Bonnie Raitt's been touring so long, she doesn't have to be shy, doesn't need the drama of a delayed entrance. At Tuesday night's Red Butte concert, during the opening set she joined Mavis Staples who introduced Raitt as her "baby sister" for a rocking duet of "Will the Circle be Unbroken."
That set the tone for a night packed with hot riffs and the musical play-making of longtime friends. Raitt, now 62 years old, still looks energized on stage, wearing an aqua shirt that matches the flashy front piece of her signature guitar, her voice familiar, rich and textured, still caterwauling above the bluesy guitar players she surrounds herself with.
"The idea of playing blues in a place so beautiful is ludicrous, isn't it?" she asked on a warm summer night where a nearly full blue moon seemed pinned high above the Wasatch Mountains, a night made for remembering old musical friends and past gigs on the Red Butte stage.
Old friends, that is, starting with the legendary Mavis Staples, who got the crowd to their feet early with a sing-along on "I'll Take You There" and other gospel blues numbers.
Both women flung praises back and forth, just one evidence of the generosity Raitt displays before and after every song, her stage patter filled with praise for band mates, the sound and light crew or the songs of her favorite songwriters, from Gerry Rafferty, with a reggae-flavored version of "Right Down the Line," to an aching version of "Bobby" Dylan's "Million Miles." "I think he's going places," she joked.
Tuesday's set list nodded back through the length of Raitt's long career, from familiar hits, "Thing Called Love," "Have a Heart" and "Something to Talk About," to songs from her latest album, "Slipstream." The title of the album, released by the singer's own record label for the first time in her career, offered yet another nod to the musicians who came before and after her, in the way that a Raitt concert sounds both nostalgic and of-the-moment all at once.
Besides holding the spotlight with her legendary slide guitar playing, Raitt name-checked contemporary female singers, including Adele, Norah Jones, Taylor Swift and the hard-working productivity and creativity of Lady Gaga who doesn't just make music but has the energy to think up new stuff to wear, Raitt said admiringly.
To kick off the 20-minute encore, Raitt sat for the first time all night, awash in purple lights, looking small and naked without a guitar slung around her neck. Slowly, powerfully, at the end of a 90-minute show, her voice still in command of every note, Raitt gracefully won over an already adoring crowd with her signature heart-broken ballad, "I Can't Make You Love Me." "Here in the dark, in these final hours, I will lay down my heart, and feel the power if you won't."
And then in another Raitt-like move, she rocked up the energy to conclude the first night of a two-night stand with a twist of an Elvis song, "A Big Hunk O' Love."
Raitt's savvy set list showcases the energy of her bluesy voice and rocking guitar and the phenomenal musicians she plays with.
With • Mavis Staples
Where • Red Butte Garden
When • Tuesday, Aug. 28; continues Wednesday, Aug. 29; gates open at 6 p.m.; show at 7 p.m.
Running time •Three hours, with 20-minute intermission between acts.
Tickets • Garden members $58; public, $63.