by Phil Chesnut
Last Tuesday, bassman and promoter John Lee and myself were the guests of Curtis Salgado at a very special concert and benefit at the Theater of the Clouds, in Portland's Rose Garden. This event was a fundraiser to assist Curtis with the massive medical bills incurred while battling his recently diagnosed liver cancer. With the support of so many friends, fans and artists, the Concert for Curtis was a huge success. Proceeds not only came from tickets, but from a giant silent auction with some high dollar prizes that did very well. With the clout of this great blues city, and the help of so many, the benefit was truly worthy of this great bluesman. There have also been many other locally-based benefits for Curtis recently, including ones from Seattle, Eugene, Freemont, CA and Omaha, NE, showing how wide this master soulman's influence has spread.
I got to meet with Curtis for a short time before the show. He was in great spirits and was a bit taken aback by the huge support shown on this special night. Later, Curtis put on his usual masterful performance, demonstrating why he is truly one of the world's greatest soul singers. As a true showman, Curtis also demonstrated great courage and strength, considering his situation. In response, both fans and artists showed their love and support to a person who has done so much for both the music and the people.
Opening the show was the Curtis Salgado Band, with a 5 piece horn section and 4 piece choir, the band showed off their huge sound. Curtis and his crew certainly set the high spirited, soulful mood for the night. Following this great soul set came the familiar blues of Little Charlie & the Nightcats. Fronted by guitarist Charley Baty and vocalist/harpman Rick Estrin, the band continued the essence of things to come. A loud MTV rock band named Everclear played next, which gave me a chance to mingle in the halls, catching up with old Portland friends and checking out the many auction items.
John Belushi's widow, Judith, took the stage next with some heartfelt stories of two friends who came together and how they forever influenced the blues. Following these tales of the REAL Blues Brothers, came for me the highlight of the night - Taj Mahal and the Phantom Blues Band. Flying in from Europe to perform at this benefit, Taj and band put on a superb performance to the delight of the multitude.
Next to perform was Curtis' old bandmate Robert Cray. Cray demonstrated his own blues based pop music that has made him popular with more than just blues fans. Following Cray came Northwest rock icon Steve Miller and his band. After performing a few Steve Miller gems, Curtis came out to finish this long set. This Miller/Salgado set was truly magical and worth the price of admission by itself.
If that wasn't enough, Cray came back out, along with various other band members, to create one killer all-star jam that lasted way later than the planned time. Although it was only a Tuesday, no one seemed to care.
Although Curtis still has a tough row to hoe, he can rest assured that he is a man who is greatly loved and appreciated by thousands. At every performance I've ever seen of Curtis', he always took the time to make the point about love and respect towards each other. After my experience at this special event, his healing words and insight carry more weight than ever.
Phil Chesnut is an award winning photographer and keen observer of the Northwest blues scene. All of the photographs that appear in this article were created by Phil.