It’s evident Mavis is on a unifying mission. Anyone lucky enough to share a festival stage will attest. Everyone on this side of things are more than aware; It’s about damn time. It’s all gotta start somewhere.
She listens intently to the crowd, understanding what they bring and knowing what she needs to provide. It seems a tentative crowd becomes the best listening ear. ‘Santa Cruz’ has a new meaning when SHE says it.
The only person able to make a soulful blues-era festival the happiest place on earth, would be Mavis. Mercy! A real live soul sister, God Bless. A true-blues Staple, she’s been a part of The Staples Singers for 46 years. Pops Staples, yeah…Pops…formed the group with his daughters in Chicago. Mavis reaches out and touches hands…and souls.
The only merch I purchased was an old-school baseball tee with Mavis’ i dotted with a star; the s creating a rolling script of ‘I’ll Take You There’ underneath her name. Awesome. This one will get better with wear & tear. After the words get broken in and fallen down, it will reveal “I’ve been working on me”. Soul, baby. That’s Mavis. Thank you very much.
My experience in this world can hardly comprehend the depth of this icon, but I get it to the extent that I possibly can…yet, I try for more understanding. The pain is in her voice, but the rhythm overtakes. Her shout, unmistakable. She gives no choice but to listen. “RESPECT YOURSELF”…you outta’.
Her mission is clear. “Love and Trust”. Her singings don’t lose point. “Haven’t we suffered, suffered enough…Do what you can…See me out here tryin’ for love and trust”.
“Freedom Highway” is a song they’d sing marching down the highways of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee. “Pops wrote that song in 1962” Mavis shouts, “And he wrote it for the big march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama.” “They would march, and they would sing”. Her shout sounds tired, but with purpose; ensuring a message is revealed.
THIS is the blues y’all. THIS is what you came for.
She calms and starts to sing “I was there, uh huh uh huh.” “And I’m still here.” The crowd sends thankful cheers. “A living witness”, “a SOUL-dier”. Her march is fresh, her fight is new; she is no doubt fighting every day.
She screams even louder “Do you all feel alright?” and then quietly answers her own question, “I’m feeling pretty good myself”.
“Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free, Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load,” And there is NO mistake when she asks for the load …”Put the load, put the load, put the load” it’s starting to sound like ‘Lord’. “Put the load right on me”. This is one woman who can handle it. Talk about strength.
For me, ‘One Love’ clap, clap…Mavis brought a higher awareness of what the Blues really are…’One Love’ clap, clap…but it wasn’t sad…’One Love’ clap, clap. It was empowering. “One Love” is a super catchy, gunna catch you at work doin’ the One Woman dance, clap, clap. Yeah.
I couldn’t help but scan the crowd to evaluate the demographic and notice the obvious. Who is listening to the “Blues”. Mavis drew a crowd for years, and it was no one looking to be sad.
1971- Who’s coming with me? “I’ll Take You There”. Rick jams the feel-good guitar. Mavis will take you. Good God Almighty, LET HER! Let her take you! The crowd is ready. Do we really know what we are in for???? Wherever it is, it’s gotta be better than…(insert your Sunday of 2017 Memorial Day weekend here).
She plays a respectable set, but when she’s done, she’s off the stage faster than a -insert cute southern colloquialism here- She’s off to the next. The next needing a lesson from Mavis herself. This woman keeps a full schedule, and has an excellent backing team. And with that, she gives the simple explanation of, “I’m tired”. And, she’s back on the bus. Little does she know, we are all on that bus with her.
Mavis walked the line for all of us. Hit her with your love and she will feel no pain. She brings her Blues alive for all of us; it’s too soon to realize those who fought the fight are soon departed…She is beyond an icon. Mavis has got people alright…People who absolutely love her!
I’m in her back pocket…Red Mavis t-shirt and all.
Mavis Staples Setlist:
“If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)”
“Take Us Back”
“Slippery People” (Talking Heads cover)
“For What It’s Worth” (Buffalo Springfield cover)
“What You Gonna Do?”
“Love and Trust”
“The Weight” (The Band cover)
“Touch a Hand, Make a Friend”
“I’ll Take You There”
Mavis Staples Concert Review by Elizabeth Lauer – Santa Cruz American Music Festival 2017 at Aptos Village Park in Aptos, California
Mavis Staples photo credit Elizabeth Lauer