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Last Night at 35 Conferette: Mavis Staples Keeps Denton Beard (Good God!)

Mavis Staples
8 p.m. at Main Stage One

Gospel soul legend Mavis Staples took the stage to the whoops and hollers of several hundred people Thursday night in the parking lot behind Wells Fargo, and from the opening notes of the harmony-rich "Wonderful Savior," it was clear we were all in for a treat of biblical proportions.

Drawing mostly from last year's You Are Not Alone, Staples and her band touched on everything from gospel rave-ups (the Reverend Gary Davis classic "I Belong to the Band Hallelujah") to somber ballads (Staples' definitive treatment of Randy Newman's "Losing You"), not only showcasing her iconic voice, but a youthful spunk that belied her 71 years.

Guitarist Rick Holmstrom proved a vital instrumental foil for the legend, conjuring the ghost of Pops Staples with his funky, tremolo-dripping leads and never once succumbing to blues guitar wankery. Singer Danny Gerrard led a fine vocal backing trio (which included Staples sister Yvonne) as well, stepping out from the shadows to cover the Rick Danko verse on the band's killer Last Waltz version of "The Weight," a high point in the set unlikely to be equaled by any performer over the next three days.

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Closing with the Staples Singers' hit "I'll Take You There," Staples offered to take the crowd back to the '70s, humorously observing that the vast majority of those in attendance never experienced them.

Not that it mattered -- Staples clearly relished the opportunity to play for the young'uns of Denton, even promising to return after accepting a "Keep Denton Beard" T-shirt thrown on stage and ordering her band to grow beards of their own.

The term "lovefest" doesn't even begin to describe it -- if you missed Mavis Staples, the rest of us will keep you in our prayers.

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