onto the rock scene in the past year,” he said.

Other festivals to watch out for this summer include the Oregon Jamboree, a country music festival in Sweet Home, Oregon July 29-31. Portland Hip Hop Week is August 20-26, and PDX Pop Now! is August 22-28. The latter is a volunteer-run festival focused on independent Portland musicians.

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