SXSW Music Review: Mavis Staples

The freedom highway extends all the way to the Clive Bar

A hair over five feet tall and four months shy of her 80th birthday, Mavis Staples took the Clive Bar to school and church on Tuesday night.

Mavis Staples (Photo by John Anderson)

The Chicago native spread joyful noise with the Staple Singers for nearly half a century alongside her father Roebuck “Pops” Staples and siblings Pervis, Cleotha, and Yvonne, and launched her solo career on Stax Records back in 1969. The Staple Singers’ message music provided a soundtrack to the civil rights movement and on Tuesday, Mavis led a 30-minute trip down the freedom highway. A sublime shot of gospel-soul, opener “If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)” served as both invitation and invocation.

“If you’re ready, come go with me/ No hatred will be tolerated.”

Staples doesn’t wail with the same power she once did, but her low voice roiled and rumbled on “Who Told You That,” a Jeff Tweedy-penned collaboration from 2017’s If All I Was Was Black. “Changes” explored the blues tradition of the Staples’ Windy City, while the stuttering funk of “Slippery People” covered the Talking Heads, which the Staple Singers performed live on Soul Train in 1984.

Backed by guitarist Rick Holmstrom, bassist Jeff Turmes, drummer Stephen Hodges, and a pair of vocalists, the playful main attraction sipped hot tea between songs, joked with the crowd, and grasped the reaching hands of first-row fans. Accompanied only by Holmstrom’s crawling guitar for the first minute of closing hymn “Love and Trust,” Staples broke it down one last time:

“The simplest things can be the hardest to do/ Can’t find what you’re looking for even when it’s looking for you.”

Mavis Staples

Tuesday, March 12, 2pm, Clive Bar

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at Sign up for our South By-specific newsletter at for news, reviews, and previews delivered to your inbox every day of the Fest. And for the latest tweets, follow @ChronSXSW.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

Batman’s Iconic Emblem Lights up Lady Bird Lake for Caped Crusader’s 80th Anniversary
Batman’s Iconic Emblem Lights up Lady Bird Lake for Caped Crusader’s 80th Anniversary
Congress Ave. Bridge and its resident bats proved the perfect backdrop

Robert Faires, March 18, 2019

Loud and Proud at Pink Elephant Radio’s First SXSW Showcase
Loud and Proud at Pink Elephant Radio’s First SXSW Showcase
Pink Privilege becomes SX's inaugural queer hip hop event

Lilli Hime, March 18, 2019

More by Thomas Fawcett
SXSW Music Keynote: Beastie Boys
SXSW Music Keynote: Beastie Boys
Ad-Rock and Mike D remain funny to us, too

March 16, 2019

SXSW Music Review: Kokoko!/Bixiga 70/Jojo Abot
SXSW Music Review: Kokoko!/Bixiga 70/Jojo Abot
Afro tsunami lays waste to Sixth Street world music hub

March 15, 2019


SXSW 2019, SXSW Music 2019, Mavis Staples, Staple Singers, Jeff Tweedy, Talking Heads, Soul Train, Rick Holmstrom

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle