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Review: Goosebumps, hankies and a standing ovation for an emotional but tired Bonnie Raitt in Minneapolis
It was the first theater appearance in the Twin Cities in this century for the longtime Minnesota favorite.

on October 12, 2023 No comments
By Jon Bream

Bonnie Raitt is one of us. Well, almost. We sure treat her like she is. And she reciprocates.

“I get emotional when I’m here,” she said on Wednesday night at the sold-out State Theatre in Minneapolis.

Then the memories started flooding in.

“The Triangle Bar, the Joint, the Cabooze,” the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer said, naming some of her old West Bank haunts. “They’re in my Rolodex of the trouble I caused. I came to roll around in joy for the five decades I’ve been coming here.”

By now, you’ve probably heard the back story. Ever since recording her debut album on Lake Minnetonka in 1971 with producer Willie Murphy, the California singer/guitarist has been a regular visitor to the Gopher State. Especially when her late brother Steve, an engineer/producer, lived here for three decades. She would come here to water ski, hang out and listen to live music.

On Wednesday, the chatty Raitt conducted a roll call of all her musical friends who were at the State Theatre: Maurice Jacox, Bobby Vandell, Melanie Rosales and Ricky Peterson, who has toured in her band.

Raitt, 73, has performed dozens of times in the Twin Cities — from her debut at the Whole Coffeehouse at the University of Minnesota to big gigs at Xcel Energy Center and the State Fair (eight times at the grandstand, 1990-2016). Last summer, she rocked the new Ledge Amphitheater in Waite Park, near St. Cloud.

Duke Levine performs at the State Theater on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023 in Minneapolis.Bonnie Raitt performs at the State Theater on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023 in Minneapolis.Bonnie Raitt performs at the State Theater on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023 in Minneapolis.Glenn Patscha performs at the State Theater on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023 in Minneapolis.Bonnie Raitt performs at the State Theater on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023 in Minneapolis.

© Tony Nelson /Special to the Star Tribune

Surprisingly, the road warrior hasn’t appeared at a Twin Cities theater in this century. The last one was the Orpheum in 1998, not counting a 2013 charity gala at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The ever-popular star’s concert Wednesday at the 2,200-seat State Theatre sold out well in advance. (She probably could have filled it for a second night.)

It was the penultimate show on a two-year tour, and, frankly, Raitt seemed a little tired. While she was emotional in her conversation, she was maybe less so in her singing.

There were winning moments, though, including a bluesy and brooding treatment of Bob Dylan’s “Million Miles,” the bluesy, jazzy, Mose Allison-evoking “Blame It on Me” with Glenn Patscha’s crying organ, and her own acoustic guitar ballad “Just Like That,” a rivetingly poignant true story about a woman who lost her 25-year-old son but got to hear his heart transplanted in another man. (Raitt did not mention that “Just Like That” won the Grammy in February for song of the year and the Americana Music Award last month for best song.)

By contrast, Raitt’s version of INXS’ “Need You Tonight” (which she dedicated to the TC Jammers band at Bunkers) lacked its usual lusty vibes, and she and her four-man band’s timing was off during “Something to Talk About,” her frisky 1991 hit. However, the group found its groove when Raitt and veteran Boston guitarist Duke Levine, who signed on just last year, jammed briefly on the reggae-flavored “Have a Heart,” another early ’90s tune.

The 13-time Grammy winner explained that she gets verklempt whenever she sings “Angel From Montgomery,” John Prine’s remarkable reflection of an older woman stuck in a bad marriage that she recorded in 1974. On this night, it was seasoned with Levine’s mandolin and Patscha’s elegantly mournful piano before Raitt delivered the last vocal line with a hauntingly painful ache in her voice. Goosebumps, hankies and a standing ovation.

To change the mood, Raitt and her band — with its terrific and longtime rhythm section of bassist Hutch Hutchinson and drummer Ricky Fataar — tore it up on Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House.”

For the encore, Raitt downshifted to the ultimate heartbreaker, “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” her momentous 1991 piano ballad. When she raised her voice on the final chorus, the crowd cheered loudly. Patscha offered a sorrowful piano passage with a little classical flourish for the coda.

