Monday, August 20, 2018

Live Shows: Mavis Staples, Prescott Park Arts Festival, Portsmouth, NH 8/16/18

Mavis Staples at the 2014 Newport Folk Festival
Photo by Ken Sears
I've seen Mavis Staples twice so far, but each time was at the Newport Folk Festival. Until this past Thursday, I had yet to see her own show, mainly since I'm fairly cheap when it comes to concert tickets. This is the beauty of the Prescott Park Arts Festival: You can see a legendary artist like Mavis Staples for $8.00.

The thing I noticed most about this particular Mavis Staples performance was that it was much more rockin' than I had expected. She chose to stick to much more upbeat and uplifting songs than previous times I had seen her. The quietest song she played was "You Are Not Alone," from her collaboration with Jeff Tweedy. A noteworthy song that was missing from the setlist was "The Weight," which I had assumed she always played. The evening of rock/soul/funk included three fantastic covers: Talking Head's "Slippery People," Funkadelic's "Can You Get to That," and Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth." Each of these covers were completely her own, and if you weren't heavily familiar with the originals, you'd never know they were covers. The gospel side of Staples was also missing, but her voice and music is a religious experience all their own.

Since Thursday was also the day the world lost Aretha Franklin, the performance also included a moment of silence for the lost artist. The majority of the set was made up of songs from The Staples Singers (five total). One of these songs brought the highlight and low point of the performance: During "Touch a Hand, Make a Friend," Staples walked out to the front of the stage to shake audience members' hands. While doing this, she met a baby named Mavis, which delighted her to no end, and was brought up many times for the rest of the set. But, this also led to a ridiculously long line of people waiting to shake Staples's hand and greet her. Literally dozens of people took this opportunity. I know that getting to shake a living legend's hand and telling her how much you enjoy her music is exciting, but this just went on for far too long, even after Staples mentioned that her back was hurting from bending over to greet fans. The woman is 79, maybe we shouldn't make her potentially injure herself for our own amusement. After the song was finally allowed to end, Staples sat down on a bench for a bit and then closed with "I'll Take You There." One of the finest nights I've spent in Prescott Park.