Mavis Staples brings message of freedom to Bonnaroo

Photo and story by Anthony Merriweather / MTSU Seigenthaler News Service

“Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” belted Mavis Staples during her Which Stage set.

The crowd joyfully responded, much to her liking.

“Sounds like ya’ll ready,” she said warmly.

Her band looked to one another in affirmation and began to jam. Soon after, Staples ordered her band to bring down the sound, soundtracking her next statements.

“This song that we’re gonna sing for you right now,” Staples said. “It’s a song that we would wake up with in the morning and go to sleep with in the evening, back in the day. Back in the day, we would march up and down the southern highways with Dr. Martin Luther King … We would march all down through Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, just marching. Pretty soon we would march up on the police. Yeah, they would stop us and ask us to show them our papers to march. We didn’t have no papers, didn’t need no papers. But they put us in jail anyhow. They would put us in jail ya’ll, but we were getting back out. And start all over again.”

Mavis Staples then let out a soulful wail before she segued into “Freedom Highway.”

“March for freedom’s highway,” she sang. “March each and every day.”

Her voice in the light of civil rights comes from a not-so-distant darker past in America. Her words, however, still remain relevant in all forms, and to bring that message of freedom to Manchester in the form of Mavis Staples is as Bonnaroo as it gets.

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