It started with a standing ovation.
And by the end of Bonnie Raitt’s sold-out concert at Burton Cummings Theatre Saturday night, the excited crowd had risen three more times for the acclaimed roots artist.
Raitt, 73, is on the tail end of a two-year international tour in support of Just Like That…, an award-winning 2022 album that has further cemented the American entertainer’s legendary status.
Sporting a sparkly green top and her signature hairdo — big red curls with a shock of grey — the commanding vocalist grooved her way through a playful and wide-ranging hour-and-40-minute set.
Before getting into the music, Raitt took a moment to call attention to the orange “Every Child Matters” banners hanging in front of the drum kit. She had visited the Canadian Museum for Human Rights earlier in the day and described feeling heartened by the local turnout for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Many in the audience were wearing orange.
Winnipeg was well represented on the Burt stage Saturday.
Raitt kicked things off with Made Up Mind and some effusive praise for local roots act the Bros. Landreth. The song — a jammy cover of a Bros. original — earned Raitt the Grammy Award for Best Americana Performance last year. Brothers and bandmates Dave and Joey Landreth were unfortunately not in attendance due to their own touring schedule.
Winnipeg-born keyboardist Glenn Patscha, one-fifth of Raitt’s tight backing band, also got plenty of time in the spotlight — and deservedly so.
As a teen, Patscha moved to New Orleans to study piano under jazz icon Ellis Marsalis, and has recorded and toured with the likes of Levon Helm and Sheryl Crow. The headliner remarked several times how lucky she was to have him in the ensemble.
Raitt is an artist who wields compliments freely and frequently. She spoke highly of everyone on stage and behind the scenes — at one point giving a peck on the cheek to a somewhat bewildered stagehand — and gave props to the many artists and songwriters who have inspired her career.
The setlist was an emotional rollercoaster, ranging from spicy, uplifting anthems to mournful bluesy ballads. “I can’t stay in the pit too long,” she remarked.
Shredding on the slide guitar in front of a backdrop made to look like a blue sky, Raitt played nearly as many covers as she did originals, including songs by Bob Dylan, Chaka Khan, INXS and others.
She reminisced about the late John Prine, a longtime friend and collaborator who died of complications from COVID-19 in 2020, before launching into Angel From Montgomery. The song and Prine’s death served as inspiration for the title track of Raitt’s 21st studio album.
Just Like That is a fictionalized account of a real-life story about a mother who meets the recipient of her late son’s donated heart. There were at least a few tears in the audience during the narrative-rich song, which earned Raitt two Grammys for best American roots song and song of the year. She beat out the likes of Beyoncé, Lizzo, Taylor Swift and Harry Styles to win the latter, proving that 52 years after the release of her debut album, Raitt continues to transcend.
Following an enthusiastic encore, the headliner closed with a cover of Bruce Cockburn’s Lovers in a Dangerous Time, accompanied by opener Royal Wood.
Wood, 44, a “Juno-losing” (his words) Toronto singer-songwriter, was also present during Raitt’s last Winnipeg appearance at the Burt in 2017. (She was scheduled to play Canada Life Centre with James Taylor in 2020 but the concert was cancelled owing to the pandemic.)
Wearing an orange T-shirt and with his salt-and-pepper hair tightly cropped, Wood was joined on stage by a pair of dreamy vocalists and a stand-up bass player. His set was full of charming anecdotes about his wife and two young sons, as well as slow, sad love songs old and new; including the perennial wedding tune I’m So Glad, and Armour from his latest album, What Tomorrow Brings.
Royal Wood — yes that’s his real name — returns to Winnipeg next March for a show at the West End Cultural Centre.