Grace Over Calculation : Bonnie Raitt Found Success and Shared It on the Road That Ends In Irvine

Mike Boehm covers pop music for The Times Orange County Edition.

If parting is such sweet sorrow, Bonnie Raitt's show at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre Sunday, Sept. 30, could be a memorably bittersweet affair.

The show marks the end of Raitt's long round of 1989-90 touring behind her "Nick of Time" album, and therefore the end of one of the most widely hailed comeback trails since Tina Turner revitalized her career with "Private Dancer." It also marks a homecoming of sorts: While Raitt grew up in Burbank, her father, Broadway star John Raitt, grew up in Fullerton (Raitt Street in Santa Ana is named for Bonnie's dairyman great-granddad).

When Raitt last appeared in Orange County in June, 1989, she played her usual local haunt, the cozy Coach House. There was a celebratory air to that show: "Nick of Time" had already emerged as a hit, vindicating Raitt after a long, fallow period that saw her old label, Warner Brothers, drop her, re-sign her, and drop her again. Since then, "Nick of Time" has sold more than 2 million copies for Capitol Records, Raitt has collected four Grammy Awards, and her fans will have to get used to seeing her in far less intimate surroundings for the foreseeable future.

Not to worry. If any performer has enough warmth, sass and pure life force to fill a concrete chasm, it's Bonnie Raitt.

On "Nick of Time," Raitt let those qualities come through in simple, natural production surroundings. On her previous album, "Nine Lives," from 1986, she had gone as far as recording a slick Bryan Adams song in a failed bid for the big pop breakthrough. In following radio fashions, Raitt wasn't playing to her strengths: the folk, blues and R & B traditions that had been the foundation of her style since her 1971 debut.

The victory of natural grace over calculation was one of the most pleasing aspects of Raitt's "Nick of Time" success--all she had to do was be herself (and show her astute eye for a song, picking gems by John Hiatt and Bonnie Hayes, along with the lovely title song that Raitt wrote).

It also has been gratifying to watch Raitt exploit her success to benefit other artists she admires. In political parlance, Bonnie has had long coattails. "In the Mood," a duet with blues icon John Lee Hooker, helped Hooker's album, "The Healer," become one of the most improbable pop-chart successes of the past year. For her current tour, Raitt sought out Charles Brown, a deserving, long-overlooked jazz-blues piano and vocal talent, to open for her. Besides playing his own set at Irvine Meadows, Brown, 67, will be singing a number with Raitt. Raitt also showed good taste in having NRBQ along to round out the Irvine bill--the savvy, versatile roots-rock veterans' latest album, "Wild Weekend," is a pure-pop gem.


Bonnie Raitt.


Sunday, Sept. 30, at 8 p.m., with Charles Brown and NRBQ.


Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, 8800 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine.


Take the San Diego Freeway to the Irvine Center Drive exit, then head west; or the Santa Ana Freeway to Lake Forest Drive exit and go north to Irvine Center Drive.


$20 and $22 (only upper seats and lawn seating remain).

Where to call

(714) 740-2000.

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