I first fell in love with Bonnie Raitt 40 years ago when she did a concert at my college. I was sitting in one of the first few rows and had never seen a woman command the stage the way she did. With her soulful voice, crisp guitar work, and flowing red hair, I became a fan for life.
Since then, I have bought every new album she’s released, including her latest, “Dig In Deep,” and gone to three more of her concerts, including Friday night at the Peabody Opera House. I’m happy to say that, four decades later, Bonnie still has it, in every department.
She remains one of the best slide guitarists in the world — even the late BB King thought so. Her voice is still pure and powerful. She can get raw on songs like “Real Man,” but when she does ballads like “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and “Angel From Montgomery,” everyone in the room listens quietly as she fills the space with the sound of heartbreak.
It’s rare that a performer starts off a concert with a new song, but that’s what Bonnie’s doing on this tour. In fact, she played eight of the twelve songs on “Dig In Deep.” With other artists, that’s annoying because you just want to hear the hits, but her audience loves her so much we’re happy to discover whatever she wants to present to us. She does it in a classy way, too, giving full credit to each songwriter on tunes she didn’t compose herself, sometimes with a little story.
In addition to the new stuff, Bonnie — backed by a tight four-piece band — also did “Something To Talk About,” “Love Sneaking Up On You,” and her covers of “Need You Tonight” (a hit for INXS in 1987) and “Right Down The Line” (Gerry Rafferty’s 1978 follow-up to “Baker Street”).
Throughout the evening, Bonnie showed a lot of appreciation for the audience, thrilled that we’re still coming to see her after all these years. Part of the reason is that, after 45 years on stage and 10 Grammy Awards, she doesn’t try to be trendy. Her musical style is rooted in the blues, which is why she was invited to tour the new National Blues Museum in St. Louis, even though it won’t open officially until April 2nd (I’m looking forward to visiting it). She understands the pioneers who preceded her, giving shoutouts to King, Sippie Wallace, and Johnnie Johnson, as well as Chuck Berry — plus those in the next generation who are carrying the torch for what has come to be known as “Americana” music, including the Tedeschi Trucks Band and Gary Clark, Jr.
I suspect it won’t be long before the Kennedy Center Honors put their spotlight on Bonnie, who richly deserves all the attention and respect she receives. In the meantime, I’m happy to have seen her in concert again.
In case you couldn’t tell, I’m still in love with her.