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Hangout Music Fest: Mavis Staples takes you there

10:48 PM, May. 20, 2012
Mavis Staples at Hangout Music Festival
Mavis Staples at Hangout Music Festival: Mavis Staples at Hangout Music Festival
Mavis Staples performs at the Hangout Music Fest Sunday. / Kim Thomas/
Ron Truka, 29, of Knoxville, Tenn., gets into the spirit of Mavis Staples and the Staple Singers at the Hangout Music Fest in Gulf Shores, Ala. / Kim Thomas/


I don't know about y'all, but I got what I came for.

Mavis Staples delivered a spiritual experience on this brilliant Sunday afternoon.

There hasn't been any filler music at the Hangout Music Fest.

Even so, the soul maven stepped up and showed 'em all who's boss.

Fans old and new swayed and sang along through "Freedom Highway" and "We'll Never Turn Back." A couple of times, she paused to step away for a cold drink as the band played on.

"She's getting on up there, you know," fan Ron Truka said to folks standing near him in front of the stage. "Sometimes it takes Mama a minute to cook a biscuit, but it's still a good biscuit."

She's a veteran, alright. She has been doing this more than 60 years, and released her last album "You Are Not Alone" in 2010.

There was no bigger fan dancing in the sand than Truka. The 29-year-old, who's from Knoxville, Tenn., describes himself as "an old soul." He felt every note.

He wasn't the only one.

From "Freedom Highway" to "We'll Never Turn Back," Mavis and her honey-voiced Staple Singers brought a crash course in how to be music legends. On a large beach under a wide blue sky, they engaged the audience as if it were a much more intimate setting.

"I just refuse to turn around," she told the audience during "Freedom Highway." "I've come too far, y'all. I'm still on that highway! I'm on that highway until Dr. King's dream is realized!"

She touched on social and political issues throughout the set, talking about people carrying signs to "take our country back." Back to the 40s and 50s? she asked. "I ain't never going back to the back of the bus."

Another highlight was the band's Sunday-worthy gospel song, "I Belong to the Band."

"What kind of band you talking about?" she sang to the Staple Singers.
"Talking about that Christian band," they sang in reply.

"It was amazing," Truka said after the show. "She still has that genuine church growl that lets you know it's authentic."

I used to cover blues, soul and rock 'n' roll in Jackson, Tenn., a town between Memphis and Nashville that gave birth to rockabilly and blues pioneers. I've seen many shows that blues and soul fans would envy. None of 'em tops Mavis.

The show wound down with the crowd-rousing "I'll Take You There."

Sure did, Mavis. I could've listened all Sunday long.

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