Just like that, it’s the first weekend of the 2023 summer at Chautauqua. And after months of the comparatively quiet off-season, American blues singer and guitarist Bonnie Raitt will turn the volume up for opening night with her “Just Like That … Tour 2023” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater.
Raitt first hopped into the industry in 1971 with her self-titled debut album. With 20 years as a cult favorite, she broke through to the top in the early ‘90s with her Grammy Award-winning albums Nick of Time and Luck of the Draw, which featured hit songs such as “Something to Talk About” and “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”
In a New York Times interview about “Just Like That” garnering Raitt her first nomination as a songwriter, she said she “was never expecting the song of the year nomination.”
“But I was very proud of the song, especially since it was so inspired by John Prine, and we lost him,” Raitt told the Times. “I put my heart and soul into every record, and I never know which ones are going to resonate. But I can tell people are really moved, looking out there in the audience.”
Raitt’s many accolades — 13 Grammy Awards and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award among them — is excitement enough for opening night, said Senior Vice President and Chief Program Officer Deborah Sunya Moore, but more than that, “Bonnie is an artist that continues to connect us to life and each other.”
“Just Like That is such a perfect example of art that matters. Imagining a mother donating her child’s heart and meeting the recipient is storytelling that is heart-wrenching and inspirational,” Moore said. “At Chautauqua, we are not only about the art — we are about the story and the connections. Joining together through song reminds us that we gather together under one roof to share an experience — regardless of our perspectives, beliefs and life experiences. We will all take inspiration from opening night 2023.”
As artmaking continues to become more expensive in the years of COVID-19, Moore said, the Institution has adopted a new approach: working with “peer festivals” on making offers to artists of note and coordinating routing in ways that make sense from festival to festival on an artist’s tour.
“Chautauqua is stronger for recognizing that festivals outside of our immediate radius are not competitors — they are peers,” she said. “Our intent is to continue this path of collaboration to bring our patrons artists that inspire.”
Artists, in short, like Raitt, a 2000 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee and one of Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.” She’s joined on tour by songwriter and guitarist Chris Smither, who will be her opening act. For more than 50 years, Smither’s work has encompassed country, blues and rock, and has earned him numerous accolades.
Also in Raitt’s wheelhouse is a lifelong commitment to social activism. She’s long been involved with the environmental movement, performing concerts around oil, nuclear power, mining, water and forest protection since the mid-’70s.
A founding member of Musicians United for Safe Energy, which helps produce historic concerts and the album and movie “NO NUKES,” Raitt advocates for safe energy issues — in addition to environmental protection, social justice and human rights, as well as creator’s rights and music education.
Although a prominent social activist, Raitt told the Times she tries to avoid creating political music because it can sometimes be “insufferable.”
“I try to be really careful about not preaching my politics onstage because I know there’s a lot of people that may not agree with me, and they’re there to hear the music,” she said. “So we have a table out there in the hall, and we tithe a dollar of every ticket.”
Although she doesn’t cater to it, Raitt does have two songs, “Hell to Pay” and “The Comin’ Round Is Going Through,” she said are political.
“I couldn’t wait anymore,” Raitt told the Times. “But the politics between people, and love relationships, are just as thorny and important to lift up and write from interesting points of view.”