Sunday, February 7, 2010

Mavis Staples Takes Us There

On Wednesday I joined John Gorka, his wife and my sister at the Dakota Jazz Club in downtown Minneapolis to see our musical hero Mavis Staples in one of the nicest small rooms around. After we bought our tickets, we were delighted to learn that Red House artists The Pines would be opening--a nice but unexpected pairing.

Playing just as a duo, The Pines (pictured here with John Gorka) started with one of their pretty melodic instrumentals, followed by "Heart and Bones," a really awesome bluesy version of "Shine On Moon" and the sweet "Going Home," which really got a great response from the crowd. They ended their short set with a debut of their enthralling cover of the gospel tune "Look Down the Road."

During the break, Dan (the Dakota's fabulous publicist) brought John Gorka and me backstage to say hi to Mavis. This was a thrill of a lifetime for both of us. A few years ago, John actually wrote a song for Mavis called "When You Sing" after meeting her at the Appel Farm Festival. He recorded it on his album Writing in the Margins, and he sent the album to her. She then sent an email back to him about how much she loved it.

When we got backstage, we witnessed her grabbing a hold of The Pines boys to tell them how much she loved their set. Then Dan introduced me to her, and I introduced her to John. She went on and on about how much she loved the song he wrote for her and that it made her blush. We had a nice chat, captured the moment on camera and let her and the band get ready for their set.

And what a set it was--almost an hour and a half of non-stop energy and music. Not bad for a woman of 70! Here's her set:

- Down in Mississippi
- Wade in the Water
- For What It's Worth
- Eyes on the Prize (check out this powerful video set to Mavis' version of this song)
- Too Close to Heaven/On My Way
- This Little Light of Mine
- Waiting For My Child to Come Home (accompanied just by the guitarist, she sung much of this song without the mic--incredible!)
- Will the Circle Be Unbroken? (first song that her dad ever taught her--especially moving with her sister Yvonne Staples performing with her as one of the 3 back-up singers)
- Why? (am I Treated So Bad) (written by Pops Staples after the family went to one of MLK's services and the family met him--Pops said "I like this man's message. If he can preach it, we can sing it.")

"Why?" ended with some crazy soloing by the guitar player when Mavis and her back-up singers left the stage so the band could show off their substantive chops. The band, who tours on their own, features Rick Holstrom on guitar, Jeff Turmes on electric bass and Stephen Hodges on drums. Both Rick and Jeff have solo albums (which they gave me after the show), and all of them have played with an impressive who's who that includes artists such as Tom Waits, Richard Thompson, Elvis Costello and Philip Glass. Possessing a rockabilly sensibility, they played a bunch of dance tunes that faded into "Just a Closer Walk With Thee." While they were finishing up, Mavis and the singers got back on stage to get some of us out of our chairs and dance to The Staple Singers classic "Freedom Highway."

- Freedom Highway
- I'll Take You There (As you'll see in this video taken by Juanjo Buendia, there was ample audience participation, demanded by Mavis--"The Staples have been taking you there for 59 years; now we want you to take us there!")

- We Shall Not Be Moved (started with Mavis telling a moving personal story about refusing to leave a lunch counter during the Civil Rights days and singing this song)
- Down By the Riverside (when she sings it, I believe it)

Afterwards, we joined Red House Records owner Beth Friend, her exchange student Juanjo and Paul & Paula Maccabee and talked about the incredible show we had just seen. John Gorka's wife Laurie said it best: "The only problem is there's no point in going to any more shows now." We, almost all related to the music biz, nodded in agreement.

Juanjo Buendia not only took some great video, but he also captured some of the best images of the evening. Here are some of them...gracias mucho, mi amigo!


Matt Winters said...

Wow! Awesome-sounding show and a great write-up of it.

I just want to know one thing: did Mavis Staples go "GORKA!" upon meeting John?

Mister EGUNON said...

Very interesting article. We had a great time. It was an Unforgettable experience. Thank you for writing that it are my images and my video. I will continue reading you.