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Raitt brings legendary chops to festival opener

 Ben Harper plays guitar on the Folk Fest's Main Stage Thursday night. He is touring with blues harmonica musician Charlie Musselwhite.  (BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
 Ben Harper plays guitar on the Folk Fest's Main Stage Thursday night. He is touring with blues harmonica musician Charlie Musselwhite.  (Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg Free Press)
Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite headline Folk Fest Thursday night.  (Sarah Taylor / Winnipeg Free Press)
Claire Waters and Danny Heinrichs gobble up some famous Whaletails at the festival eating area. The Winnipeggers say they expect to eat at least seven of them before the end of the weekend. (BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Brittany Roginson dances with her hula hoop at Folk Fest on Thursday. She is performing in the fire shows at 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. (Sarah Taylor / Winnipeg Free Press)
Chantal Dick attends Folk Fest for the fourth time, dancing to Chic Gamine on Thursday night. (Sarah Taylor / Winnipeg Free Press)
Greg Allan feels the love as he delivers free hugs at Folk Fest on Thursday.  (Sarah Taylor / Winnipeg Free Press)
Della Mae performs Thursday night at Folk Fest. (Sarah Taylor / Winnipeg Free Press)
Della Mae performs Thursday night at Folk Fest.  (Sarah Taylor / Winnipeg Free Press)
Chic Gamine performs Thursday night at Folk Fest. (Sarah Taylor / Winnipeg Free Press)
Candace Froebe and James Penner attend Folk Fest on Thursday. Penner says he is most excited to see Ben Harper at this year's festival.  (Sarah Taylor / Winnipeg Free Press)
The Village Tower on the opening night of Winnipeg Folk Fest 2014 at Birds Hill Park. (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
Kids spin light toys during Bonnie Raitt's set. (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
Festival goers dance to Bonnie Raitt's headlining set on the opening night of Winnipeg Folk Fest 2014.  (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
Bonnie Raitt headlining the main stage on Wednesday evening. (Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg Free Press)
Blues legend Bonnie Raitt on Main Stage. (BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Mary Houston and Ian Naften share a moment in the crowd during Bonnie Raitt's set at the main stage on Wednesday evening. (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
Bonnie Raitt on Main Stage.  (BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Festival goers ride the Seven Earthstones see-saw art project by Tonya Borgeson on the opening day of Winnipeg Folk Fest Wednesday. (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
The Bros. Landreth perform on Main Stage.  (BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Amy Helm and the Handsome Strangers on Main Stage.  (BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS )
Elliette Fast points out bubbles atop her father Reynold's shoulders on the opening day of Winnipeg Folk Fest. (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
Kids play in the crowd on the opening day of Winnipeg Folk Fest 2014. (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
Amy Helm and the Handsome Strangers on Main Stage.  (BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Michel Julius carries the essentials in the rush to get a campsite. (KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Volunteers Jeanne Harrison, left, and Denise de Decker gave Folk Festival visitors a warm welcome for the festival's opening on Wednesday.  (KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
The day began with the bike ride to the park, hundreds of participants  rode their bikes to the Birds Hill Park to get priority entry to the Winnipeg Folk Festival on Wednesday. (KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Folk lovers began their Wednesday, July 9 with a drive or bike ride to Birds Hill Park to get priority entry to the Winnipeg Folk Festival. Thousands of cars , trucks and RVs rolled directly into the park toward campground parking in a streamlined process free of  previous years' delays. (KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Bring your bug spray and sunscreen: Thomas Beever has both in preparation for the Folk Festival's start.  (KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
At left, Melissa Russell leads a group of loaded-down friends to a camp site upon arrival at the campground Wednesday.  (KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Three-year-old Briar MacDonald runs around as her mom and grandmother set up their craft sale tent at Winnipeg Folk Festival. The popular music festival starts tomorrow.   (BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Briar MacDonald, 3, and her mom Devaki MacDonald, from Collingwood, Ont., have fun setting up their craft booth in preparation for the Winnipeg Folk Festival.  (BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
John and Mike Wolchock set up the Pollock Hardware fix-it-shop in the Birds Hill Park campground.    (BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Stage hands set up the festival's Main Stage a day before the festival opens. (BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Iain Graham of Sound Art puts up the speakers on Main Stage at the Winnipeg Folk Festival. The popular music festival starts tomorrow.  (BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Ben Harper plays guitar on the Folk Fest's Main Stage Thursday night. He is touring with blues harmonica musician Charlie Musselwhite. - (BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Ben Harper plays guitar on the Folk Fest's Main Stage Thursday night. He is touring with blues harmonica musician Charlie Musselwhite. - (Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg Free Press)
Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite headline Folk Fest Thursday night. - (Sarah Taylor / Winnipeg Free Press)
Claire Waters and Danny Heinrichs gobble up some famous Whaletails at the festival eating area. The Winnipeggers say they expect to eat at least seven of them before the end of the weekend. - (BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Brittany Roginson dances with her hula hoop at Folk Fest on Thursday. She is performing in the fire shows at 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. - (Sarah Taylor / Winnipeg Free Press)
Chantal Dick attends Folk Fest for the fourth time, dancing to Chic Gamine on Thursday night. - (Sarah Taylor / Winnipeg Free Press)
Greg Allan feels the love as he delivers free hugs at Folk Fest on Thursday. - (Sarah Taylor / Winnipeg Free Press)
Della Mae performs Thursday night at Folk Fest. - (Sarah Taylor / Winnipeg Free Press)
Della Mae performs Thursday night at Folk Fest. - (Sarah Taylor / Winnipeg Free Press)
Chic Gamine performs Thursday night at Folk Fest. - (Sarah Taylor / Winnipeg Free Press)
Candace Froebe and James Penner attend Folk Fest on Thursday. Penner says he is most excited to see Ben Harper at this year's festival. - (Sarah Taylor / Winnipeg Free Press)
The Village Tower on the opening night of Winnipeg Folk Fest 2014 at Birds Hill Park. - (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
Kids spin light toys during Bonnie Raitt's set. - (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
Festival goers dance to Bonnie Raitt's headlining set on the opening night of Winnipeg Folk Fest 2014. - (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
Bonnie Raitt headlining the main stage on Wednesday evening. - (Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg Free Press)
Blues legend Bonnie Raitt on Main Stage. - (BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Mary Houston and Ian Naften share a moment in the crowd during Bonnie Raitt's set at the main stage on Wednesday evening. - (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
Bonnie Raitt on Main Stage. - (BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Festival goers ride the Seven Earthstones see-saw art project by Tonya Borgeson on the opening day of Winnipeg Folk Fest Wednesday. - (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
The Bros. Landreth perform on Main Stage. - (BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Amy Helm and the Handsome Strangers on Main Stage. - (BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS )
Elliette Fast points out bubbles atop her father Reynold's shoulders on the opening day of Winnipeg Folk Fest. - (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
Kids play in the crowd on the opening day of Winnipeg Folk Fest 2014. - (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press)
Amy Helm and the Handsome Strangers on Main Stage. - (BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Michel Julius carries the essentials in the rush to get a campsite. - (KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Volunteers Jeanne Harrison, left, and Denise de Decker gave Folk Festival visitors a warm welcome for the festival's opening on Wednesday. - (KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
The day began with the bike ride to the park, hundreds of participants rode their bikes to the Birds Hill Park to get priority entry to the Winnipeg Folk Festival on Wednesday. - (KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Folk lovers began their Wednesday, July 9 with a drive or bike ride to Birds Hill Park to get priority entry to the Winnipeg Folk Festival. Thousands of cars , trucks and RVs rolled directly into the park toward campground parking in a streamlined process free of previous years' delays. - (KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Bring your bug spray and sunscreen: Thomas Beever has both in preparation for the Folk Festival's start. - (KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
At left, Melissa Russell leads a group of loaded-down friends to a camp site upon arrival at the campground Wednesday. - (KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Three-year-old Briar MacDonald runs around as her mom and grandmother set up their craft sale tent at Winnipeg Folk Festival. The popular music festival starts tomorrow. - (BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Briar MacDonald, 3, and her mom Devaki MacDonald, from Collingwood, Ont., have fun setting up their craft booth in preparation for the Winnipeg Folk Festival. - (BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
John and Mike Wolchock set up the Pollock Hardware fix-it-shop in the Birds Hill Park campground. - (BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Stage hands set up the festival's Main Stage a day before the festival opens. - (BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Iain Graham of Sound Art puts up the speakers on Main Stage at the Winnipeg Folk Festival. The popular music festival starts tomorrow. - (BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

