Mavis Staples performs in Athens Thursday night. (WOUB/Jennifer Coombes)

Peace and Love Did Flow: Mavis Staples At Ohio University

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Mavis Staples is not only one of the surviving members of Stax Record’s The Staples Singers; she also took part in the historic March on Washington in 1963, considered Dr. Martin Luther King a close family friend and worked in close proximity to some of the most notable musical greats of the past six decades, including Prince Rogers Nelson, Curtis Mayfield and Bob Dylan. On Thursday night, Staples and her touring band played to an intimate, but enthusiastic crowd on the stage of the Templeton-Blackburn Memorial Auditorium in Athens.

Staples’ band made their way onstage just moments after 7:30 p.m.; soon after summoning the undulating rhythm of “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)” a hit from the Staples Singer’s 1973 Stax album release Be What You Are. After a few bars, Staples herself made her way under the spotlight, showered immediately by a warm chorus of applause.

The opening tune, being a radical song to the political power of love, felt like just about the proper note to open the set with given the palpably agitated state of the nation in these last days of 2016. Preaching love and inclusivity has always been the name of Staples’ game; and this performance was no different.

“I know everything is going to be alright,” said Staples a few songs deep into her short-but-sweet set. “You know, I’ve asked the Lord. And that’s what He said.”

Staples pulled heavily from her most recent work, the critically lauded Livin’ On a High Note, which was released in February on Epitaph Records. The album, produced by indie darling M. Ward, features Staples tackling a series of tunes penned directly for her by the likes of Benjamin Booker, Merrill Garbus (of tUnE-yArDs), Nick Cave and even Justin Vernon – whose stage moniker, Bon Iver, Staples playfully mispronounced throughout the show.

“It sounds like a cologne,” she laughed.

Mavis Staples and her touring band played a full night of various interesting covers and much more Nov. 17. (WOUB/Jennifer Coombes)

Staples and her band eased through a series of gorgeous covers, including a soul stirring rendition of the song that Vernon wrote for Staples, entitled “Dedicated.” “Slippery People,” originally penned by David Bryne for The Talking Heads 1983 album Speaking In Tongues, and recorded by the Staples Singers in just a year later, serving as the band’s last official Top 40 hit – was also a groovy surprise for the Athens audience Thursday night.

Throughout the band’s set, audience members vocalized their deep affection for Mavis, often yelling “We love you!” to which Mavis would smile and voice back various affections. Remarking occasionally on the demographics of the audience, she voiced a sort of delighted curiosity over the general youngness of the crowd.

Staples and her band closed out the set, initially, with a rousing rendition of the Staples Singer’s “I’ll Take You There,” originally a 1972 hit off of the group’s Be Altitude: Respect Yourself album, perhaps the tune that the historic outfit is best known for. Mavis and the band disappeared from the stage, only to reappear after a standing ovation and a general, adoring pleading from the audience.

“I’ll tell you what,” Staples smiled into the microphone. “You all just make us feel so good.”