Hallelujah! Mavis Staples has given me life and strengthened my spirit. The legendary gospel singer and civil rights activist brought all her energy and soul to SXSW in an intimate backyard performance at the Showtime House on Rainey Street Tuesday night.
There are certain special types of performances where you wait in the crowd, your feet ache, and you could really go for some water and a snack. Your head may even start to throb in a sneaky way at the back. And then the music starts and it washes all those feelings away almost instantly, and all you’ve got are endorphins and bliss because here is Mavis Staples with her smile and her incomparable soulful voice standing just a few feet away, sharing the gift she was born to share.
Staples was everything you would hope for and more: warm, loving, commanding and powerful all at once. No one in the crowd could keep smiles from their faces and awe from their eyes as the singer charged through classic gospel and rhythm and blues songs accompanied by her loyal and ferociously talented backing band. When Staples sang “things are gonna change around here,” everyone in the audience — maybe everyone in Austin, maybe even everyone across the country — felt it.
And Staples herself appeared to be having a truly wonderful time, chatting with the audience (she found a shopping partner!), shouting out her hometown of Chicago, reaching out and grasping the hands of adoring fans (including me! I touched Mavis Staples hand! It was amazing!) and happily posing for photos with the young and awestruck artists also performing at the venue that night. Above all, the night proved that when Mavis Staples is in the room, it feels like community.
Also at the Showtime House
Cable network Showtime also brought two of its popular television shows, Chicago-based "The Chi" and the New York City-based "Black Monday," to Austin for SXSW, transforming the Rainey Street bar Clive into the Showtime House.
Throughout the day on Tuesday, the house served up classic Chicago hot dogs and hot NYC slices, and we were maybe supposed to be comparing to see which city’s food reigned supreme, but the real winners were everyone who got to eat both.
In addition to Staples, local musicians and DJs from the Windy City and the Big Apple performed throughout the day and night, including soulful electronic duo DRAMA and The Chi star Jacob Latimore, who performed some of his hip-hop hits.
Showtime is back at Clive Wednesday, promoting the show "Shameless" with carnival food and a performance by the ultimate party monster Andrew W.K.