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By Megan O’Neill
As Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer Mavis Staples walked on stage, radiating joy and determination, the whole crowd at Peace Park made its way to the front with eyes of anticipation. The smiling Grammy Award winner captivated guests at the Roots ‘N’ Blues ‘N’ BBQ festival Friday night with her legendary gospel and soul songs of true emotion and equality.
The gospel and soul legend brought her Windy City rock ‘n’ roll vibe with the jazz flavors of the south to Columbia for the first time. Even at 72, Mavis Staples’ deep, rumbling voice sounds like she is in her prime. Every song she introduced had listeners completely engaged and smiling from ear to ear with her larger than life and positive persona.
“We’ve come here to bring you some joy, some happiness and some good vibrations,” she said, followed by a smoldering laugh. With every note, every lyric and every drawn-out climactic finish, the crowd at Peace Park was completely enamored by her raspy voice that reveals years of experience.
After 61 years of singing with ‘The Staples,’ Mavis’ emotion is still clearer than day. Her performance of “Freedom Highway,” written in 1962 by her father “Pops” Staples had everyone’s hands in the air. “I won’t turn around, no, I won’t, I’ve come too far. I’m still on that highway y’all and I’ll be there until Dr. King’s dream is finally realized,” she said as the band played lightly behind her.
Songs that followed included a cover of Bob Dylan’s “The Weight,” Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Wrote a Song for Everyone,” and bluesy tracks from her new album, You Are Not Alone, including a song written and produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy.
In the middle of songs, the singer talked of challenges in today’s world and the steady perseverance she has had in the face of trouble.
“I thought it was great to see someone so spiritual talk about politics and today’s reality in a nice way on stage,” St. Louis resident and festival-goer Jeff Kelley said. “Her music was beautiful.”
Mavis Staples’ broad range and mighty voice, from full-throated shouts to quieter conversations with the crowd, proved that the diva’s still got it on Friday night.
“I come here y’all to have a good time,” she said. “And I’m having myself a mighty good time.”
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