INDEPENDENCE TOWNSHIP — “You got your hands on the right ticket,” James Taylor told the DTE Energy Music Theatre crowd at the start of his concert there with Bonnie Raitt on Tuesday night, Aug. 8.
And it was certainly hard to argue otherwise.
A pair of veteran, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-inducted performers, each packing a lengthy repertoire of enduring material, is, after all, the perfect formula for a summer amphitheater show. And in the case of Taylor and Raitt you had two artists with histories that gave them more right than most to refer to the place as Pine Knob.
It was indeed a case of one plus one equaling more than two, especially when these two spent time together on stage. Taylor even brought Raitt on at the beginning of the night with a warm and gracious introduction, then joined her for her hit rendition of John Haitt’s “Thing Called Love.” Raitt returned the favor during Taylor’s encores, joining he and his band for a “Johnny B. Goode” tribute to the late Chuck Berry — complete with Berry photos and videos on the rear-stage video screen — and then finishing the night with Taylor on an acoustic duet of his “You Can Close Your Eyes.”
DTE Energy Music Theatre - Clarkston, MI 8-8-2017
About the only thing the pair didn’t do right was pay some heed to the moment; On the day Glen Campbell died it may have been a stretch to work one of his songs into the performance, but it was unconscionable for neither Taylor nor Raitt to even mention his passing in some form — a genuinely disappointing misstep on an otherwise pleasing evening.
Raitt and her four-piece band, not surprisingly, breathed a little more fire than Taylor and his aptly-billed All-Star Band. Noting the tour’s end this week as “a little bit like the last night of summer camp. We’re getting kind of sad,” Raitt kicked her hour-long set off with sinewy versions of “Unintended Consequence Of Love” and INXS’ “Need You Tonight,” both from her latest album “Dig In Deep” and both leaving plenty of room for her sharply played slide guitar solos. Noting a history with Taylor that stretched back to the late 60s, Raitt paid tribute to her tourmate with a version of his “Rainy Day Man,” and she slide a bit of mentor John Lee Hooker’s “In The Mood” into Chris Smither’s “Love Me Like a man.”
Raitt laid back on favorites such as “Nick Of Time” and “Angel From Montgomery,” which set up a solid closing punch — a fiery rendition of Talking Heads’ “Burning Down The House” and then “Thing Called Love.”
Taylor’s hour-and-50-minutes on stage, in contrast, was an exposition in soft rock, albeit some of the most sophisticated and iconic — “Sweet Baby James,” “Fire And Rain” and “You’ve Got A Friend,” anybody? — of the ilk. Excepting a sound mix that was often too bottomy, with percussionist Luis Conte’s congas far too hot and up-front, the gently paced 20-song set was filled with carefully crafted arrangements that made even less-celebrated fare such as “Sunny Skies” and “First Of May” (introduced with a few comic F-bombs from Taylor) go down easy.
And when Taylor, in his flat cap and sport coat, was rolling out the hits — from the opening couplet of “Carolina On My Mind” and “Country Road” through the likes of “Mexico,” “Up On The Roof,” “Something In The Way She Moves,” “Your Smiling Face” and Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” — it was non-stop singalong city for the boomer-dominated crowd. His own voice may have shown some vestiges of age but still had the familiar mix of Carolina twang and New England nasal, and his three back-up singers (particularly Arnold McCuller on “Shower The People”) kept the harmonies sublime.
Taylor also maintained an air of familial nostalgia throughout, liberally placing home movies and personal photos in the video display — even of his dog during “Sunny Skies,” after which Taylor confessed “there’s nothing we won’t stoop to.” His song introductions were warm and insightful, and with a near-full moon slipping in and out of the clouds, having a ticket for this show definitely seemed like the right thing.
James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt’s first show together was in 1970, at the Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. He headlined and she, still a junior at Radcliffe College, opened.
Their paths have continued to cross over the years. Most famously, perhaps, they both performed at the “No Nukes” protest concerts at Madison Square Garden in 1979. And on Thursday night, Taylor, 69, and Raitt, 67, kicked off a joint tour at the Prudential Center in Newark.
Taylor pronounced it a “dream come true” moments before they performed one of their three numbers together: His tender ballad “You Can Close Your Eyes,” which they sang while sitting close to each other on stools, backed only by his acoustic guitar.
It was Taylor’s third encore. For the first, he and Raitt, backed by his full band, sang Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” as a tribute to the late rock icon, with Raitt on slide guitar and Taylor’s guitarist Michael Landau both taking solos.
