With a set list that covered her 51-year career and ranged from ballads to blues to countrified rock, Bonnie Raitt was a definite crowd-pleaser at her September 22 show at the Santa Barbara Bowl. Yes, Raitt’s first album came out in 1971, and she’s been hitting the Bowl stage every few years since 1977.
It did feel a bit like a reunion night at the beautiful amphitheater — I saw my first Bonnie Raitt show there in 1992, and I feel pretty certain that many of the people in the audience last week were there back then, including several of my parents’ pals popping up in the audience. Bonnie’s famous friends were there too, including Hale Milgrim, David Crosby and — in the front row — an agelessly spry Chubby Checker (“There’s no puberty in my life without Chubby Checker,” said Raitt), who friends say celebrated his 81st birthday at a private party the next night at SOhO.
Playing a mix of old songs and very, very new material from her 2022 album Just Like That… (a title that always makes me think of Sex and the City, but there’s certainly no obvious connection), Raitt’s heartfelt ballads were definitely the standouts for me. “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” sounded as sweetly sad as it did as the ultimate heartbreak song when it came out in 1991. And a beautiful, deeply emotional, and personal version of her dear friend and collaborator John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” is still pleasantly stuck in my head a few days later. So is her introduction of the 1971 classic tune (“I’ve sung this song for so many reasons and for so many decades”) with a dedication to Prine, who died in April 2020 from complications due to COVID.
Her 2022 song “Livin’ for the Ones” — co-written with her longtime guitarist George Marinelli — was a more rocking riff on the theme of loss. As she said, “Putting powerful emotions into songs like this is the best remedy I know. Here’s to living for the ones who are no longer with us.”
And ever the crowd pleasers, Raitt and her band — Marinelli on guitar, bassist James “Hutch” Hutchinson, drummer Ricky Fataar, Glenn Patscha on keyboards and backing vocals, and guitarist
Kenny Greenberg Duke Levine — played no shortage of familiar favorites like “Not the Only One,” “Love Sneakin’ Up on You,” “Nick of Time,” and “Something to Talk About” — which fans happily sang and bopped along to. My favorite of the older tunes was “Have a Heart,” where Raitt showed off her considerable guitar chops, as well as her still-stunning vocals.
At a time in her life when she could still easily be resting on her laurels, it was great to see Bonnie Raitt out there giving it her all and still doing what she does best.