While Kanye West was being stupid at the Grammys Awards show, I was at a local venue taking in “Blues at the Crossroads: The Soul of the Blues.” For me, the featured performer was Irma Thomas, who came on in the middle of the show, between Alecia Chakour, paying tribute to Etta James, and Lee Fields, channeling James Brown. Ms. Thomas returned to the stage to close the show, with the others backing her up on “Time Is On My Side.”
Last July, two thousand people gathered under a warm sun at the Tom McCall Bowl near Portland’s Riverplace Marina. Led by the Last Regiment of Syncopated Drummers, a parade of people, outfitted in colorful swimwear, marched past the Riverplace shops and restaurants. The participants, carrying inner tubes or more elaborate flotation equipment followed the drummers and then turned toward the river at “Poet’s Beach,” a Willamette River entry point under the downtown end of the I-5 Marquam Bridge. The procession followed a path down the embankment and waded into the river. Hundreds of people paddled, or simply floated, letting the current carry them downstream, returning to the Bowl. Back on shore they enjoyed an afternoon of music, refreshments and general merriment. The big party, called The Big Float, celebrated the Willamette River’s return to relative cleanliness – clean enough to swim in, anyway.