MT. WATATIC MUSIC FESTIVAL – Bonnie Raitt, Gary “U.S.” Bonds, John Hall, Dr. John and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee in concert at the Mt. Watatic Ski Area on Sunday.
MT. WATATIC, ASHBY – For the second time this summer, more than 6000 people flocked to this tucked-away hillside to hear music. Considering the show was thrown together in only 18 days – almost unheard of for a festival of this size – it came off as smoothly as if it had been planned for months.
It was, as headliner Bonnie Raitt said later, “the most creative bill I have ever played on.” Blues, rock, funk and R&B acts all came together harmoniously. The afternoon was a steady delight, as each performer, charged by the creative atmosphere, seemed to reach back for a little extra octane.
Colored balloons again dotted the hillside, and fans freely sprinkled through the surrounding woods and fields. Unlike Watatic’s Arlo Guthrie show in July, however, there were fewer blissed-out hippies and far more beer-slinging rowdies, though no one blew his cool. Feeling no pain became the state of mind by Raitt’s set, during which she fanned the mood by saying, “Watch those Frisbees. Don’t hit anybody, though no one would probably feel it.” To this she added to great applause: “Don’t worry, I’m going to get just like you after this show.”
A needed release before the onset of autumn, the show began with a sparkling set of traditional blues from Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee. Old enough to be nearing retirement, but still young enough to laugh at the ravages of time, the duo pumped out the blues with authority and sass. Following was Dr. John (nee Mac Rebennack), the New Orleans Night Tripper who served up hot gumbo piano boogie. Making his first Northeast swing in years, the good doctor still cooked when he had to, later joining
Raitt and bringing her song, “Your Good Thing (Is About to End),” to a slow boil. The toast of the festival backstage, the 41-year-old John was even told by one performer: “I’ve been into you ever since dropping acid in high school.”
Next was John Hall, the antinuke activist whose set was an unexpected dose of hard rock. “I can’t be tasteful all the time,” he said later, after belting out a convincing set that spanned Jimi Hendrix’s “Wait Until Tomorrow” and Chuck Berry’s “No Particular Place to Go.” Hall’s new band included ex-Pousette Dart Band bassist John Troy and ex-Ian Hunter drummer Eric Parker, who brought an impressive grit to the proceedings. Consistent with his politics, Hall also blasted the “pro-nuclear’’ stance of Massachusetts Gov. Edward J. King.
Gary “U.S.” Bonds, Bruce Springsteen’s rediscovery, outdid himself with a fever-pitch set, containing much more raw R&B energy than his Boston club appearance of a few months ago. He still got too ingratiating at times (“Glad to be back, God bless ya!”), but his energy had the hillside crowd digging into their coolers with abandon.
Raitt’s show was the capper, by which time the sun was setting and the crowd was literally and figuratively aglow. Emcee Jimmie Smith (a member of Boston’s Comedy Connection) brought her out, and she’s never sounded better. She opened with a bluesy retrieval of Buffalo Springfield’s “Bluebird,” plucked out some slide guitar soul, turned the corner with the country ballad “Darlin,” and romped home with selections of old blues, funk and a new rocker, “Me & the Boys,” by NRBQ.
Music in the Air, the agency that hustled to pull this show off, hopes to be back next season with more. So does Bonnie Raitt. “You’re a great audience to play for,” she wailed. “Let’s do this again next year.”