WAITE PARK, Minn. — Before Bonnie Raitt even sang a note at the Ledge Amphitheater on Friday night, she exposed her deep Minnesota roots.
“Minnesota!” she declared when she hit the stage. “Nice to be back. What a beautiful venue.”
After her first tune, she gave shout-outs to Minnesota music institutions Lamont Cranston, Willie Murphy, Tony Glover and Dave Ray. The singer-guitarist, who recorded her debut album on Lake Minnetonka in 1971, reminisced about her hard-partying days in the Twin Cities in the ’70s and ’80s.
She explained that if she hadn’t gotten sober that “a half-hour after I finished [performing tonight], I’d be in that water,” she said, referring to a mini-lake in the quarries of the Ledge. “Buck naked. And all my family from Minneapolis would be with me.”
In her first headline concert in Minnesota since the 2016 State Fair, Raitt was in great spirits Friday, carrying on as if she were in her living room, not a picturesque outdoor venue with 4,200 adoring fans. She kept changing the set list, flirting with an agile dancing man in the front row and apologizing to the sign language interpreters whenever she dropped a word not suitable for this newspaper.
Her friendliness was engaging, but the casualness also negated the momentum of the show. There were many highlights (as two full standing ovations and four partial ones attested) but no flow toward a climactic pre-encore finale and no familiar, high-energy sendoff (she opted for the obscure “One Belief Away” with its deliciously liquid Afrobeat rhythm).
However, there was a consistent emotionalism throughout that made the 100-minute performance rewarding. Lacking the road-weary rasp of the past, her voice was rich, soulful and strikingly heartfelt, especially on the impossibly sad ballads “I Can’t Make You Love Me” (featuring newcomer Glenn Patscha’s elegantly despondent piano) and John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery,” about a woman trapped in a marriage.
Equally emotional was the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer’s slide guitar work, with a remarkable range of moods including mournful (“Blame It on Me”), mystical (“Back Around”), sensual (“Need You Tonight”), joyful (“Something to Talk About”), stinging (“Livin’ for the Ones”), sly (“Have a Heart”) and funky (“You Got the Love”).
Raitt, 72, offered five selections from her excellent 2022 album, “Just Like That,” including the title track, a true-story ballad about a woman who lost her 25-year-old son but got to hear his heart transplanted in another man. It was a riveting tale of grace that enthralled the sellout crowd.
Other standout new numbers included the slow-burn blues “Blame It on Me,” the night’s first cry of sadness, and the hopeful Stones-like rocker “Livin’ for the Ones,” dedicated to Raitt’s late brother Steve, a longtime Twin Cities sound engineer/producer.
Before the night was over, Raitt mentioned the State Fair, First Avenue and the Joint bar as well as Spider John Koerner, Willie & the Bees, the T.C. Jammers, Melanie Rosales, Ricky Peterson, Margaret Cox, Bobby Vandell (who was in the audience) — pretty much any Minnesota musician on the scene before Prince.
“I love you, too, Minnesota,” she shouted after the night’s final standing ovation. “I feel it, too.”
Opening the concert was Mavis Staples, 83, a force of happiness, inspiration and positivity. The Rock Hall of Famer’s spirit, energy and growling gospel messages were infectious. It’s too bad that she didn’t duet with Raitt as they did when they toured together 10 years ago.
Jon Bream has been a music critic at the Star Tribune since 1975, making him the longest tenured pop critic at a U.S. daily newspaper. He has attended more than 8,000 concerts and written four books (on Prince, Led Zeppelin, Neil Diamond and Bob Dylan). Thus far, he has ignored readers’ suggestions that he take a music-appreciation class.