They sang that, as well as “You Can Close Your Eyes,” in unison, harmonizing throughout instead of taking different lines or verses. They had performed together at the end of Raitt’s opening set, too, on Raitt’s 1989 John Hiatt-written hit “Thing Called Love,” trading verses and harmonizing on the choruses. And though it wasn’t a duet, Raitt made sure to include her cover of Taylor’s “Rainy Day Man” in her set.
The collaborations made the evening unique, though on a more basic level, the tour is simply an opportunity to see two formidable artists, both backed by top-notch bands, in the same evening. And by teaming up, Taylor and Raitt can play bigger venues – arenas and stadiums – than the amphitheaters and theaters where they usually can be found.
“This is a trip,” Raitt said, staring out at the vast expanses of the Prudential Center.
In his nearly two-hour set, Taylor sang the mellow masterpieces he is best known for: “Fire and Rain,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” “Sweet Baby James,” “Carolina in My Mind” and so on. But he also had plenty of room for more upbeat hits such as “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You),” “Your Smiling Face,” “Mexico” (with more of a salsa feel than in the studio version) and the gospelly “Shed a Little Light,” and he worked in some less familiar songs, including “Montana,” “Sunny Skies” and “Jump Up Behind Me.”
Virtually everyone in his large band — including such session giants as the drummer Steve Gadd, the percussionist Luis Conte and the saxophonist “Blue Lou” Marini — got at least one spotlight solo, with some enthusiastic praise from Taylor and even a photo display, for each musician, on the video screens. Taylor made much use of those screens, showing lots of old photos and video footage of himself during songs, and well as other video sequences meant to complement the material. It added a busy visual component to music that was calm and centered and soulful, and I wonder if the show would have been even more powerful without it (or with the screens used more sparingly).
Raitt had less time to work with, but still included lots of trademark songs (including “Something to Talk About” and an achingly slow “Angel From Montgomery”) and covers ranging from Los Lobos’ “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes” to Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House” and INXS’ “Need You Tonight.”
She also ventured into reggae for “Have a Heart” and dove deep into the blues for an acoustic “Love Me Like a Man” and a blistering electric “Spit of Love.”
“Thank you,” she said after “Spit of Love.” “Glad I got that off my chest.”
Before “Angel From Montgomery,” which was written by John Prine, she mentioned that she, Taylor, Prine, Emmylou Harris, Maria Muldaur and many other singer-songwriters all started out together around the same time, in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
“Who would have thought that 50 years later, we’d all still be doing it?” she asked.
Bonnie Raitt inducted into Austin City Limits Hall Of Fame
Congratulations Bonnie !!
Last night we were thrilled to induct three giants of American music into the third annual Austin City Limits Hall of Fame: B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt and Kris Kristofferson. The evening featured one-of- a-kind music performances and tributes from Willie Nelson, Billy Gibbons, Mavis Staples, Rodney Crowell, Gary Clark Jr., Taj Mahal, B.B. King’s Blues Band and Eve Monsees.
Bill Stotesbery, KLRU-TV, Austin PBS CEO and Terry Lickona, Executive Producer of Austin City Limits welcomed to the crowd to the special evening.
Comedy supercouple Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally hosted the celebratory evening which will air on New Year’s Eve on PBS. The entertaining duo kicked things off with a playful attempt to claim the Hall of Fame inductions for themselves, before introducing the night’s first inductee: legendary songwriter Kris Kristofferson. Singer/songwriter and Austin City Limits veteran Rodney Crowell took the stage to pay tribute to one of his heroes and greatest influences. Clad all in black, Kristofferson accepted his award saying, “This is as good as it can get!” Crowell then moved center stage to lead the house band in a rollicking rendition of Kristofferson’s “Chase the Feeling” and an expressive version of his classic ballad “Help Me Make It Through the Night.” The man himself then arrived for another pair of ballads, specifically the hits “Lovin’ Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)” and the oft-recorded “For the Good Times,” his voice craggy with experience. Kristofferson then welcomed fellow Austin City Limits Hall of Famer and longtime friend Willie Nelson to the stage, who plugged in Trigger and led everybody in a shuffling take on Kristofferson’s signature tune “Me and Bobby McGee,” to a huge smile from its writer.
Offerman and Mullally returned to introduce the induction of Bonnie Raitt, and gospel soul great Mavis Staples took the stage (to a standing ovation) in order to induct her longtime friend with a touching and hilarious speech. Raitt accepted her award with excitement and humility, then joined Staples onstage for a romp through the swampy Bob Dylan/Danny O’Keefe co-write “Well Well Well.”
