Walla Walla – Two legends performed last Tuesday at Walla Walla’s newest music venue. Gospel singer Mavis Staples opened the show, followed by blues guitarist and singer Bonnie Raitt at the Wine Country Amphitheater.
W3Concerts, with partners CMoore Concerts and Knitting Factory Entertainment is producing the first concert series on the driving range at the Walla Walla Golf Course. The gently sloped range is a natural amphitheater with excellent sound. The evening was hot, over 100 degrees; the crowd was large, with over 4,000 fans, yet it felt cool, intimate, and easy.
Mavis Staples is an American gospel singer and civil rights activist who has won Grammys, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and honored by the Kennedy Center. She joined the family’s gospel group, The Staple Singers, when she was eleven in 1950. Their music was inspirational and often political as they performed through some of the most contentious decades in the country’s history.
At Wednesday’s concert, Staples sang anthems of freedom and respect from the sixties and seventies. Listening to the lyrics, it was amazing how timely they have again become. Staples sees performing music as an act of kindness and fellowship, and her joyful spirit is irresistible. That generosity of spirit carried over when Raitt took the stage later, brimming with happiness at being able to play anywhere after years off due to the pandemic.
Bonnie Raitt and her band began playing as the sun set in the wheatfield behind the stage. Her set included blues, pop, covers, and originals. She sang personal songs written by beloved collaborators and icons, the music she carries with her. There is no way to remain unmoved when she sings John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery.” Her recording of that song is well known, however, when she performs it live, her blues roots are evident as she sings around the tune, making it new and powerful.
Raitt told the audience that she and the tour were traveling in a tight bubble. In the age of COVID-19, an outbreak can derail a tour, and performers are careful after performing live again after the pandemic. The bubble also protects Staples, who though her strong voice belies her age, is 83.
Another action the tour took to protect its stars was to prohibit all photography. As press, I am usually allowed to bring a digital camera with several lenses to take photos of the show and the venue. Typically, at a concert, professional photographers are asked to take pictures only during a specific song, usually the second song of the set. Performers use that time to give photographers the best angles and iconic poses. During the rest of the show, the band can concentrate on the performance and the music, not on how they’ll look in a poorly timed photo.
At the beginning of the concert, the audience was also asked not to take pictures or videos. For the most part, phones seemed to be put away. There are several reasons performers ask fans to put their phones away, mainly for image control keeping unflattering photos off the internet. Another is to create an event where everyone is truly present, no selfies, no social media, and all eyes on the show. It was certainly what I experienced that night with my camera back at the office. I thoroughly enjoyed the show.