On Nov. 19 at the Roosevelt Auditorium in Chicago, nearly two dozen notable performers gathered to celebrate 75 years of Mavis Staples. Staples, who is an icon and long time resident of the city, turned 75 back in July, and to celebrate over six decades of her music, seemingly all of Chicago turned up at the Auditorium. The show was electrifying, permanently memorializing one of the most important musicians and activists of the twentieth century.
The show began nearly a half hour late, which set a tone for the rest of the show in regard to the audience spending a good deal of time waiting. Terri Hemmert, the legendary XRT disc jockey, gave a short speech to begin the proceedings, a speech that was unsurprisingly heartfelt, since Hemmert’s relationship and reverence of Staples is well-known. After her introduction, the show began.
The performances at the Mavis Staples 75th birthday celebration in Chicago were eclectic, which spoke to her incredible influence across every genre divide in music. The show saved the heavyweights for the second act, but some of the early performers were incredibly impactful. Grace Potter, Buddy Miller, and Glen Hansard among many others performed exceptionally. With that said, the show was plagued with delays as a result of the incredible cast of performers. There was about a ten minute wait between songs, so audience members who showed up when the concert was supposed to start ended up remaining for over five hours until the end. After Widespread Panic’s set, which started the second half, there was an incredibly long pause as well when the stage crews reorganized the whole stage once more.
Once the show rolled out the heavyweights, things really got going. Emmylou Harris was expectedly radiant as always, and Otis Clay and Taj Mahal both stole the show with their powerful essence on the stage. Bonnie Raitt rocked out on electric guitar for some intense ballads, and Win Butler from Arcade Fire took the show by storm with his wife for a romping dance number.
Throughout the show, Staples appeared several times on stage. Each time she performed, she reminded the audience that 75 years had not taken a toll on her abounding youthfulness. Her voice was powerful as ever on this evening, stealing the performance and causing the crowd to erupt in satisfaction.
Highlights of the Mavis Staples 75 years celebration in Chicago included an all-star performance of Bob Dylan’s Hard Rain’s Gonna’ Fall and the finale, where Staples led her congregation in unison for an incredibly memorable performance of The Band classic, The Weight. The Weight proved to be the perfect closer to the night, especially since it was led by Staples’ voice and the entire cast of musicians from the night. Staples also performed her heartfelt Jeff Tweedy penned ballad, You Are Not Alone. Tweedy joined the legend for the song, providing his single, yet hauntingly beautiful performance of the evening. The whole show was filmed professionally and is expected to debut in a documentary or concert film in the future, though no detail in regard to this has been announced from Staples’ camp. Concert memorabilia is still available through the Mavis 75 website.
Review By Brett Stewart