Review: Mavis Staples and Ben Harper combine for great music

This cover image released by Anti-Records shows "We Get By," a release by Mavis Staples. (Anti-Records via AP)

June is shaping up to be a particularly tough month for white, heterosexual, Christian males.

Despite the fact that we have a president who is trying to reassert the overwhelming dominance of angry caucasians in society, they’ve got to be feeling the nagging sensation that the times are indeed a-changing. And this month provides a couple of potent reminders of that inevitable shift.

June marks two important cultural events in America: Pride Month, a celebration of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer community; and Juneteenth, the commemoration of the abolition of slavery.

What’s more, thanks to our love of nice, round numbers, those two events have a little added importance from a couple of other milestones this year:

1) It’s the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, a seminal event in the gay rights movement.

2) It’s the 400th anniversary of what many consider the start of the slave trade in America.

It could be a tough month for some folks, but it doesn’t have to be. I should know.

As painful as it is to admit, the vast majority of the injustices committed in this country were by guys who look and love and worship just like me.

White. Straight. Christian.

And if we, as a group, are going to insist on continuing to take credit for all the good stuff that’s happened in America, we’d better be willing to take responsibility for all the bad.

And that includes the continuing poor treatment of blacks and LGBTQ members.

The idea that the issue of race is still a thing in this country is inconceivable. But only slightly more conceivable is our odd preoccupation with who can fall in love with whom when it comes to consenting adults.

You wanna believe homosexuality is a sin? Knock yourself out. Just know that every time you pass such judgment on someone else you’re committing the greater sin.

Jesus even said as much, telling hypocrites to cast the beam out of their own eye before they go looking for the mote in another’s. And, frankly? Sexual orientation is a microscopic mote compared to the massive beam of treating others with anything less than total love and acceptance.

How do I know this? Because homosexuality doesn’t even crack the Top 10 List of “Thou Shalt Nots” in the Bible. So it couldn't possibly be one of the big sins.

Ah, but you know what is? Jesus fielded that one during his ministry. When someone asked what the most important commandment was, he actually gave them a twofer: Love God, and love others.

I suspect most of the folks around here have “Love God” down pat. The one we really need to work on is that “Love others” part.

And for that, Mavis Staples comes to the rescue.

At last weekend’s Ogden Music Festival, the legendary R&B/gospel singer took the stage to remind us why Harry Belafonte once called The Staple Singers’ music “the embodiment of the history of the struggle of black people in America.”

And with all she's been through on account of her race, Staples spent her entire Ogden set singing and talking about loving others — building bridges between people and touching hands and making friends and changing the world for the better.

See, Mavis knows a place. A place where ain’t nobody cryin’, ain’t nobody worried, and ain’t no smiling faces lying to the races.

And that night, she took us there.

In the song “Build a Bridge,” Staples pointedly sang: “When I say my life matters, you can say yours does, too / But I betcha never have to remind anyone to look at it from your point of view.”

Not here in Utah, anyway.

So then, how do we get to this place Mavis Staples knows of? A good start would be for all of us to clear our schedules to attend the 2019 Utah Juneteenth Freedom & Heritage Festival, planned for next weekend at the Ogden Amphitheater. That’s Step One.

And Step Two? Mark Aug. 3 on your calendars. That’s the date of the 2019 Ogden Pride Festival, also being held in the Ogden Amphitheater.

Imagine if every white, straight, Christian male in Northern Utah attended these two festivals. A small gesture, perhaps. But as Mavis herself is quoted in her record label bio:

"We need one another more than ever now — things ain't no better now than when I started 70 years ago."

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/MarkSaal.

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