My opening farewell to Bonnie Raitt reconsidered

In August 2002 I went to see Bonnie Raitt perform at the Minnesota State Fair. I’d previously seen Raitt perform in St. Paul at the Ordway Center 1986 or so, I think, but she was obviously drunk on that occasion. ZZ Top was performing at the St. Paul Civic Center around the corner from the Ordway and Raitt kept saying: “Man, ZZ Top. They’re playing next door; I can’t believe you’re here,” or something to that effect, and laughing each time. I hadn’t seen Raitt perform since she quit drinking and recovered her sobriety some time in the late ’80s soon after we saw her.

Only two or three songs into her 2002 State Fair set, apparently stone cold sober, Raitt started plugging wind energy. I was struck by the fact that the massive amplifiers used for her outdoor show at the fair probably required some significant fraction of the conventionally generated power on the grid to support them. She seemed a little lacking in self-awareness.

Another song or two into the set, after an incredibly hot performance of “I Can’t Help You Now,” Raitt plugged the senatorial reelection campaign of Paul Wellstone. Wellstone tragically died in an airplane crash within days of the election. At the time, however, I was pulling mightily for Norm Coleman to defeat Wellstone in the upcoming election and disappointed that I had shelled out hard-earned dollars for the privilege of being lectured by a political moron. I walked out of the show a half hour into Raitt’s set and resolved never to return.

In 2006 Raitt put me to the test, returning to the Minnesota State Fair for the first time since 2002. (A complete list of Grandstand entertainers by year is posted here.) This was one resolution I kept; we gave her show a pass. Jon Bream’s account of the show in the Star Tribune therefore had a special resonance for me: “She plugged wind power energy [again!], congressional candidate Keith Ellison…”

Keith Ellison! Bonnie, you’ve been “Too Long At the Fair.” “If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody,” don’t make a fool of your yourself, let alone your fans. “Give It Up”! That was my advice.

Raitt returned to the Minnesota State Fair again last night. Jon Bream’s Star Tribune review notes that it was Bonnie’s eighth appearance at the fair. I stuck with my resolution to avoid her.

I don’t know whether Bonnie spared the crowd her deep political thoughts this time around, but Jon doesn’t mention any in his account of her chatter: “Raitt, 66, has never been more spirited, spontaneous and loving at the Great Minnesota Get-Together. She showed love for the fair (she talked rides and deep-fried stuff) and for things Minnesota-centric (from lake homes to the Cabooze bar). She even dedicated a song to her stepsiblings who were in the audience.”

Well, I mark it a distinct improvement for which I wish I could claim credit. I have a soft spot in my heart for her; I love her music and fondly remember seeing her father, John Raitt, perform in St. Paul in many of the traveling productions of classic Broadway musicals that made his career. I doubt that Bonnie has given up lecturing her audience after all these years — see, e.g., “Bonnie Raitt talks politics and Bernie Sanders” — and I’m not abandoning my resolution yet.

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