by Harvey Wasserman – September 3, 2009
Author, ‘SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth’
In a tough economy, with music lovers thinking twice before going to see their favorite acts, the 34-date BonTaj Roulet Tour by Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal is blazing new green ground in raising money for charities. So far it’s collected over $100,000 for environmental and other causes. It could add that much again before the final show on September 25 at Rancho Mirage, California.
The tour features a unique pairing that cuts across rock and blues barriers…and a whole lot more. With strong reviews and healthy ticket sales on an otherwise rough summer for the music business, the tour is also laying the groundwork for a new mix in the magic art of using commercial concerts to raise funds for green and other causes.
According to Kathy Kane, Bonnie Raitt’s manager, “the artists are giving, the concert goers are giving and the ticketing agencies are giving, along with some key venues and promoters.” Among the collaborators are Ticketmaster, Live Nation Ticketing, and Musictoday. “Not every venue and promoter is contributing,” says Kane, “but many are trying, and every venue and promoter has worked with us to make this happen.”
A 25-cent contribution added to the price of each ticket is matched with a 25-cent contribution from the artists. The funds are distributed to causes in proportion to votes tallied through the BonTaj Roulet tour website. Visitors to the website can choose between “safe & sustainable energy,” “environmental protection,” “social justice & human rights” and “blues/music education.” “The funds will be given to nonprofit organizations across the country,” says Kane. “If safe and sustainable energy received 23% of the votes then groups working on safe and sustainable energy will receive 23% of the funds being granted.”
The mix of contributions from promoters/venues and ticketing agencies with matching funds from artists and concertgoers, distributed by popular vote, is a new recipe for concert tour fundraising, says Kane. Many of the dates also feature VIP Charity Action Fund gatherings where donors get special seats and meet with the artists after the show. “Perhaps what makes this unique is the collaborative effort coming from different entities involved in putting on a concert. This way, everyone is contributing to raise funds out of their resources, not just the artist or the fans,”says Kane.
Of the 34 dates on the tour, 31 venues participated in the fundraising effort, she adds, with two choosing to support other causes of their own.
Bonnie Raitt shared a tender moment Thursday with Twin Cities keyboardist Ricky Peterson during an emotional tribute song to her late brother Steve Raitt. Peterson and Steve Raitt were close friends until Steve died of brain cancer this year. Photo by Renee Jones Schneider /Star Tribune
Every time Bonnie Raitt performs in the Twin Cities, her older brother, Steve, a local music producer, sits in on one song. On Thursday at the State Fair grandstand, Steve, who died in April of brain cancer, informed nearly every song in a remarkably emotional and unforgettable evening.
His little sister’s slide guitar was darker and moodier, her emotional ballads were more deeply felt (with Raitt on the verge of tears a couple of times), and her excessive chatter was filled with sadness, celebration and many things Minnesotan, from shout-outs to Steve’s friends to a mention of the previous night’s walleye dinner to an expression of her love for the Minnesota State Fair.
After Taj Mahal’s opening exploration of various shades of the blues, Raitt, 59, took the stage and dedicated the show to her brother, saying, “As far as I’m concerned he’s standing right here with me.”
Under these extremely personal circumstances, she relied often on Twin Cities keyboardist Ricky Peterson, who joined her band this year and was one of Steve’s best friends, to lift her up musically and spiritually. She sat next to him at the keyboards singing the lump-in-her-throat “Nick of Time,” which caused her to well up and, in the end, literally lean on Peterson and then kiss him on the lips.
After her stinging slide solo to end “Love Sneakin’ Up on You,” the song Steve used to always sing with Bonnie, she closed her eyes and blew a kiss to the sky. Then she reached new emotional heights with her always penetrating hit ballad “I Can’t Make You Love Me”; afterward, she slunk across the stage and gave Peterson, who had ended the piece with a soulfully jazzy solo, a long, long kiss.
At that point, Raitt summoned out Mahal and his Phantom Blues Band for a two-band jam. “The gloves are coming off,” she declared, “and all the sadness put aside.”
Raitt relished playing with a horn section for a change, and she clearly dug duetting with Mahal, a friend of 40 years but a first-time tour mate. They got playful on the sassy medley of “Tramp” and “Scratch My Back,” and tore it up on her snarling “Gnawin on It” (dedicated to Peterson and his wife, Lu) and the rockin’ “Comin’ Home.”
