Aretha Franklin at Wolf Trap, VA [Concert Review 6/21/2011]


Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul

On June 21, in celebration of our forthcoming Anniversary, my wife and I went to Wolf Trap Performing Arts center in Vienna, Virginia, to see the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.

The highlight of the show, for me, is when she sang “Ain’t no Way.” Simply beautiful.

We know she was the queen of soul because that’s how she was introduced by the invisible off-stage voice, who yelled, “Ladies and Gentlemen! Your queen… My queen Aretha Franklin.” We also knew this because, well, the woman’s the Queen of Soul!

The Queen brought a full brass ensemble of ten men, two guitarists, a piano player, three chorus singers, three percussionists, and a band director. Aretha and her sore foot led them all in a set that lasted approximately 115 minutes. She sang a mix of old stuff, and new stuff, and really, really old (while she played the piano and sang Handel’s 1739 Aria “Ombra Mai Fu”.

I’ve attached a video that sounds very much like the classical performance last night, just to get a feeling. It was sung with a gospel flair that gave me shivers.

Her big closer was “Freeway of Love,” which riffed for fifteen minutes. By that time, it was clear that Aretha’s foot was bothering her. I’d heard, at the beginning of her concert, she’d closed the show with “Respect,” the one song I truly was hoping to hear. I’d have also liked to have heard “Chain of Fools”, “Think”, and “Say a Little Prayer.” But this concert wasn’t about her old stuff. I know she’s pushing a new album, and I’m okay with that. I also don’t fault her for leaving without singing many of her hits. I got my money’s worth.

And we stayed dry.  Rather than the $25 lawn tickets, I decided to splurge an extra $20 for actual seats.  We were in a top-level box. Just about halfway through Aretha’s opening act, the thunderstorms started. They lasted for the duration of the concert.  Huge booms, and pouring rains literally drenched the people on the lawn. While Judi and I were sweaty, and had obnoxious boxmates (playing scrabble on their iPhones, and taking “illegal” photos of the performers, cackling and talking during the performance), well… Let’s just say, when we left the amphitheater, we saw a couple twisting and wringing out the blanket they had sat on.  It was as if they’d pulled it from a river.

A bit about her sound.  She was amazing.  She may not have the high notes that she possessed in her younger years, but her low register was extremely strong. But anyone can sing loudly.  Aretha shines because of her subtlety, expressiveness, and especially, her amazing vocal runs.

A bit about her body.  She’s gotta weigh in the high 200-pound area, but I’ll be darned if the woman isn’t still sexy! If you don’t think a big woman with a larger-than-life personality can be good-looking, think again! I told Judi she needed to steal Aretha’s purple dress! It wasn’t her size that makes her sexy; it was that she was big, and she is perfectly comfortable within herself. Not bad for a 69-year old woman!

Aretha had recently broken her left toe. Her story, as close to verbatim as I can recall it, was this: “You want to hear what I did to my foot? Well, I’m not going to tell you! (laughs).  I was in Dallas Texas, at a private performance, and afterward, I was at the hotel. There was a pile of shoes. Okay – the couch was here, then the coffee table here, and in between was a pile of shoes. I tried to step over the shoes, and, I don’t know if I slipped, or my leg did something funny, or what. Next thing you know, I had stepped on a five-inch stiletto heel, and now this. This kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen to someone who’s only 44 years old!”

She had a single weak attempt at humor, telling an anecdote about Muhammad Ali not fastening his seat belt in a plane flight. Her joke fell flat, and she shyly said “moving right along then…” and continued to a song.

She stopped the concert three times to introduce three “special people in my life”, whom I’d never heard of. One of them wasn’t even there. She said, “I guess he’s chosen to be incognito tonight.” And moved on to a song. By 10:30, Aretha was clearly drained. By 10:45, there wasn’t a soul in the entire amphitheater, except Judi and me, and a crew breaking down the stage with frightening efficiency. We found our car and sat in the cooler air for another 45 minutes before the car finally pushed onto the road. Once the automotive dysentery was fully released, it took about 10 minutes to get home. I swear, we fell asleep before our heads hit the pillow, before we could ride on any freeway, in any Cadillac whatsoever.

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6 thoughts on “Aretha Franklin at Wolf Trap, VA [Concert Review 6/21/2011]”

  1. I am so excited !!

    Have seen her over the last 20 years several times – and although the shows and vocals have change – Miss Aretha has Not !!

    Luv her dearly – although she is twice my age – and her music is not my generations “type ”
    I will always have a close spot in my heart for her …

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  2. Hey your review was spot on, I actually came all the way from Texas to see this show, that how much I love Aretha. Aretha has actually lost a lot of weight, and her energy level was very much improved from when I have seen her in past shows. She is still singing better than anyone on the radio today, its sad that they will not even play her new stuff, I am happy to hear whatever she sings, for her catalogue is too great to sing everything. Its refreshing to see a singer who doesnt need gimmicks and backup dancers to entertain an audience. This was a wonderful concert experience and the venue was beautiful.

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  3. Rendering an exhilarating performance outside in a thunderstorm at Wolf Trap, the near 70-year old legend left no doubt that the title belt of Queen of Soul is fimly in her grasp and fastened around her waist. And there are no contenders on the horizon. We would have to go back to the Divine One, Sarah Vaugh, to find a contender who can even step on stage with her. From soul to pop to blues to gospel to classical religion, Aretha Franklin put on a tour de force musical clinic — with the roots of her father’s church in full display — replete with marvelous back-up singers and a terrific modern day-orchestra. If she were a fighter she would have landed the KO blow early with “Ain’t No Way.” When the announcer shouted repeatedly, “The Queen!,” I said, “Amen.” She did not need to sing “Respect” because she already has it — but it would have torn the house down if she had opened with it — besides we played it on the CD on the way to the show.

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  4. She was pretty amazing last night. What was up with the sound guy? He was awful or there were some serious technical difficulties. She kept complaining to the sound man, joking at one point, “I need better sound. And you need to get paid.” And then during her piano solo and singing, there must have been 4 different times where there was very bad interference. On her final song, she had to prompt the sound guy a number of times to turn the sound on for one of the musiicians’ instruments. Kind of amazing

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    1. Agreed. The band sounded amazing, until the trombone solo, which washed out and made the poor guy sound worse-than-amateur. I forgot about all the nasty feedback from the mics while she performed at the piano!

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  5. A-mazing A-retha! I loved the concert. Had tears in my eyes a few times, she sang so beautifully. I’m so glad we got the chance to see her live. Thank you for an amazing anniversary present. Not sure how you’re going to top that next year! 😉

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