Staples then quit the stage to be replaced by eclectic bluesologist Taj Mahal for the rocking “Gnawin’ On It,” with Raitt, house band guitarist David Grissom and Mahal (on harp) trading solos around.
Willie Nelson joined Raitt onstage to reprise their duet on Stephen Bruton’s (her former guitarist) lovely “Getting Over You,” recorded by the pair on Nelson’s landmark LP Across the Borderline twenty years before.
One standing ovation later, Raitt thanked the hardworking Austin City Limits crew and welcomed Staples and Mahal back to the stage for “Thing Called Love.” The trio enhanced the John Hiatt song that’s become one of Raitt’s signature tunes with electric ukulele and sanctified tamborine for a kick-ass performance.
Mullally and Offerman delivered a shout-out to house bandleader Lloyd Maines, introducing the night’s ace band before intermission. The second act began with KLRU-TV CEO Bill Stotesbery returning to the stage to induct Dick Peterson, who worked for KLRU from 1984-2008. A TV veteran with decades in the business, the Austin native took over as Austin City Limits executive producer after co-creator Bill Arhos retired in 2000, and received his award for his decades-long work behind the scenes. The night’s hosts returned to introduce the evening’s final inductee: great blues titan B.B. King. Rock legend and blues scholar Billy F. Gibbons from ZZ Top took to the stage to induct one of his greatest inspirations. King’s award was accepted by Myron Johnson, the bluesman’s longtime personal assistant and tour manager. Offerman and Mullally returned to inform the audience that the trophy would reside in the B.B. King Museum and to introduce the B.B. King Blues Band – not only the band that backed King on the road for many years, but in the case of some of them, musicians who appeared with the King of the Blues on his 1983 debut ACL appearance. Fronted by guitarist/singer Jesse Robinson in King’s absence, the band rolled into a faithful take on his classic “Paying the Cost to Be the Boss.” Gibbons then came back, fronting a trio with King drummer Herman Jackson, Austin organist Mike Flanigin and, of course, himself on guitar. The threesome reached back to the 60s for the 12-bar “The Jungle,” with Gibbons and Flanigin trading blistering solos. The band segued immediately into “You Upset Me Baby,” King’s lascivious #1 R&B single from 1954.
The King band re-took the stage, joined by previous inductee Raitt and guitar great and Austin native Gary Clark Jr. The pair launched into “The Thrill is Gone,” probably King’s most famous song, filling it with scintillating singing and sizzling solos. Raitt exited and Clark took the spotlight for a faithful “Three O’Clock Blues,” the Lowell Fulsom song that was King’s first hit in 1952. Clark then brought on his friend and Austin blues standout Eve Monsees. The pair, who learned the blues together while still in high school, romped through King’s 1953 single “Woke Up This Morning.”Willie Nelson returned to the stage to join Clark Jr. for a relaxed but blues-soaked version of “Night Life,” the Nelson original that became a staple of King’s setlist. Nelson’s distinctive picking proved itself as adept at the blues as the country for which he’s known.
Offerman and Mullally came back and brought the entire cast with them for a memorable grand finale- the inductees, the guests and both the house band and the King band. The all-star line-up went into “Everyday I Have the Blues,” another indelible King hit that helped define not only his career, but the genre itself. Both band and audience had a great time, the latter on its feet for the entire song. The celebratory evening came to a close with the entire cast singing a serendipitous version of “Auld Lang Syne” to mark the event’s New Year’s Eve broadcast, with a take so bluesy King’s spirit was surely smiling. For the crowd it might as well have been the real thing, considering the kissing, hugging and celebration going on. Mullally and Offerman thanked everyone for coming and it was over. It was quite a night, the best Hall of Fame ceremony yet, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this Dec. 31 as part of our Season 42 on your local PBS station.
When the time came for Mavis Staples to formally induct Bonnie Raitt into the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame on Wednesday night at ACL Live, it was her late father, Staple Singers patriarch Pops Staples, who provided the best line of the night.
“My pops loved Bonnie,” Mavis beamed. “He used to so say, ‘She’s a little piece of leather but she’s well put together.’”