Raitt has been highly emotional at the State Fair before — in 1990 on the night after her friend, guitar hero Stevie Ray Vaughan, died in a helicopter crash, and in 1998 when her mom sang with her for the first time in public (which Raitt mentioned on Thursday).
But, on this 100th anniversary of the grandstand in front of 7,275 people, Raitt showed how her blues/rock/pop/R&B music, filled with pain and joy, was the perfect way to grieve and celebrate her love of her brother and best friend.
How emotional was it for Bonnie Raitt at the State Fair on Thursday?
She cried during the fireworks after her show, she told me a short time later. She said it was particularly tough on Wednesday when she went on Lake Minnetonka with a bunch of friends of her older brother, Twin Cities producer Steve Raitt, who died in April of brain cancer.
She admitted that there were a couple moments onstage Thursday where she had to summon Steve for emotional rescue to get through a poignant song. She said she’d experienced a similar type thing when her father, Broadway star John Raitt, had died and she had to sing shortly after his passing. She merely thought of him when she was overcome with emotion.
During the fair concert, Raitt gave shout outs to some of Steve’s friends, including drummer Bobby Vandell, and to her many Minnesota friends, including Willie Murphy, Tony Glover and John Koerner.
Raitt’s teaming with longtime friend but first-time tourmate Taj Mahal made the structure of the evening different. He and his band opened (loved the swinging instrumental “Seven Eleven” and when he said “Fishin’ Blues” should be the Minnesota state song), then Raitt and her band performed; Taj sat in with her on a couple of acoustic numbers and then he and his band joined her for seven songs at the end.
Here is Raitt’s set list:
Sho Do Thing Called Love Nick of Time Your Good Thing Is About to End Good Man Good Woman Satisfied (acoustic w Taj) Done Changed My Way of Living (w Taj) Angel from Montgomery I Will Not Be Broken Something to Talk About Love Sneakin’ Up on You I Can’t Make You Love Me BOTH BANDS COMBINED: Tramp Scratch My Back She Felt Too Good She Caught the Katy Wah She Go Do Love So Strong Gnawin’ on It Comin’ Home
Bonnie Raitt opened the Minnesota State Fair’s Grandstand series Thursday night with the help of an old friend, 67-year-old blues icon Taj Mahal. But it was another, even older, friend whose memory informed every moment of the show.
Raitt’s brother, Steve, died in April of brain cancer at age 61, after spending several decades living in the Twin Cities and working as a sound engineer and producer. Indeed, Raitt recorded her 1971 debut album in Minnesota with the help of her brother. His presence in the Cities gave Raitt numerous reasons to visit, and over the years, she has performed here on a regular basis, including five previous gigs at the Fair itself.
At the top of Thursday’s show, Raitt dedicated the evening to her brother, the first of numerous times she spoke of him from the stage. It wasn’t a wake, but a celebration of his life through music and stories — a celebration with more than a little lingering pain.
As such, Raitt turned in the sort of raw, let-all-the-seams-show performance that few in the crowd of 7,275 will ever forget. She devoted much of her first hour to slow, passionate blues numbers, delivered with hushed reverence and, often, closed eyes. She seemed to draw strength from the newest member of her band, the Twin Cities’ own Ricky Peterson, and spoke lovingly of him and his relationship with her brother.
During “Nick of Time,” she sidled up next to Peterson on the keyboards, and praised him for the “Minnesota magic” he’s spent the summer spreading to fans around the country. Later, she sang “Good Man Good Woman” with him as a duet, showcasing a chemistry that suggested they’d been bandmates for decades, not mere months.
But it was Raitt’s version of John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” that gave the evening its strongest charge. She opened it singing nearly a cappella, with just a few spare strums on her acoustic guitar, and closed it with her band backing her at full force.
Raitt, who turns 60 in November, also proved endlessly generous, giving shout-outs to numerous friends in the crowd, her fellow musicians and even upcoming Fair performers like Kelly Clarkson and Jackson Browne.
Mahal, who co-produced her 1973 album “Takin’ My Time,” opened the evening with a brisk 45-minute set and later joined Raitt for several acoustic numbers. After she ran through a few of her biggest hits — “Something to Talk About,” “Love Sneakin’ Up on You” and a wrenching “I Can’t Make You Love Me” — Raitt invited Mahal and his entire band for an extended encore that included “Wah She Go Do,” one of the many songs they recorded together nearly four decades ago.