Raitt was so overcome that she told her band, “I can’t sing another sad song, guys.” So she skipped the planned piece on her set list and instead moved into the hard-charging 2003 boogie “Gnawin’ on It,” featuring opening act Roy Rogers on acoustic slide guitar. Finally, some genuine guitar fireworks as the two friends exchanged smokin’ slide passages.

For the finale, “Never Make Your Move Too Soon,” a Crusaders tune made famous by B.B. King, Raitt brought out Ricky Peterson from the audience. Currently part of Stevie Nicks’ band, Peterson unleashed some seriously funky organ that prompted Raitt to start dancing and jamming on guitar with Rogers. The giddy redhead looked like she was having as much fun as she did on the West Bank back in the day.

“I wish I could stay here for a month,” Raitt declared during the encore. Alas, she has one more show on the tour — “Austin City Limits,” television’s long-lived live music program.

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Bonnie Raitt gets emotional over Minnesota in gracious, spirited concert
She showed love for Prince and a host of local musicians.

on September 6, 2016 No comments
By Jon Bream

On the last night of the Minnesota State Fair for 2016, Bonnie Raitt set two grandstand records.

She established a mark for the most appearances by a female performer — eight.

She set a new record for name-dropping of Minnesotans. She mentioned nearly every Twin Cities musician she’d crossed paths with since she recorded her first album on Enchanted Island in Lake Minnetonka in 1971. Willie Murphy, Dave Ray, Pat Hayes, Maurice Jacox, Ricky Peterson and on and on. Melanie Rosales got four shout-outs and Prince got two.

Raitt, 66, has never been more spirited, spontaneous and loving at the Great Minnesota Get-Together. She showed love for the fair (she talked rides and deep-fried stuff) and for things Minnesota-centric (from lake homes to the Cabooze bar). She even dedicated a song to her stepsiblings who were in the audience.

But more importantly, Raitt has never shown as much range and depth musically at the fair. From folk and funk to sad ballads and a Texas waltz and from Afrobeat to blues, she delivered 21 songs with consistent conviction. Her voice may have lost some sweetness and range, but it never sounded more authentic and authoritative no matter the style of song.

First and foremost, Raitt is a standout interpreter of other people’s material. She opened with her treatment of the 1987 INXS hit “Need You Tonight,” which she transformed into an unmitigated booty call, complete with a cockeyed come-hither look. She was masterful on the unrequited ballads “Undone,” written by Bonnie Bishop, the ever-poignant “Angel from Montgomery,” penned by John Prine, and “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” written by Mike Reid and currently part of the repertoires of Adele and Jazmine Sullivan. But no one does it quite like Raitt.

Bonnie Raitt, in her eighth appearance at the Minnesota State Fair, was spontaneous and loving on the grandstand stage on Monday’s closing day.
© Renee Jones Schneider /Star Tribune

Bonnie Raitt performed at the Grandstand on the last day of the Minnesota State Fair in Falcon Heights, Minn. on Labor Day, Monday, September 5, 2016
© Renee Jones Schneider /Star Tribune

She would start a vocal line ahead of the beat and then let her phrasing linger after the beat. Her face filled with sadness as her voice became sadder than sad. Nobody does ballads quite like Raitt.

Her other essential voice was in abundance on Monday, as well — her slide guitar. Like her singing voice, her slide has many colors. She got lowdown and dirty on the B.B. King blues “Don’t Answer the Door,” swampy and seductive on Womack and Womack’s “Good Man, Good Woman,” mournful on “Undone,” sly and sexy on “Need You Tonight” and stinging on the politicized original “The Comin’ Round Is Going Through.”

While Raitt’s voice and guitar work were expressive, she and her fine four-man band tended to rein themselves in, preferring concert efficiency to roadhouse rocking. Only on the Stones-like stomp of “The Comin’ Round,” a scorching indictment of money controlling politics, did the band truly cut loose, with George Marinelli contributing some Keith Richards-worthy slashing and snaky guitar.

Richard Thompson, a guitar hero in his own right who delivered a smokin’ opening set, joined Raitt for two numbers, including his “Dimming of the Day,” which proved that Raitt can find new depths of sadness every time she comes to town.

“There’s no way I can get through a Minnesota show without a lot of emotion,” declared Raitt, who dedicated the evening to her late brother Steve, a longtime Twin Cities sound engineer.

