Bonnie Raitt: A Voice That’s Still Rough-Hewn and Righteous After All These Years (concert review)

For her headlining spot on opening night of the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, Thursday night at Coachman Park, veteran singer and slide-guitar slinger Bonnie Raitt turned in yet another impressive set of blues-rooted rock and pop.

Raitt has a well-earned reputation for vocals that carry an emotional wallop, tight arrangements of catchy material, and dynamic musical connections with a high-voltage backing band — keyboardist Mike Finnigan, guitarist George Marinelli, bassist Hutch Hutchinson, and drummer Ricky Fataar. She hit her mark on all three counts, a testament to her consistency as a stage performer and, no doubt, the fact that the group has been on the road since April.

Drawing from her recently released “Slipstream” album as well as her hitmaking material from 20 years ago, she opened with two of the new ones, in the same order they appear on the CD — “Used to Rule the World” and “Right Down the Line.” The latter is a remake of the ’80s Gerry Rafferty hit, realigned with a deep reggae groove; Raitt said that Rafferty passed away (January 4, 2011) before she had a chance to show him the new arrangement.

As demonstrated right away, and throughout the evening, Raitt, at 62, is still equipped with a voice that’s rough hewn and righteous, and often sounds as powerful as decades ago.

The crowdpleasers were plentiful — “Something to Talk About”; “Love Sneakin’ Up On You,” with Marinelli’s stinging solo; the boogey ‘n’ bounce of John Hiatt’s “Thing Called Love”; the poignancy of “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” with Raitt seated on a stool, sans guitar; and “Have a Heart,” another tune built on light reggae rhythms.

While there were no letdowns, the momentum did slow a bit on some of the less familiar new tunes.

Two highlights came about midway through the 90-minute show. “Angel From Montgomery,” the John Prine song from Raitt’s 1974 “Streetlights” album, had her opening a cappella, letting singer-songwriter Maia Sharp (who led her own trio earlier in the evening) take some verses, and closing the tune with another instruments-free section focused on multi-voice harmonies.

Shortly later, keys man Finnigan took over, on soulful vocals and barn-burning B3 playing, for a rousing version of Ray Charles’ sassy “I’ve Got News for You,” a heavy dose of blues and jazz featuring one of Raitt’s most ambitious slide-guitar solos of the night. I’d vote to bring back Finnigan, leading his own band, for next year’s fest.

The Clearwater Jazz Holiday¬†continues through Sunday; jazz fans will be particularly interested in Saturday’s lineup, topped by bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding and acclaimed vocalist Kurt Elling.

Clearwater Jazz Holiday: Free no more & acts announced: Bonnie Raitt, Avett Brothers, Mindi Abair

News on the Clearwater Jazz Holiday front: It’s no longer free, according to a Tampa Bay Times story published today.

Organizers have announced that, for the first time in its 33-year history, the fest will charge for admission: $10 at the door.

As late as last year, organizers said that they couldn’t/wouldn’t book top top-shelf jazz talent because of the expenses incurred. Hard to believe that line of reasoning, particularly given that the fest frequently has positioned pricey smooth-jazz artists at the top of the bill.

The response, among the jazz fans I talked to: Hey, we’ll gladly pay an admission fee if we can get heavyweight jazz talent – the artists who win jazz polls, for instance – in return.

The situation: Now there’s a charge at the gate, and the first three acts announced are decidedly NOT major jazz artists. So far: Bonnie Raitt (blues-rock-pop), The Avett Brothers (altcountry-Americana-rock-pop), Mindi Abair (smooth jazz).

Raitt is terrific, and, as a blues artist, makes a decent fit on a jazz festival. I look forward to hearing her show, part of a tour promoting “Slipstream,” her first new album in seven years. Abair is par for the course.

Then there’s the Avett Brothers. I’ve seen this siblings-led band grow from rootsy bluegrass-influenced contenders to making a nice splash in the broader Americana/pop world – I’ve caught several of their amazing performances at festivals held at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak.

But they have to count as a first – the farthest afield, musically, from jazz that the Clearwater Jazz Holiday has ever played host to.

Nothing wrong with an eclectic music festival. But for any jazz festival that wants to maintain its identity as a jazz festival, then the Avetts are a terrible fit.

