By Jenny Peters
It’s always a good night in Los Angeles when the Hollywood Bowl is part of your plan. But sometimes, the Bowl experience goes far and beyond a lovely evening spent listening to beautiful music under the stars, and Wednesday, September 13, 2017 was one of those times.
The Hollywood Bowl presents “Jazz at the Bowl” all summer long on Wednesdays (and we’ve attended a number of shows this season), but this one was extra special, with Mavis Staples showing off her legendary voice in the first set and Steve Winwood bringing the whole Bowl crowd to its feet by the time the incredible show concluded.
“We’ve come to give you some positive vibrations,” Mavis explained, and boy, did they! With her tight band featuring Rick Holmstrom on guitar, Jeff Turmes on bass and Stephen Hodges on drums, along with Donny Gerrard and Vicki Randle doing background vocals, the 78-year-old blues-jazz-gospel legend took the audience from old to new.
From “Slippery People” (the Talking Heads anthem), that she first sang with the Staple Singers in 1984 with songwriter David Byrne on guitar, to “Freedom Highway,” her father Pops Staples’ anthem of the Civil Rights movement penned in 1962. “This song is just as topical today as when it was written,” Mavis said, “I was there on the BIG march to Selma. I’m a living witness and I am still a soldier. I’m fighting every day for hope, every day for peace.”
Finishing up her set with a rousing rendition of “I’ll Take You There,” the song that the Staple Singers took to the top of the charts in 1972, Mavis Staples proved that she’s still a mighty vocal force, and the Hollywood Bowl fans gave her a much-deserved standing ovation as she waved goodbye.
As if that wasn’t enough for the night, celebrated singer-songwriter-keyboardist-guitarist Steve Winwood took the stage next, launching into “I’m a Man” without even a “Hello” to the cheering crowd. That hard-driving hit tune is from Winwood’s first band, The Spencer Davis Group, which he joined at age 14. Now 69, Winwood’s vocals still have that distinctive sound; and he still shreds a guitar like a teenager. Those are some of the reasons he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, along with the members of his next band, Traffic.
The night was filled with classic songs, as Stevie (we’ll always think of him as Stevie Winwood, really) threw in tunes from his time with those two great bands, as well as Blind Faith and from his later solo career, with his band that included Richard Bailey on drums, Edwin Sanz on percussion, Jose Neto on guitar, and Paul Booth on saxophone and other wind instruments. When Steve finally spoke to the rapt audience, he grinned and said, “We’ve got some music from various vintages,” and proceeded to satisfy his fans of every age in the place.
With “Can’t Find My Way Home” and “Had to Cry Today” from Blind Faith, “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” and “Dear Mr. Fantasy” from Traffic, “Higher Love” and “Roll with It” from his solo career, capped off with “Gimme Some Lovin'” Winwood proved without a doubt that he is one of the world’s greatest gifts to music. We’re hoping he comes back to the Hollywood Bowl next season – and every year after that!