That’s because Raitt has a deep connection to the Land of 10,000 Lakes. “Thank you Minnesota for giving me my roots,” she told 8,479 fans before funking the place up with the encore of Rufus’ “You Got the Love.”

Love, indeed.

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Bonnie Raitt returns to Minnesota, a place she considers her ‘second home’
Bonnie Raitt, who made her first album in Minnesota, returns to the State Fair.

on September 1, 2016 No comments
By Jon Bream

Bonnie Raitt has long considered Minnesota her second home.

She recorded her first album here in 1971. Her brother Steve lived here for three decades. She’s skied on countless Minnesota lakes. And she’s performed in various venues from the University of Minnesota’s Whole Coffeehouse to the State Fair grandstand, where she’ll make her eighth appearance on Monday.

What’s the most Minnesota thing about Bonnie Raitt?

“My appreciation of funkiness,” said the California-born and -based blues/rock/pop veteran.

She then recited a list of names — a who’s who of the West Bank and Minneapolis scene — including Koerner, Ray & Glover, Willie Murphy, John Beach and even Bob Dylan, and later favorites the T.C. Jammers and Mambo’s Combo.

“When I dove into [the Minneapolis scene] — the multicultural aspect of so many integrated bands, great rock and R&B and blues and original songwriting — you can’t imagine what a refreshing impression I got of how original everybody was,” Raitt continued. “They were funky in all the ways of the word. Not caring about fashion, not caring about making money, not swept up in the things that the coasts are consumed with. That multiculturalism stayed with me. I can’t put into words how great that scene was.”

Speaking of funk, Prince reached out to Raitt in 1986 after her 15-year relationship with Warner Bros. Records went sour.

© Marina Chavez

“He said, ‘It was unfortunate you were treated that way [by Warner Bros., his label as well] and would you like to come and do some songs together at Paisley Park. I really appreciate women artists and I’ve always admired you,’ ” recalled Raitt. “I was looking at several offers and I didn’t know if it would be a good fit for me and I didn’t want to necessarily make a commercial dance hit or have that kind of profile. I said, ‘If we could meet in the middle and just so you know that I’m not coming over to be produced by you and be a pawn in your playground. If it can be a real collaboration, then I’d like to do it.’ ”

They arranged a date but Raitt had a skiing accident and her thumb was in a cast. They rescheduled, but meanwhile Prince had already written a couple of songs and recorded the instrumental tracks.

“I appreciated the enthusiasm, but they were not in my key,” Raitt recalled. “The topics were not things I was comfortable singing. It was something like ‘You can mess me around all over town/ But we’re still cool/ I like being your fool.’ That’s not something I’d sing. He was guessing about the lyrics. I loved the tracks but because I wasn’t there I said, ‘We’re going to have to reconvene.’ While I was there, I did a little work on those tracks. They were four or five keys lower than what I sing. It was a lot of fun. He couldn’t have been nicer.”

They talked about their common tastes in music — the Staple Singers, Sly Stone, Earth Wind & Fire and various Minnesota acts.

“We stayed in touch,” Raitt said. In fact, they had a rescheduled date but then Prince extended his European tour.

“He never called me, and I put my guys out of work for six weeks,” Raitt remembered. “A phone call would have been nice.”

Her own label

After rebounding on Capitol Records in 1989 and scoring eight Grammys in six years, Raitt started her own label, Redwing, four years ago. Her first Redwing album, “Slipstream,” won a Grammy for best Americana album and became one of the bestselling indie discs of 2012. This year, she delivered her second Redwing record, “Dig in Deep.”

The album features five Raitt originals, the most songs she’s penned for an album since 1998’s “Fundamental.”

“I was going through 10 years of family illness. There was no chance for inspiration,” said Raitt, 66, referring to two albums that, combined, featured only one of her own compositions. “With the relief of not having to deal with a crisis in my personal life, I had time to focus on writing.”

She thought about grooves she wanted for her concert repertoire. She also had other ideas.

“I wanted to play piano in this gospel Leon Russell kind of shuffle,” she said with enthusiasm. “I wanted to write a political song because everyone’s so pissed off because money has hijacked the political process. I carefully crafted something I thought would appeal to a lot of people. It gets it out there with a Stones feel.”

