XPN Fest Recap: Mavis Staples takes us there with a powerful River Stage performance

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Mavis Staples | photo by Cameron Pollack for WXPN
Mavis Staples | photo by Cameron Pollack for WXPN

After singing “Freedom Highway,” Mavis Staples shared the story behind the song written by her father in 1962. “Pops Staples wrote that song for the big march,” she told us of the iconic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. “I was there, and I’m still here…I’m a living witness, a soldier!” she said. Staples went on to say that she’s part of an army of love, fighting for hope and peace.

It was a well-timed moment from a timeless musician. In a weekend where one performer told the festival faithful that the evils of the world were the reasoning behind him cutting his performance short, Staples took the opposite approach. She provided the antidote to the evils of the world, a performance full of heart and happiness. The 77-year-old used every ounce of soul in her to put together a show even better than what her household reputation called for.

Someone of her stature doesn’t need to be interactive with the fans, but Staples treated her listeners like friends. She took her message of “reach out, touch a hand, make a friend,” almost quite literally. When one man yelled out, “I love you,” she chirped back, “I love you more.” When one fan howled with satisfaction during a lull, Staples asked if he was alright.

And to end it all, Staples took us down memory lane in a moment many will be hard-pressed to forget. She said the Staples Singers had been taking us there since 1966, and that she’s not tired yet. So, with the classic tune “I’ll Take You There,” Staples led a back and forth between the band and the crowd that had everyone chiming in. She even called out a cowboy-hat-topped fella in the front who didn’t join in. It was a legend exhibiting the playful attitude that makes her so lovable. It’s an attitude that still rings from her pipes when she’s belting on stage more than 50 years after her illustrious career began.

Setlist
If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)
Take Us Back
Slippery People
Love and Trust
Freedom Highway
Dedicated
Touch a Hand, Make a Friend
I’ll Take You There

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