Pop Music Critic Ross Raihala can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-228-5553.
Taj Mahal, a commanding presence backed by the six piece Phantom Blues Band, burst onto the Bank of America Pavilion stage on a muggy August 15th and took the place by a storm. Taj is a versatile and positive spirit made flesh, endowed with a gravelly voice that plumbs the depths of the blues.
He began his set with an instrumental, “Honky Tonk,” and then he launched into a Bo Diddley number from the 1950s, “Diddy Wah Diddy.” He told the audience he knew it was written expressly about Boston. “It ain’t no town and it ain’t no city,” Taj crooned, “but they love me down in Diddy Wah Ditty.”
Yes, the audience in “Bean City,” as Taj calls Boston, truly does love this Massachusetts native, and they proved it during the three-hour concert presented by Live Nation. Taj hopped around the musical canon and was later joined co-headliner Bonnie Raitt (who also has Massachusetts roots) in several crowd-pleasing numbers that rocked the house.
The tour, titled “BonTaj Roulet,” a combination of their two names and a twist on “laissez les bon temps roulez” (“let the good times roll”) kicked off with two concerts in Massachusetts. It will tour nationally through to the end of next month, with the last concert set for Sept. 16 in Oakland, Calif., near where both the musicians are based.
It is a tour that has been years in the planning, Bonnie Raitt announced later, representing a friendship that was fostered at Club 47 in Cambridge when Bonnie was an undergraduate enrolled in African studies at Harvard. Taj Mahal, like Bonnie Raitt, had other ambitions then when he was enrolled at UMass-Amherst (she’s 58 and he’s 67), but music took hold of them both and the rest is history.
They can crank it up and tone it down, depending on their moods; they can move from guitar to piano with ease; they can play a ragtime number and then shift 180 degrees to a gospel-infused piece or slink on into a searing, smoky ballad. And all along, the message they communicate is to live fully and with gusto, to get through the hard times, to embrace the collective good will of good people, and to endure.
“I know these are hard times, but you got to feel good and we sure do know how to make you feel good,” Bonnie Raitt said from the stage.
Taj echoed this sentiment when he told the audience, “The blues is like group therapy.”
In song after song, “Fishing Blues,” “Sweet as a Honey Bee,” “Send Out Blues,” and “Real Good Thing,” Taj delivered, dancing, prancing onstage, picking up his banjo and plunking out a blues riff, or growling lowdown and nasty while swiveling his hips and rolling his eyes. There is no end to his exquisite enjoyment of music, and it rippled through the audience with electricty.
Bonnie Raitt did her own set, accompanied by several of the Phantom Blues Band and her longtime accompanist George Marinelli on guitar, who traded guitar licks. One particularly moving moment came during her rendition of John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery,” which she first recorded with Prine on a live album of his dating from the 1980s. She stood alone on stage with her acoustic guitar and sang a capella; when the band broke in, she delivered this ballad about dashed hopes with pathos.
“There’s flies in the kitchen,” she sang in the closing verse from “Angels,” “I can hear them a-buzzing. I ain’t done nothing since I woke up today. How in the world can a person go to work in the morning, come home in the evening, and have nothing to say?”
The blues is about loss, about psychic angst, about loneliness and the longing for love, and that’s the message of Prine’s song. And it is also the message in the Willie Dixon song, “Built for Comfort,” which promises sexual fulfillment only when lovers get it on in the slow groove, which the headliners performed with warmth and sass and attitude, sending the audience dancing to its feet.
The positive message these performers bring to roots/blues/jazz/rock songs is inspirational. Without preaching, the songs they sang spoke of transcendence over hard times, personal pain and loss, and they delivered it with an infectious love of life.
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'A Tribute To Mose Allison' Celebrates The Music Of An Exciting Jazz Master
Raitt contributed to a new album, If You're Going To The City: A Tribute To Mose Allison, which
celebrates the late singer and pianist, who famously blended the
rough-edged blues of the Mississippi Delta with the 1950s jazz of New
NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks to Bonnie Raitt about her friendship with the Mose Allison. They're also joined by Amy Allison — his daughter, who executive produced the album — about selecting an unexpected list of artists to contribute songs to the album.