Review: Bonnie Raitt With Mavis Staples at Red Butte Garden

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

Staples turned the Red Butte Garden Amphitheatre into an organic cathedral. She warmed up the crowd like a preacher on a Sunday morning with her gospel renditions meant for a Saturday night revival. Staples, a longtime social justice advocate who marched with Dr. King for civil rights and played the segregated South, performed songs that continue to inspire. She shined 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 no time or patience for the nonsensical confederate revival going on today. Her setlist reflected her long journey sharing Christian love, acceptance, righteousness and equal rights. Her second song “I’m Just Another Soldier” reminded us all that our struggle for equality is never over. 

Accompanied by a stellar band and backup singers, 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 little with our thin mountain air, like many artists visiting the Rocky Mountains, but it never curbed 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 the stage, she reminded us of the importance of standing up against tyrants both at home and abroad. She started us off with a new song “Made Up Mind” that sounded like classic Raitt. She also played “Livin’ for the Ones” from her just-released album Just Like That. The song paid homage to those we lost in the pandemic and is styled with a driving ‘70s rock rhythm. Raitt also looked to the past for “Blame It On Me,” which sounds like a bluesy classic even though it was written for her 2022 release. 

Bonnie Raitt
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 her massive six-decade catalog of music. She hit us with a dazzling 20-song setlist that included “Nick of Time” and a great cover of INXS’s “Need You Tonight.” She rocked the house with her mega-hit “Something to Talk About.” In a heartfelt tribute, she recognized the late, great John Prine, who we lost during the pandemic, with an otherworldly acoustic rendition of his “Angel From Montgomery.” 

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

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

Both Raitt and Staples commented on how fortunate we are to have such a beautiful venue as the Red Butte Garden Amphitheatre and how they loved playing here. The feeling is mutual.

  • Who: Bonnie Raitt with very special guest Mavis Staples
  • What: Bonnie Raitt: Just Like That Tour
  • Where: Red Butte Garden Amphitheatre
  • When: Aug. 13, 2022
  • Info: redbuttegarden.org

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John Nelson
John Nelsonhttps://www.saltlakemagazine.com/
John Nelson covers the local music scene for Salt Lake magazine. He is a 20-year veteran of Uncle Sam’s Flying Circus with a lifelong addiction to American roots music, live music venues, craft beer and baseball.

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