In 2007, I had the unbelievable honor of opening 9 shows for Bonnie Raitt. It was a tour that I had been looking forward to for quite some time and I was over-the-moon excited about meeting the legend, herself. I wish I could say that there were choirs singing and doves flying overhead when I finally did meet her, but the meeting was actually quite casual. After our sound check, I went to catering for dinner and there she was, just hanging out with her band and crew. Immediately, I was struck by how unbelievably cool she was to me. She heaped praise on me and my records and promptly invited me to sing Love Sneakin Up with her that very night.
We kicked off the tour at The Beacon Theater in New York, a venue I had only ever seen on tv. The room was stunning. I had never seen such a gorgeous venue and yet, here I was, about to sing my little heart in support of a rock and roll icon on this very stage! That and the fact that Bonnie was so
damn cool had me convinced that we were embarking on an epic journey and I wasn’t gonna let it go to waste.
Luckily, for me, Bonnie broke bread with all of us every day and spent any extra time she could just hanging out and talking shop with us for the whole run. I got to sing with her every night and by the end of her encore, my entire band was on stage. After 9 shows I now know that Bonnie Raitt is not only an incredible musician, but she’s definitely cooler than you, as well. I remember asking her once if she had any kids ever. She smiles and replied, “No... well, I did have a few blues legends that I felt were like my kids!” (#lol)
As I’ve said before, I’ve never been the brightest bulb in the bunch and I often make hasty, completely irrational decisions if I think it’ll be fun or maybe I’ll get a laugh. Well, what I’m about to tell you about is a decision I made that was definitely irrational and quite stupid, but was something that I actually sought council on. Remember, by the end of the show, my band and I were all on stage with Bonnie, me singing and the guys in the band playing tambourines and shakers and whatnot. Well, the show would end with Bonnie’s band just playing one chord for a long time while Bonnie took a bow, smiled and waved, finally signaling the band for the last strike!
My dumbass thought, at the time, that it would be “amazing” if I did a break-dance backspin while Bonnie was doing her send off as the band played that last chord. I felt so compelled to do it and convinced myself that it would really be super, uper, duper cool. My band guys informed me promptly that my idea was horrible and should, under no circumstances, be attempted. I just couldn’t let it go and finally, on the last night of the tour, I made my move.
Well, there I am, spinning like an idiot about 6 or 8 feet behind Bonnie, dead center stage. Little, did I know, Bonnie throws up the peace sign as she starts to slowly walk backwards and she doesn’t know there’s an idiot spinning on his back directly behind her!!!
The way my drummer describes the scene is that he could see it all unfolding in slow motion. In his head, he starts running to save her from tumbling over me backwards and dives to catch her head only to miss it by a split second. Can you imagine?! Thankfully, what I said about Bonnie really is true; she’s too cool to be phased by a square like me. Right at the last minute, I finally quit spinning just as Bonnie sees me there on the floor right behind her. She gave me an amused smile and went on to close the show.
Despite my best efforts to critically injure a living legend and potentially end her career, Bonnie didn’t even sweat it. As a matter of fact, she was more gracious than I could have ever imagined. Not long after that, we had all retreated into our respective dressing rooms, and Bonnie’s tour manager told me that the boss lady wanted to see me. I was fairly nervous but no one, not even my band guys, were giving me a hard time about my near disaster, so I figured she just wanted to say goodbye.
We had already done our best earlier in the day to show our gratitude to Bonnie for her unbelievable generosity and grace. Bonnie loves flowers, you see, AND it happened to be her birthday, if memory serves me. That last show fell on a Sunday, though, so my tour manager called The Ritz and implied we were guests and requested a large bouquet brought to the venue. God bless The Ritz and that front desk attendant who went to a friend’s house, apparently, to build the bouquet from a private garden. It was a massive arrangement, fit for a queen, and it had the intended effect.
Bonnie’s first words to me when I walked into her dressing room that night were words of thanks for such beautiful flowers. She told me that it was such a pleasure having us on the road and that she has
enjoyed watching us every night. She then handed me an envelope and said, “Merry Christmas.” Her manager popped in right at that moment to pull her away, Bonnie and I gave one last hug to each other and parted ways.
As I walked out of the room, I looked inside the envelope and saw nothing but hundred dollar bills. I said to someone in my crew, “Oh my god! There’s gotta be $2 grand in here! I’m going to the bathroom to count it!” I emerged from that restroom $4000 richer!!!! Talk about a merry Christmas! I was able to bonus my road guys and still had enough for Christmas presents.
I have to pause here and say that I had never seen or heard of anything like this prior and I’ve never heard of it since. I’ve opened for a lot of big bands and none of them outside of Bonnie ever did anything like this. It was a powerful gesture that has stayed with and informed me beyond what I could have known that night. Opening slots, as highly sought after as they are, are not usually high paying. Openers regularly make barely enough to cover a couple of hotel rooms. So to have her be so thoughtful and so generous left an indelible mark on me. It’s caused me to think about my own openers and find ways to help them as much as possible.
Bonnie Raitt taught me that ego and lead singer were not synonymous. She showed me that joy and happiness emanate from genuine kindness to those around us. The experience of touring with her was life-changing and the effects will continue to shape me as an artist for the rest of my life, I have no doubt. She didn’t teach me with words but with her very thoughtful and purposeful action. Eating together and hearing her and her crew crack jokes, watching her perform every night and be absolutely flawless, seeing her Christmas card in my mailbox every year, the hand written thank you’s and signed records for not just me but my entire band and crew, all personalized and unique. I could go on and on about this woman. I think about her almost daily. I’m getting choked up writing this just thinking about how much she impacted my life and how she continues to influence my art and my life. She’s a legend for very tangible reasons and I couldn’t be more blessed to know her. Thank you, Bonnie Raitt, for being so real.