BIRDS HILL PARK — Back in 2009, when the Winnipeg Folk Festival announced it would be expanding to a five-day format to accommodate the tour routing of Britpop icon Elvis Costello, it seemed like a ballsy move. Even diehard folkies were divided; would five days be too much of a good thing?

Five years on, and the Wednesday night opener has become an integrated — and, for the most part, accepted — part of the festival thanks mostly to its promise of a big-draw headliner. And who fits that bill better than the first lady of blues, Bonnie Raitt?

Bonnie Raitt on the Folk Fest mainstage.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Bonnie Raitt on the Folk Fest mainstage. Photo Store

The flame-haired, 10-time Grammy winner kicked off the 41st Winnipeg Folk Festival with the slinky, sexy Used to Rule The World and a slow-burning take on Gerry Rafferty’s Right Down the Line, both off her acclaimed 2012 album Slipstream.

At 64, Raitt’s bedroom drawl has aged like a fine wine. Her vocal delivery is effortless, even on athletic R&B numbers such as 1979’s Your Good Thing (Is About to End). That legendary voice is matched only by her virtuosic skills as a slide guitarist — which she also makes look so easy and fun. Raitt always had a mischievous little smirk tugging at the corner of her mouth. It’s a singular pleasure watching a musician who has a great time performing.

She brought things back to this decade, serenading the rapt crowd with the tender ballad Not Cause I Wanted To, another cut from Slipstream, under a cotton-candy sky. Even seated, she’s still a commanding presence. 

Raitt pulled from all over her catalogue; 2002’s No Gettin’ Over You was followed up with a somewhat perfunctory performance of her 1991 smash Something To Talk About, tossed off mid set. (Anne Murray apparently passed on the Shirley Eikhard-penned song in 1986 after her producers told her it wouldn’t be a hit). 

When Raitt was invested — really invested — it showed. Angel from Montgomery, dedicated to her mother, was heart-rending — especially with the addition of fellow mainstage performer Amy Helm, daughter of the late, great Levon Helm, on harmonies. 

She turned things over to Hammond organist Mike Finnigan — a legend in his own right who has toured or sessioned with everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Etta James to Leonard Cohen — for the down ’n’ dirty blues number I Got News for You. "YouTube him, baby," Raitt said. The sexy strut of Love Sneakin’ Up On You followed, closing the main set on a high. 

"It took us a long time to get back here," Raitt said when she returned for the encore; she last played Folk Fest in 1988. "I save this song for this part because it’s really hard to follow," she added, before launching into the devastating ballad I Can’t Make You Love Me. "That song means as much to me as it does to you," she said. It was chased with the stunning Dimming of the Day.

 But Raitt didn’t leave us on a sad note. The playful, funk-inflected Love Letter closed the show.

Indeed, it was all about the powerhouse ladies on Wednesday night. Helm wowed with her big, soulful voice. Backed by her band the Handsome Strangers, the singer/songwriter turned in a rollicking, blues and gospel-kissed set chock full of hip-swinging highlights, including the groove-based Sky’s Falling which bled into a cover of Ann Peebles’ 1974 single I Can’t Stand the Rain — which a certain generation will know from its sample in Missy Elliott’s The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly). Her emotional cover of the Band’s The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down would have done her dad proud. She closed her slightly overlong set with a high-energy rendition of Sam Cooke’s (Ain’t That) Good News.

Before Raitt took the stage, another singer/songwriter with a musical pedigree performed a tweener set. Sarah Lee Guthrie — daughter of Arlo and granddaughter of Woody — and husband, Johnny Irion, make for a harmonious folk duo, but their intimate, acoustic tunes would be more affecting on a smaller stage. (They play a concert at Little Stage on Saturday.) Texas bluesman Guy Forsyth, who played a tweener set earlier in the evening, is another artist to see on a daytime stage.

Hometown boys the Bros. Landreth started off the night with a languid set of mid-tempo blues rockers resplendent with soulful harmonies as golden and warm as the late-evening sun. These guys turned in tight, technically proficient performances, earning a standing ovation from the suppertime crowd. A slot on the Folk Fest main stage is a dream come true for Dave and Joey Landreth, who have been attending the festival since they were kids, volunteering as stagehands for the main stage alongside their father, veteran musician Wally Landreth. "This is quite a different view," Joey said, surveying the crowd.

The main stage gig is another high in a year full of them for this emerging act; the Bros. Landreth has three 2014 Western Canadian Music Award nominations and the ink is drying on a deal with U.S. imprint Slate Creek Records.

Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite headline the Folk Fest main stage on Thursday night. Cara Luft, Chic Gamine, Danny Barnes, the Wood Brothers and Michael Bernard Fitzgerald also perform. Music starts at 6 p.m.

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 11:13 PM CDT: Write-thru

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