Sad to say, but it’s probably time for the Clearwater Jazz Holiday to drop “jazz” from its name. I’ll still go — heck, I’d love to hear Raitt and the Avetts again — but I guess I”ll finally give up hoping that the event will return to its glory days as a major jazz festival.

That makes me sad.

The Clearwater Jazz Holiday is slated for October 18-21 at Coachman Park in downtown Clearwater. For more information, go here. Interested in suggesting an artist to play the fest? Send your thoughts to

(Meanwhile, up the road, the long-running Jacksonville Jazz Festival, held over Memorial Day weekend, is bringing in Sonny Rollins; Poncho Sanchez with Terence Blanchard; Corea, Clarke, and White; and more; it’s still free)

Jazz Holiday: Gerald Clayton, Sammy Figueroa, Kevin Eubanks, Maceo Parker added to another uneven bill

Acclaimed young pianist Gerald Clayton (left), Latin jazz master percussionist Sammy Figueroa, former “Tonight Show” guitarist Kevin Eubanks, and jazz-funk saxophonist¬† Maceo Parker have been added to the Clearwater Jazz Holiday lineup, as officially unveiled yesterday.

As already announced here and elsewhere, the fest’s other notables include singer Dianne Reeves, young-ish bass master Christian McBride, and smooth jazz pianist Brian Culbertson.

The national acts, this year: All in all, a mixed bag – – no genuine jazz legends, but several worth seeing.

The strong contingent of top-shelf locally based talent is led by singer Whitney James, guitarist LaRue Nickelson, and saxophonist Valerie Gillespie.

The complete lineup is below. Admission is free. For more info, go to the fest’s home page.

Thursday, October 13th

4:30pm Gates Open
5:00pm – 6:00pm
– Global Affect
6:30pm – 8:00pm – Kevin Eubanks
8:30pm – 10:00pm- Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue


Friday, October 14th

4:00pm Gates Open
4:30pm – 5:30pm – Valerie Gillespie Ensemble
6:00pm – 7:15pm – Gerald Clayton Trio
7:45pm – 9:00pm – Miss Tess & The Bon Ton Parade
9:30pm – 11:00pm- Brian Culbertson


Saturday, October 15th

1:30pm Gates Open
2:00pm – 3:15pm – Jazz Juvenocracy
3:45pm – 5:00pm – Whitney James
5:30pm – 6:45pm – LaRue Nickelson Group
7:15pm – 8:45pm – Sammy Figueroa & The Latin Explosion
9:15pm – 10:45pm – Maceo Parker
10:45pm Fireworks

Sunday, October 16th

2:30pm Gates Open
3:00pm – 4:00pm – Ruth Eckerd Hall / Clearwater Jazz Holiday Youth Jazz Band
4:30pm – 5:45pm – Mike Markaverich Trio
6:15pm – 7:45pm – Christion McBride & Inside Straight
8:15pm – 9:30pm- Dianne Reeves

Clearwater Jazz Holiday Lineup Announcement …

… comes tonight.

So far, based on advance information, the lineup for this year’s Clearwater Jazz Holiday might be described as not bad, but not great: A few top-notch national artists and several good regionally based singers and musicians, but no genuine jazz legends.

It’d be a nice surprise if the Jazz Holiday put someone as prominent, important and influential as, say, Sonny Rollins, on the bill, and we got a world-class jazz festival. But don’t hold your breath. Look for the big dollars to largely be allocated for smooth jazzers, who are sure to dominate the headlining spots.

According to Poll Star and various artists’ web sites, etc., this is who’s headed to the fest, Oct. 13-16 at Coachman Park:

  • Christian McBride (left), a great, still young-ish bassist who has appeared on hundreds of terrific jazz albums; he’ll be with his Inside Straight band
  • Established jazz singer Dianne Reeves
  • Smooth-jazz pianist Brian Culbertson
  • New Orleans funk-jazz superstar Trombone Shorty
  • Whitney James, the gifted rising-star singer who splits her time between the Tampa Bay area and NYC
  • A group called Miss Tess and the Bon Ton Parade (apologies, but I’ve never heard of them)