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Live Report: No Nukes Benefit

Warner Theatre, Washington, D.C., September 24, 1997

Eighteen years have passed since Bonnie Raitt joined Bruce
Springsteen, James Taylor, and other musical luminaries at the
legendary “No Nukes” concert at Madison Square Garden. And while
many of her way-back-when peers who also performed at that show
have since suffered artistic or commercial setbacks — see Jackson
Browne, Carly Simon, the Doobie Brothers — the red-haired
roots-rock diva has demanded that Father Time treat her right.

In what was billed as the largest anti-nuclear concert since
then, Raitt and the cause-obsessed Indigo Girls journeyed to the
nation’s capital to protest the burial of nuclear waste on Native
American land. The crowd was also treated to several surprises — a
weathered-looking Browne kicked off the evening with an impromptu,
three-song set and pop-folksinger Beth Nielsen Chapman hopped
onstage for what seemed like every other song — but the evening’s
most satisfying moments came when Raitt curled her
whiskey-n-smoke-solid voice around one of her trademark
slide-guitar licks.

In a daring, potentially disastrous move, Raitt opened her
portion of the show with an a cappella version of Chapman’s new
“Color of Roses.” “It’s gonna take a lot of ovaries for me to sing
this in front of the woman who wrote it,” Raitt laughed nervously.
“But Beth, I love you.” Raitt treated the dirge-like song with
solemn respect, conveying more emotion at 48 than she could have at
30.

As the crowd erupted — some even stood for a shrieking
ovation — Raitt invited her three-man backing band (drums, bass,
piano) onstage, strapped on a guitar, and ripped into the old
Aretha Franklin standard, “Baby I Love You.” If that wasn’t steamy
enough, she followed it with a slowed-down bump-and-grind version
of “The Road’s My Middle Name.” “Ooh, this is getting sooo slinky,”
Raitt purred during her solo, directing her power poses and double
entendres at husband Michael O’Keefe. She later tore into Robert
Johnson’s “Walkin’ Blues,” then slipped casually into the
obligatory “Thing Called Love.” For an encore, Raitt invited the
Indigo Girls, Chapman, and Native American singing group Ulali
onstage to join her on “Angel From Montgomery” and the Buffy
Sainte-Marie classic “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.”

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