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by John P. Hart P.h.D., HPU professor


Honolulu is becoming the place for artists to end their tours. U2’s tour came to and end here recently. After a week off in Maui, Bonnie Raitt wrapped up her year-long tour at the Waikiki Shell on the 6th.
The Waikiki Shell is known to HPU students and faculty as the scene of graduation. But musicians as well as graduates have long walked the floorboards of the Shell. Local tradition has it that the sonic waves of Jimi Hendrix’s amplifiers, shattering the peace of the monied, Gold Coast condominiums, on the other end of Kapiolani Park in 1968, ended rock music at the Shell for years.

Bonnie Raitt broke out of the Boston club scene with a self-titled album in 1971 that emphasized her slide guitar blues stylings. Her Give It Up album, released in 1972, is still a favorite.

That same year saw her at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival, playing with her inspirations, Sippie Wallace and others. By the time I was an undergraduate at Boston College in the mid-70s, her shows at the Performance Center near Harvard Square in Cambridge were already the stuff of legend.

She was a female that sang, wrote, and played. That is commonplace now but not then. She did all three well. That is still not common now, male or female. Broadening musically, her first hit was a cover of Del Shannon’s Runaway a few years later.

Bonnie (it just seems wrong to call her Raitt) went through some ups and downs in the 80s. Like several others in the business, she credits her finding sobriety to my friend, the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. She won one of her several Grammys from his tribute album.

Now a member of the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame, Bonnie walked onstage at the Shell with handfuls of Grammys and hit songs to her credit. She was no longer young and neither was her audience. But, unlike many in her audience, Bonnie is still idealistic. Some of the well-heeled ticket holders in the front rows won their tickets at auction, the proceeds going to Hawaiian nonprofits designated by Bonnie.

In good spirts after their break, Bonnie and her band mixed hits like “Thing Called Love,” “Something to Talk About”and “I Can’t Make You Love Me” with older material like “Women Be Wise,” along with several songs from her newest release “Souls Alike.”

Bonnie repeatedly referred to the gorgous surroundings of Hawai‘i and to promoter Tom Moffatt, who has been doing shows here since the 50s. She was also generous in her support for her band and gave New Orleans keyboardist and fellow songwritwer Jon Cleary lots of solo time.

She absolutely nailed “Your Good Thing is About to Come to an End” from The Glow, which she dedicated to R&B pioneer Ruth Brown, who recently passed away. She also made several poignant comments about the passing of time and loved ones, remarks not lost on those that knew that her parents had also recently passed on.

She tore the house up with a rocking version of a Fabulous Thunderbirds cover to close her set, returning for a multi-song encore that concluded with John Prine’s shimmering “Angel From Montgomery.”

Dave Lawrence, music director for KPOI-FM, Honolulu’s classic rock station was impressed, comparing the concert favorably even to the U2 show a few weeks earlier. “She speaks to themes that mean more to me now than when I was younger,” he noted, “Very heavy stuff.”

Maybe part of that is her blues background coming through, not only musically, but lyrically. In any case, Bonnie is one of the handful of performers that have proved that even if rock music refuses to grow old, it can mature. The other thing she proved is that sincerity can still touch an audience more than a big stage show and Gucci sunglasses ever will.

 

 

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