BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — She gave Birmingham something to talk about.
On Wednesday night, a day after the 10-time Grammy winner turned 73, Bonnie Raitt brought the blues to the Magic City. And she brought a lot more, too.
During the show, Raitt and her band showcased their decades of experience, performing numbers from across the musical spectrum — from Bob Dylan’s “Million Miles” to Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House” — with a funk and fervor made all the more enjoyable by Raitt’s sultry, experienced vocal.
Raitt and her band performed in front of a simple cloud backdrop, but dramatic colored lighting made the staging seem dynamic. For “Nick of Time,” Raitt switched from her guitar (played expertly with a slide) to a keyboard, the clouds behind her shifting to a deep, intimate purple as she sang the story of a woman “scared to run out of time.”
The crowd, which nearly filled the BJCC’s concert hall to capacity, adored Raitt.
“Angel from Montgomery,” one woman yelled from the crowd midway through the concert.
“I already sang that one,” Raitt said as the audience laughed. “Maybe she’s just calling me an angel from Montgomery.”
Early on, Raitt referenced the midterm elections, which — like her birthday — had taken place the day before her Birmingham performance. She was glad she wouldn’t have to see any more political ads on television, she said.
“Imagine what that money could’ve gone to,” Raitt said. “I turned off the TV yesterday. That was my birthday present.”
Still, issues of the day simmered to the surface throughout the night.
For the duration of her performances, a Ukrainian flag sat on stage not far behind Raitt.
“They will need our help for a long time,” Raitt said. “So let’s help take care of them.”
Raitt also emphasized the need to fight to protect the environment, at one point in the concert plugging local advocacy group GASP, the Greater Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution, which tabled in the concert hall’s lobby.
GASP’s executive director Michael Hansen said he grew up in Memphis listening to artists like Bonnie Raitt. Her mention of the advocacy organization, he said, provided the group exposure to folks they may not necessarily have been able to reach without her help.
“I’m over the moon about it,” Hansen said. “She’s a music legend and an advocate for environmental causes, racial justice, and so many things we care about. So being there and knowing she talked about our work from the stage is amazing.
More than once during Wednesday’s show, Raitt spoke about the loss of fellow singer-songwriter John Prine, who died in 2020.
“It was one of the greatest pains of my life,” she said of Prine’s death. Then, with the audience on the edges of their seats, Raitt performed “Angel from Montgomery,” a song Prine had written and she had elevated to the highest of musical heights. Some in the crowd wept.
“It was an honor to sing that in Alabama,” she said.
Prine, she explained, had a way of writing with authenticity from another person’s perspective. It was something she’d always admired. She thought of Prine when she wrote “Just Like That,” she told the crowd.
She’d seen a human interest story on the evening news — “They show those to make up for everything they just told you” — about a mother who went to meet the man who’d received her son’s heart through organ donation. The story moved her. She channeled Prine, she said, and wrote “Just Like That.” BJCC’s concert hall was silent as she sang the ballad.
“I lay my head upon his chest,” she sang. “And I was with my boy again.”
The crowd at the BJCC was most excited, of course, when Raitt sang her hits, including “Let’s Give ‘Em Something to Talk About” and “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” which came as her first encore.
But it was Raitt’s calm, experienced musicality that made Wednesday night’s Birmingham performance special. Whether a blues number, a steady-rocking cover, or a straight-to-the-heart ballad, Raitt’s performances only got better. And that’s something to talk about.