Friday, June 16, 2006

Bonnie Raitt shoots lights out

Bonnie Raitt's Thursday night closer at Telluride was very nearly the perfect festival set. I've seen so many leading singer-songwriters not close well that I am almost expecting a letdown from big name solo performers, as opposed to bands, in the late-night slot. The most recent example was Patty Griffin at Strawberry, where her spare vocals on a cold night failed to electrify the crowd.

Working under similar shivery conditions, Bonnie asked for her scarf and proceeded to nail it. Here was the perfect combination of bona fide roots superstar with a hot backup band and A-list guest stars working her magic for an adoring audience. I was seatied up-front in the VIP pit, which was packed, but the wave of positive energy extended far back into the dancing rows behind.

The show had terrific pacing, alternating among slow signature ballads, rootsy blues, to full-out rock and roll. She offered up her many hits, from her early career as a folk-rock blueswoman ("Don't Advertise Your Man") to her more recent hits like "Nick of Time" and "Let's Give Them Something to Talk About."

After finishing a fully satisfying main set, Raitt pulled out all the stops in a four-song encore set, including guest appearances from Jerry Douglas, Bela Fleck and Tim O'Brien (see photos), and ending with "Angel From Montgomery" followed by "Louise." Throughout it all, she looked and sounded terrific and kept the audience engaged with an ongoing monologue.

Next time I see a Patty Griffin or Tift Merritt or Alison Moorer serve up an anticlimax in a closing slot, I am going to remember Bonnie Raitt at Telluride as a example of a solo singer-songwriter who really lit up the night.

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