On a June Saturday that felt unseasonably cool and more like early fall, Bonnie Raitt looked up to the lawn seats high on the hill of those we’ve lost at the Filene Center at Wolf Trap and seemed overcome with emotion. After being shut down during the pandemic, the joy of being back onstage at the Northern Virginia amphitheater that has been a favored place over the decades hit home.
This was the second of two nights Raitt played the Just Like That tour sharing a concert-bill with Lucinda Williams who played before her. Like many of her musician friends who had been shut down during the pandemic, Raitt said she couldn’t wait to get back on the road. Her old songs, she said, suddenly felt like new ones.
There’s a sense of ageless wonder and timelessness about Bonnie Raitt who may be, like her audience, longer in years but has the same joy de vie and vintage blues prowess since she was an aspiring blues rock guitarist all those years ago.
Over a set that encompassed sixteen songs, Raitt effortlessly switched between electric slide guitar, acoustic slide and keyboards. Raitt possesses that perfect blend of confidence and humility evidenced Raitt was very gracious calling out by name the members of her road crew and sound.
Raitt also acknowledged the last few years and those we’ve loved and lost. Raitt turned her band into the Rolling Stones delivering “Livin’ For The Ones” into a full-title defiant rant and post-COVID memorial. “I don’t think we’ll get back to how we used to, ain’t no use in tryin’ to measure the loss,” she sang. “We better start getting used to it and damn the cost.”
Still, Raitt was comforted by numerous friends who were in the audience, including those from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. Raitt, the eternal student and progenitor of roots music, cited the inspiration that came from Philadelphia International Records without whose songs she wouldn’t be here. And when she sang the first encore “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” Raitt dedicated it to friends from her high school who were in attendance.
Raitt’s stage demeanor was one of commiseration but one that reflected the weariness of the country. The longtime social activist, who has backed numerous causes over the years, didn’t make any speeches a much as a heartfelt plea. At one point she asked the audience to do what they could to support the refugees of the Ukraine war, calling out “that asshole” waging war without saying his name. Raitt mentioned that her hotel was near the January 6 House hearings but lamented she spent a lot of time working on the last election– and sarcastically quipped that she couldn’t wait for the fun of the next one.
But when she sang the title track of her new album “Just Like That,” Raitt talked of the inspiration of human love. She’s read a story about a woman who never forgave herself for the loss of her son. But when a stranger shows up at her house, he reveals he has the son’s heart. “I was with my boy again,” Raitt sings of the experience as the woman puts her ear to his chest to hear the sound of her son’s heartbeat.
Raitt had everyone swaying covering John Hiatt’s “Thing Called Love” mid-show and late in the set, delivered a sultry version of INXS’ “Need You Tonight.” By the time she closed out the set with Talking Heads’ “Burning Down The House,” everyone was dancing. Raitt’s band was less of a cover band than reflective of an artist who has selected choice songs to remake over the years.
The most famous of those is her cover of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery.” Raitt’s tribute to her old departed friend was transcendent. She said she wished she could still squeeze the cheeks of her hold friend who had the eternal smile. When she came out of a song she has sung thousands of time but never feels old, she seemed visibly overtaken by the moment, pausing to look up and take it all in for a few seconds that felt like an eternity.
It was wonderful to see Lucinda Williams onstage again. The singer suffered a stroke in 2020 that has limited her mobility but thankfully not her singing. Williams was helped onstage to keep her steady as she moved to her microphone which served as an anchor and focal point for the night. She barely left the spot save for a few times to turn around to make eye contact with her band.
The night before, she opened up to the audience about living with the effects of the stroke. On this night, Williams demurred from the subject and talked more about those she’d lost and memorialized in song. This included songwriter Blaze Foley who she wrote about in “Drunken Angel” and Clyde Joseph Woodruff III who was once her boyfriend and agent in her early days and is the inspiration of “Lake Charles.”
On “Drunken Angel,” Williams recalled seeing Foley around Austin hanging out with Townes Van Zandt. “No one could keep up with Townes,” she said knowingly. Williams’ voice got lower when she said Foley got shot In a senseless argument. With pointed sadness, she said “Now they’re both gone.”
When she came out of the song, she was still talking about Foley and recalling how he liked to wear duct tape around his combat boots. It was his response and statement to the rhinestone cowboy.
Williams followed Foley’s tale with “another song about a misfit.” This time it was about her friend Clyde Joseph Woodruff III for whom trouble followed. Williams, remembering how he could cool up a great cup of gumbo, lamenting that his wild ways caught up with him and his body gave out. She then sang the song about the place he loved so much.
Williams pulled out songs from a career going into its fifth decade, adding in her signature cover of Randy Weeks’ “Can’t Let Go,” a rollicking tribute of empowerment in Memphis Minnie’s “You Can’t Rule Me” and a steamy version of “Change The Locks” that Tom Petty once covered. Williams’ band got progressively hotter as the night wore on, building on a scalding riff fueling “Honeybee,” going into “Righteously” and ending the night with the kick-ass “Joy.”
Just before playing “Are You Down,” Williams made a confession. “I keep trying to hit those high notes I can hear in my head that Bonnie can get so perfectly.”
How great was it to see these two women back holding court once again and on the same stage.
Find more Bonnie Raitt info and tour dates, here: http://www.bonnieraitt.com
Follow and find more about Lucinda Williams here: https://www.lucindawilliams.com