Such balance of toughness and composure has long marked the career of Raitt, who was the standout performer on a night filled with legends both living and departed. The long-running television show’s third annual Hall of Fame ceremony kicked off with the induction of songwriting great Kris Kristofferson by Rodney Crowell, proceeded through Raitt’s special moment and culminated with a celebration of B.B. King, whose death last year left a bottomless hole in the blues.
Perfectly woven throughout all three segments was the presence of Willie Nelson. As bandmates in the Highwaymen, Nelson and Kristofferson shared countless miles and stories, so it was fitting when renditions of a few Kristofferson songs by Crowell and by Kris himself were capped with Willie coming aboard to lead the ACL house band in the classic “Me and Bobby McGee.”
Nelson returned a half-hour later to duet with Raitt on the tender ballad “Getting Over You,” which was emotionally dedicated to Stephen Bruton, the late former Austinite and longtime Raitt guitarist. Bruton wrote the song, which Nelson and Raitt recorded on Nelson’s 1993 album “Across the Borderline.”
That was just one of several stellar performances during Raitt’s segment, with Mavis Staples and Taj Mahal joining in for three other numbers. Their full-tilt rocking take on John Hiatt’s “Thing Called Love,” a hit from Raitt’s late-career breakthrough album “Nick of Time,” closed out the evening’s first set with a bang.
After a 20-minute intermission and a nice moment honoring former “Austin City Limits” executive producer Dick Peterson, the second half was all about B.B. King. ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons did the inducting honors, with King’s longtime personal assistant and tour manager Myron Johnson accepting as King’s eight-piece backing crew gathered onstage, ready to kick off the rest of the evening’s music.
Johnson’s was the only extended acceptance speech of the night, but it was worth the time, with quality insights into King’s personality and his approach to his art. “Every time he took the stage, he showed who he was, open and raw,” Johnson said. “You need only to look at his face.”
King’s band, which included a three-piece horn section, then blazed through the perfectly chosen “Paying the Cost to Be the Boss” before Gibbons returned for a two-song tribute in stripped-down trio form featuring Austin B3 organ ace Mike Flanigin. The real moment of truth came next, when King’s band returned to back Raitt and Austin guitar star Gary Clark Jr. for the indelible blues classic “The Thrill Is Gone.”
Clark stayed around for two more numbers, the second with his longtime friend Eve Monsees joining in on guitar, before Nelson once again strolled onstage for the obvious closer: Willie’s own “Night Life,” which King turned into a signature song. The sonic juxtaposition of King’s horn-driven ensemble against the vibrant plucked strings of Trigger, Willie’s superhero acoustic guitar, was fascinating. After Nelson reeled off a spectacularly jazzy solo mid-song, he looked over at Clark, and both of them sported million-dollar grins that distilled the spirit of the entire evening into one magic instant.
The entire cast of more than two dozen — including musical director Lloyd Maines’ first-rate house band of guitarist David Grissom, pianist Chris Gage, bassist Bill Whitbeck and drummer Tom Van Schaik — joined in for the grand finale of “Every Day I Have the Blues.” A twisted postscript of “Auld Lang Syne” followed, performed solely because the show is scheduled to air on Austin’s KLRU and other PBS affiliates on New Year’s Eve.
The show’s lone but jarring misstep was the inclusion of TV comedy acting couple Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman as emcees. From clowning around with cowboy hats to hamming up the tortured faux-New Year’s Eve theme, they were painfully unfunny and an irritating intrusion on what was otherwise a mesmerizing night of music. It wasn’t entirely their fault: Most of the dialogue was scripted, revealing that while no one does music television better than “Austin City Limits,” the show simply doesn’t know how to do comedy, and probably shouldn’t try.
Comedian emcees who no one’s written jokes for. Olympian musicians reading lyrics off a huge teleprompter. Pretending it’s New Year’s Eve, because that’s when the taping airs. Even so, Austin City Limits’ third annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony proved worth almost every minute of its three hours on Wednesday night at the Moody Theater.
Fêting three musicians – Kris Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt, and B.B. King – and a staffer, Dick Peterson, from soon the most enduring music show on television (Top of the Pops, ffpht), the PBS concert series currently broadcasting season 42 mixed and matched a typically Austin jamboree that parlayed whatever’s in the water here to a universal audience. Willie Nelson, Mavis Staples, Taj Mahal, Billy F. Gibbons, Rodney Crowell, Gary Clark Jr., and Eve Monsees fronted an all-star house band in staging a tribute worthy of the literal fireworks at the end. And “Auld Lang Syne” to finish?
