Sporting muddy bare feet and a flowing tie-dyed sundress, a flaxen-haired teen pumped up Sunday’s physically drained crowd by waiving a satellite image of “our home from outer space.” Reminding us that “this is where we live,” the angelic blonde implored us not to “throw your garbage on the ground, because that’s where the animals and the birds and the fish and the ocean live!” Why sweat the details? She’s on the right track!
Crazy though it may seem, Sunday’s clear highlight was 72 year old Mavis Staples, formally of family band The Staple Singers. Mavis has been piping out blues, soul, and gospel tunes all across America since her eleventh birthday. And as Mavis would soon prove, she “still ain’t tired yet!”
Leading with Christian Hymn “I Found Such a Wonderful Savior,” Mavis sounded off like a thousand soul choir all by herself: “I found such a wonderful savior / In Jesus, my Lord and my King!” Applying her rare glottal gift to cover Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Wrote a Song for Everyone,” the septuagenarian singer, pounding her hands together and imploring on the audience to follow suit, let out a gospel infused “Wrote a song ‘fuh truth / Wrote a song ‘fuh everyone.” Looking about twenty years younger, Mavis wished her fans “joy, happiness, and pos-ah-tive vibrations!”
As Arcade Fire front man Win Butler marched onstage to help cover “The Weight,” which The Staples Singers performed alongside The Band in Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Waltz,” fans erupted in wild applause. Mavis sang Levon’s part, while Win Butler pitched in for Rick Danko with bewildered and quivering vocals: “Crazy Chester followed me, and he caught me in the fog.” Come on, ya’ll know the rest!
Paying tribute to “Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Danko, Manuel, and Garth, dear Garth,” Mavis shot her hands toward the heavens in spiritual rapture. The versatile vocalist capped off her set with a rebellious, exuberant rendition of “Freedom Highway,” as her fans chimed in with an impassioned cacophony of “hallelujah, amen!”
Still as relevant as ever, Mavis Staples scored a “Best American Album” Grammy win for 2010’s gospel-soul LP You Are Not Alone. Produced by Jeff Tweedy, You Are Not Alone is her 12th studio album. Here’s to 12 more Mavis!