Blues and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Mavis Staples Comes to
The Ridgefield Playhouse on September 7, part of the 2nd Annual Ridgefield Jazz, Funk & Blues Weekend
Hailed by NPR as “one of America’s defining voices of freedom and peace,” Mavis Staples is the kind of once-in-a-generation artist whose impact on music and culture would be difficult to overstate. She’s both a Blues and a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer; a civil rights icon; a Grammy Award-winner; a chart-topping soul/gospel/R&B pioneer; a National Arts Awards Lifetime Achievement recipient; and a Kennedy Center honoree. She marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., performed at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, and sang in Barack Obama’s White House. She’s collaborated with everyone from Prince and Bob Dylan to Arcade Fire and Hozier, blown away countless festival-goers from Newport Folk and Glastonbury to Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo, performed with The Band at The Last Waltz, and graced the airwaves on “The Tonight Show,” “Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” “Ellen,” “Austin City Limits,” “Jools Holland,” “The Grammy Awards” and more. And now you can see the legendary Mavis Staples at The Ridgefield Playhouse on Saturday, September 7 at 8pm as part of the 2nd annual Ridgefield Jazz, Funk and Blues Weekend. Opening for Ms. Staples is King Solomon Hicks. This show is part of Pepsi Rock Series powered by Xfinity. Visit Milestone Georgetown (2 Main Street • Redding) and receive one complimentary drink with your entree when you show your ticket!
“I’m the messenger,” Mavis Staples says on the eve of her 80th birthday. “That’s my job -- it has been for my whole life -- and I can’t just give up while the struggle’s still alive. We’ve got more work to do, so I’m going to keep on getting stronger and keep on delivering my message every single day.” That message -- a clarion call to love, to faith, to justice, to brotherhood, to joy -- lies at the heart of We Get By, Staples’ spectacular twelfth studio album and first full-length collaboration with multi-Grammy Award-winner Ben Harper. Backed by her longtime touring band, Staples breathes extraordinary life into Harper’s compositions on the record, delivering roof-raising performances with both a youthful vigor and a commanding maturity. The arrangements here are spare but weighty, matched by Harper’s suitably lean and thoughtful production, and Staples seizes the opportunity to showcase her remarkable and continued evolution as an artist, one still growing and exploring more than half a century into her storied career. We Get By is undoubtedly a timely collection, arriving such as it does in the face of deep social divisions and heightened political tensions, but like everything Staples touches, it’s also larger than any particular moment, a timeless appeal to the better angels of our nature that’s universal in its reach and unwavering in its assurance of better things to come.
“When I first started reading the lyrics Ben wrote for me, I said to myself, ‘My God, he’s saying everything that needs to be said right now,’” Staples remembers. “But the songs were also true to my journey and the stories I’ve been singing all my life. There’s a spirituality and an honesty to Ben’s writing that took me back to church.”
The record opens with the stirring “Change,” which finds Staples proclaiming, “Say it loud say it clear / Gotta change around here” over a simmering, fuzzed-out guitar line. It’s a song focused as much internally as it is externally, and after one listen, it’s plain to see why Staples and Harper referred to the studio’s vocal booth as the “prayer room.” Staples’ performance is hypnotic, holy even, restrained in its delivery but relentless in its urgency, and it lays the groundwork for an album that insists on joy and communal celebration without pulling any punches or sugarcoating any ugly truths. The funky “Anytime” looks fearlessly to the future, while the rousing “Brothers and Sisters” is a call for action in the face of injustice, and the gritty “Stronger” promises there’s no power in this world greater than our love for one another.
It’s impossible to listen to a voice like Staples’ without contemplating all she’s been through in her life -- the album cover features a heartrending Gordon Parks photo that speaks to the casual cruelty of racial segregation in 1950’s Alabama -- but it only serves to make her optimism and resilience that much more inspiring and contagious. There is darkness and doubt on the album to be sure (the spirit of Pops Staples informs the mournful “Heavy On My Mind,” which recognizes that some wounds never heal, while the poignant “Never Needed Anyone” stings with the pain of lingering regret) but it’s consistently overpowered by hope and conviction. “Been holding on too long to let go / Running too hard to slow down / Believing too deep to not have faith,” Staples confesses on the soulful “One More Change To Make.” In that sense, the album’s title is more than just an observation. When Staples and Harper join forces to sing “We Get By,” it’s a prayer, a promise, an invitation.
“I sing because I want to leave people feeling better than I found them,” Staples concludes. “I want them to walk away with a positive message in their hearts, feeling stronger than they felt before. I’m singing to myself for those same reasons, too.”
For tickets ($77.50) call or visit the box office, 203-438-5795 or go online at ridgefieldplayhouse.org. The Ridgefield Playhouse is a non-profit performing arts center located at 80 East Ridge, parallel to Main Street, Ridgefield, CT.