If Willie Nelson himself can shout out “Happy New Year” on Oct. 12 – sporting a proverbial shit-eating grin – then who are we to pretend any different?
Brownsville-born military scion, Kristofferson, 80, wobbled on and off-stage first and quickly in accepting his crystal ACL skyline trophy, but the Highwayman’s ordination by Rodney Crowell more than filled his Rhodes scholar quotient. The Houston kid’s introduction following a brief video bio preceded his rousing pair of prize Kristofferson copyrights, “Chase the Feeling” and “Help Me Make It Through the Night.” Both songs aligned the pair of Texans – rugged, sensitive, knowing.
“Kris made male vulnerability a very seductive tool,” nodded Crowell. “I thought, ‘That guy knows how to get girls.’”
So did the band behind him and everyone else last night: bandleader and ACL Hall of Fame inductee in his own right, steel driver Lloyd Maines, guitar tamer David Grissom, Chris Gage on piano, and Robert Earl Keen’s veteran rhythm duo, Bill Whitbeck on bass and drummer Tom Van Schaik. When Crowell ceded the stage to the initial honoree, who made his way gingerly through “Loving Her Was Easier” and “For the Good Times,” the show band gently nudged Kristofferson to his standing ovation. Unbelievable wasn’t the fact he’d have stumbled without the words scrolling up a screen, but that he could read them 25 yards away!
Willie, who then sank his sweet-n-sour tenor into “Me & Bobby McGee,” mostly ignored the lyrical script for a game, wily reading of the Janis Joplin keepsake, his trademark modulation of syllables, bon mots, and whole lines putting accents where no other singer would fathom.
Mavis Staples, 5 feet high but 10 feet tall, spoke to the enduring strength and sensuality of Bonnie Raitt, whose takeaway in that moment appeared far less her local TV enshrinement than a bear-hugging reunion with her episode partner in the program’s season 38. The two, seated side by side, held hands during a Delta-dredging moan through Bob Dylan’s “Well Well Well,” the description Staples bestowed on Raitt applying to both: “Earth Angel.” Taj Mahal sat in next with the latter on a freight train blues (“Gnawin’ on It”), but Raitt’s third guest misted the entire sold-out home of Austin City Limits.
Willie mostly read through Stephen Bruton’s “Getting Over You” and swallowed a couplet or two, but in reprising the duet from his 1993 catalog keepsake Across the Borderline, the Red Headed Stranger provided the kindling for Raitt to apply her wicked slide guitar chill bumps, while also letting her craggy siren cry range deep into the pulpy melancholy of the late author’s finest composition. She and Staples capping the mini set with the former’s Nick of Time smash “Thing Called Love” brought the house down.
After an intermission and Peterson’s moment in front of the camera instead of behind it, the rest of the show belonged to the spirit of B.B. King (1925-2015). From the late blues sovereign’s backing band through to Austin garage-blues queen Eve Monsees’ delightful spark in teeming with her initial guitar partner, Gary Clark Jr., the soul of capital city blues lit up like 1,001 nights at the genre’s homegrown shrine, Antone’s Nightclub. Tribute fuse Billy F. Gibbons loaded up the ride circa 1958.
“B.B. told me learn to play what you want to hear,” recalled the ZZ Top frontman. “Pretty solid information, that.”
Sure enough, Gibbons chopped through “The Jungle” with precisely what he always wants to hear: a gut-bucket, six-string smear of the blues almighty. Raitt and Clark engineered “The Thrill Is Gone” as King’s beefy octet drove a turbulent rhythm through the tune, she electric and he dressed like Lee Van Cleef from some spaghetti Western. Clark then laid into “Three O’Clock Blues” to reassure all present that Lucille – B.B.’s axe – had clearly passed the torch to the Austin-born burner.
Willie capping the show by picking and grinning his way through “Night Life” as if King himself was still a budding folk-blues scholar hungry for the world outside his plantation origins left Clark shaking his head in disbelief. More than half a dozen guitars marched straight to the promised land on grand finale “Every Day I Have the Blues.” At the last, no one sang “Auld Lang Syne” with more gusto than Kris Kristofferson.
Happy New Year, townies. 2017’s off to a rocket start inside these Austin City Limits.
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Eric Clapton, one of the world’s pre-eminent blues/rock guitarists, once again summoned an all-star team of six-string heroes for his fifth Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2019. Held at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, the two-day concert event raised funds for the Crossroads Centre in Antigua, the chemical dependency treatment and education facility that Clapton founded in 1998.
'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 York City.
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.