Political commentary

Although she avoids talking politics onstage in this election year, the longtime activist doesn’t shy away from commentary on her album. “The Comin’ Round Is Going Through” is her indictment of money fueling elections. And she’s singing the new tune on tour.

“People stand up and cheer. I haven’t gotten any boos,” Raitt observed. “I’m very careful about not preaching about my own politics from the stage. I know there’s people who like my music that don’t agree with my politics. It’s been going over great.”

Another “Dig in Deep” number that has become a concert staple is “Need You Tonight,” the INXS hit from 1987. It’s one of the sexiest booty calls Raitt has ever assayed.

“I love rearranging older songs that I love,” she explained. “I love INXS. Ever since that one came out, I wanted to cut it. I’ve been waiting for the right album. I had an idea for how to slow it down and where to put the slide [guitar]. I just wanted to have that pause. It makes me feel exactly what it sounds like.”

One new song she hasn’t been performing in concert is “The Ones We Couldn’t Be,” which closes “Dig in Deep.” It’s one of those deeply emotional Raitt ballads with many layers of meaning.

“I want to go deep when I sing songs, especially ballads,” Raitt said. “It took a long time after the passing of my family and a love relationship.

“The first verse is about my romantic life, the second verse is about my family and the last verse is about forgiveness. How I forgive myself and how I’m handling it. I’m sorry for the one I couldn’t be and I’m sorry for the one that couldn’t be for me. [The song] didn’t come to me until several years after processing loss.”

Raitt has yet to perform “The Ones” in concert.

“Where do you put it?” she asked. “After ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’? People would be slitting their wrists.”

Three blockbusters

Deep emotions have been a hallmark of Raitt’s since her self-titled debut album, which was recorded in Minneapolis folk-bluesman Dave Ray’s studio on an island in Lake Minnetonka with Willie Murphy as producer.

While Raitt’s soulful vocals and guitar chops (especially on slide guitar) landed her in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, she’s as well known for ballads (“I Can’t Make You Love Me,” “Angel From Montgomery”) as she is for rockers (“Thing Called Love,” “Something to Talk About”).

In her midcareer, the daughter of Broadway star John Raitt scored three blockbuster albums — 1989’s chart-topping, 5-million-selling, Grammy-winning “Nick of Time,” 1991’s 7-million-selling “Luck of the Draw” and 1994’s No. 1 “Longing in Their Hearts.”

A generous friend to many musicians, the ever-versatile Raitt has appeared on tribute albums to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Fats Domino, Pete Seeger, Jackson Browne and Lowell George and performed salutes on the Grammy Awards to Etta James and B.B. King. She’s also contributed to albums by Ruth Brown, Charles Brown, Keb Mo and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, among others.

Dealing with sadness

Raitt is no stranger to sadness. It’s not just the unrequited tearjerkers she’s recorded but she’s experienced lots of death, particularly when her parents passed in 2004 and 2005 and her brother Steve, a longtime Twin Cities sound engineer/producer, succumbed to brain cancer in 2009.

In a year in which such musical heroes as David Bowie, Merle Haggard, the Eagles’ Glenn Frey and Prince have died, Raitt says she figured out how to deal with death a long, long time ago. That’s because she spent the early part of her career in the 1970s working with such veteran blues figures as Mississippi Fred McDowell and Sippie Wallace, who died when Raitt was young.

“If I hold the grief in, you can have problems with lungs and bronchial,” she pointed out. “There are certain areas of the body where if you don’t express anger and jealousy and grief and sadness, it can actually cause illness. It’s good to process that stuff and get it out. I don’t turn away from it.”

She likes to stay in touch with what she calls the “tribal campfire.”

“We can suffer with them and, in terms of grief, it really helps to write e-mails and call people and share what they meant to us. The coverage of Prince was incredibly beautiful and it helped us all.”

Raitt has made a habit of telling people she loves them, especially older pals like Mavis Staples, 77, and Tony Bennett, 90.

“Tony Bennett, what an incredible blessing. Such messages of positivity. Tony is a longtime meditator. They used to sit me and my dad next to him at awards shows. He’s got a fundamental sense of OK and calm and perspective, and he experiences life to the fullest and it doesn’t throw him off the rails. He’s so centered. It’s a big lesson for me.”

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