Mavis Staples
Mavis Staples

How Mavis Staples was keepin' it real at Bluesfest

MANY of the American acts at Bluesfest 2017 referred, with some heat, to the shenanigans going on in their homeland, specifically those emanating from a certain house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 

In the middle of her blinding Good Friday set festival veteran Bonnie Raitt called it "the heart-breaking insanity”. 

Vintage Trouble's Ty Taylor said "with the times we are in right now, it's important to celebrate community. "It's our responsibility as lovers” to buoy the spirits of those isolated and in despair at current events, the showman proclaimed. 

Mavis Staples has been doing just that all her life, singing songs of activism, equality and protest with her dad in the late 60s and continuing to carry the torch for social justice ever since.  

Further, she sees it as her calling "to bring joy, happiness, inspiration and positive vibrations” to her audiences - stirring music to lift us up during dark times. 

Mavis's enthusiasm and energy continued unabated through all of her four sets, her deep, powerful and gravel-raw vocals carrying the message home, maintaining the passion in spite of her considerable years.  

She kicked off her Friday set with Buffalo Springfield's For What It's Worth, Stephen Stills' sinister report of "what's going on in the street”, a song whose (mistaken) interpretation saw it become an anthem of the protest movement. 

Fifty years later she roars out "I'm tired of being scared,” as a prelude to the upbeat Action from last year's Livin' on a High Note: 

"What a terrifying time to raise our voices,” she sings in this danceable call to take personal responsibility, to take action because "this is an emergency”. 

The audience, both grizzled fans from the counter-culture days and new converts to her veteran soul, roar back their approval. 

But it's not all outrage and protest: she calls herself a "soldier” and a witness, but she's also a messenger of faith and hope.  

If You're Ready offers a hand even to the liars, troublemakers and backstabbers to "come go with me”. 

And on opening night it was a great pleasure to hear Talking Heads' art funk classic Slippery People. Mavis recorded the song in 2014 with members of Arcade Fire.  

Livin' on a High Note features songs by Nick Cave, Bon Iver and Ben Harper. 

At 77, Mavis Staples continues to keep it fresh - and real.    

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