Bonnie Raitt, who kicked off her 2012 summer tour Sunday at the New Orleans Jazz Fest, did not start slow. After her introduction by festival producer Quint Davis – “Ladies and gentlemen, the great Raitt!” – she tore straight into what was to be pretty much 90 straight minutes of hard-hitting, sharp-toothed rock ‘n’ roll, taking no prisoners with a vicious bottleneck guitar and that sandpaper-and-smoke voice, which seems to age like a good Scotch. At nearly the very end of the 2012 fest, the guitar goddess delivered one of its most memorable shows.
Raitt, who as Davis pointed out in his introduction, was the first non-New Orleans-dwelling artist to perform at Jazz Fest, is no stranger to the city. Her shiny, zebra-striped turquoise shirt, she said, was intended to “honor the spirit of Ernie K-Doe. We drove by the Mother-in-Law Lounge on the way here.” She praised John Mooney and the Malone Brothers’ Saturday performances at Jazz Fest with a “man, it was slammin’.”
“In my long and notorious life,” she said, “I’ve been so glad I always have New Orleans to come back to.”
The guitarist was flanked by a band of veterans. Drummer Ricky Fataar has been with her since 1981; bassist James “Hutch” Hutchinson since 1983, when the two were introduced by the Neville Brothers. Second guitarist George Marinelli joined 20 years ago; road soundman Paul Middleton has been around for 25. Together, they occupied the stage like the old buddies they are, relaxed, chatty and engaging with the crowd, and making it look easy with the music.
Raitt played old-school hits like John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery,” which she popularized in her 1974 “Streetlights” album, and, of course, “Something To Talk About,” from 1991’s “Luck of the Draw.” But for the most part, the set was drawn from her 2012 release “Slipstream” – her first studio album in seven years.
bonnie raitt–angel from montgomery–jazzfest 2012
Jazz Fest 2012 Preservation Hall Jazz Band with Allen Toussaint and Bonnie Raitt
I Believe I’m In Love With You
Right Down The Line
Bonnie Raitt, Jon Cleary, and Allen Toussaint – I Believe I’m in Love with You – Jazz Fest 2012
bonnie raitt at jazz fest, 05 06 2012
Jazz Fest 2012 111 Bonnie Raitt @ Gentilly Stage
“Slipstream” was recorded after a tough year for Raitt, during which she lost her parents, her brother and a best friend. She doesn’t write much, and for “Slipstream,” she chose songs that reflected her pain, and her emergence from it. Some of the album tracks are for an artist who is experiencing loss, and some are for an artist who has known enough of it to treasure love and joy when she finds it. (And at least one – “Down to You,” which she co-wrote with Randall Bramblett and performed Sunday at Jazz Fest, is about putting the first and second experiences together and arriving at a third perspective: taking no mess. As the set’s penultimate song, she rocked it.)
Rain sprinkled the crowd as the band turned Bob Dylan’s “Million Miles” into a gritty, low-down blues, complete with slinky barroom piano solo from keyboardist Mike Finnegan. Before “Can’t Fail Me Now,” another “Slipstream” track written by Loudon Wainwright and Joe Henry, Raitt and Marinelli had to pause to re-tune due to the wetness.
But the sun emerged as if on a timer for one of the show’s few quiet moments. Rays beamed down as Raitt sat atop a stool sans guitar, hands folded in her lap, for the hushed ballad “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” Smartphones flew into the air to capture the performance; most folks sang along. After a set of high-octane joking and rocking, it was a lovely interlude of pure emotion.
“I wouldn’t want to go without doing that for you,” she said.
Raitt is fond of New Orleans pianists. She’s covered songs by Allen Toussaint, and apparently it was he who hooked her up with Joe Henry, who produced some of the Slipstream sessions. Jon Cleary, whom she’s called “the ninth wonder of the world” in the media, has toured as a part of her band. The pair donated a live recording of their performance of Cleary’s “So Damn Good” from the 2009 Jazz Fest to an album benefiting the environmental organization Earthjustice; along with Dr. John, Raitt appears on “Let’s Get Low Down,” a track on Cleary’s new album Occapella.
Cleary joined Raitt onstage twice Sunday, first early on in the show for her “Love Sneakin’ Up On You.” (“I was gonna save him for the end,” she said. “It’s nice to see my pal… I heard he tore it up at the Maple Leaf last night.”) He came out again to reprise the “So Damn Good” fest duet, closer to the end. But where was Toussaint?
It was Cleary who was the last to know. As he boogie-woogied on the keys for an encore of the Fabulous Thunderbirds’ “I Believe I’m In Love,” the man appeared from stage right, cutting a rather suave figure as he sneaked up behind Cleary and tapped him on the shoulder, as if cutting in on a dance. Without missing a beat, Cleary exited stage left and Toussaint finished the song.
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