Bonnie Raitt and Mavis Staples at Red Butte • Salt Lake Magazine

On August 13, 2022, Red Butte audiences enjoyed a great evening of advanced studies at the School of Rock. Mavis Staples enlightened us with songs from her 74-year gospel and soul career and Bonnie Raitt gave lessons in American roots music from over 50 years of singing the blues.

Staples transformed the Red Butte Garden Amphitheater into an organic cathedral. She warmed up the crowd like a preacher on a Sunday morning with her renditions of the gospel for a Saturday night revival. Staples, a longtime social justice advocate who marched with Dr. King for civil rights and performed in the separated South, performed songs that continue to inspire. She shone the light of wisdom born of struggle with her opening number “For What It’s Worth,” a ’60s protest song covered by her family band, The Staple Singers. At 83, she has neither the time nor the patience for the absurd Confederate revival that is unfolding today. Her setlist reflected her long journey of sharing Christian love, acceptance, justice and equal rights. His second song “I’m Just Another Soldier” reminded us all that our fight for equality is never over.

Accompanied by a stellar band and backing vocals, Staples played nine songs in all. She took us on an uplifting journey with songs like “Change”, “Anytime” and the traditional African-American spiritual song “You Gotta Move”. For her finale, she had the crowd, who were already on their feet, singing and dancing to her 70s soul hit “I’ll Take You There.” She certainly took us there. In her eighth decade as a recording artist, she remains very sharp. She struggled a bit with our sparse mountain air, like many artists visiting the Rocky Mountains, but that never dampened her enthusiasm or dampened her sound.

Bonnie Raitt must have spent the last few decades in a time capsule because her voice still sounds the same as it did at the peak of her career in the 1990s. Indeed, her soulful slide guitar never goes out of style. Pointing to the Ukrainian flag draped behind her on stage, she reminded us of the importance of standing up against tyrants both at home and abroad. She kicked us off with a new song “Made Up Mind” which sounded like the classic Raitt. She also performed “Livin’ for the Ones” from her just released album. Just like that. The song pays homage to those we’ve lost in the pandemic and is styled with a catchy ’70s rock beat. Raitt also looked to the past for “Blame It On Me,” which sounds like a blues classic even if it was written for release in 2022.

Bonnie Raitt (Photo by Marina Chavez)

There is a timeless quality to Raitt’s music. At 72, she showed no signs of slowing down. The songs on the new record feel like they could fit anywhere in his massive catalog of music spanning six decades. She hit us with a dazzling 20-song setlist that included “Nick of Time” and a stunning cover of INXS’ “Need You Tonight.” She rocked the house with her mega hit “Something to Talk About”. In a heartfelt tribute, she acknowledged the late great John Prine, whom we lost during the pandemic, with an otherworldly acoustic rendition of his “Angel From Montgomery.”

Raitt has released a stunning purple resonator guitar made from reclaimed wood and recycled aircraft aluminum. Pointing to this guitar, adorned with a capital R from a 1951 Rambler hubcap, she reminded us that it is possible to be good stewards of our planet. She then performed a Delta Blues inspired rendition of “Back Around”. Raitt toured with his band for many years, and you could hear that well-honed synergy in their take on the uplifting calypso beat in “Have A Heart.”

When she started her encore, a light rain began to fall and she came out on stage alone and performed her soulful hit “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” Wow! What an amazing night at the Garden. We certainly received an expert tutorial on American roots music from two iconic masters.

Raitt and Staples commented on how lucky we are to have such a beautiful venue as Red Butte Garden Amphitheater and how much they loved playing here. The feeling is mutual.

  • Who: Bonnie Raitt with very special guest Mavis Staples
  • What: Bonnie Raitt: Tour Like This
  • Where: Red Butte Garden Amphitheater
  • When: August 13, 2022
  • Info: redbuttegarden.org

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