“Ain’t Nobody” Jill Hopkins Reviews Chaka Khan and Michael McDonald
Written by Jill Hopkins on July 10, 2019
You wouldn’t categorize the music of Chaka Khan as “Yacht Rock”, and you wouldn’t have with the music of Michael McDonald… until 2005, when the Channel 101 web series of the same name created a new found interest in the genre.
But, Khan and McDonald are certainly contemporaries, and icons of 1970s rock and soul. So, their pairing would’ve made sense even if they hadn’t previously collaborated on a remake of the Doobie Brothers’ “You Belong to Me”.
On their joint tour, which stopped at the Ravinia Festival this past Saturday, you’re reminded of a time when a whole group of music fans had a singular goal: To get funky, and stay smooth.
The pair had local soul singer Isaiah Sharkey open the evening. The influence of artists like Prince and Gary Clark, Jr made their way into his sound, and his band did both performers justice with their original music. The crowd appreciated a bit of familiarity, and perked up when they covered The Spinners’ classic, “It’s a Shame”.
Sometimes, at venues like Ravinia, you remember that, while you’re in a tiny suburb of Chicago, the heart of the city is less than an hour away. Outside of the pavilion seating area, entire families of black and brown folks congregated around everything from lavish picnic spreads to bag lunches. Many were wearing t-shirts from the Chosen Few Picnic that they’d attended in Jackson Park, earlier in the same day. The age range of attendants spanned from 20s to “Old enough, Youngbuck. Mind your business, now.”
Inside of the pavilion, however, the crowd appeared less-melanated, but just as avid in their fandom. These were McDonald fans and he did not disappoint them.
Michael McDonald is a Hit Factory. Period. And this set proved it. “I Keep Forgetting” opened the show, and it was an avalanche of songs that have soundtracked lives for almost 50 years after that. He delivered just one new song out of eleven, 2018’s “Just Strong Enough”. The rest were all radio hits for everyone to sing along to. A toddler enjoyed “What a Fool Believes” so much that he danced his little pants down to the ground.
He closed his set by bringing Chaka and her backup singers to the stage, before recognizing Jesses Jackson, Sr. and Jr. out in the audience. McDonald and Khan dedicated “Takin it to the Streets” to Jesse, Sr., because that’s his whole thing, right? No matter your feelings on his life’s work, Jesse’s been taking it to the streets for the better part of 60 years.
When there are two artists as legendary as Michael McDonald and Chaka Khan co-headlining a tour, any order in which they perform is just fine, but I think they did this audience a solid by having the Chicago-born-and-bred Khan close out the night. She received a standing ovation from the hometown crowd, as she went right into “Dance all Night”. And people did dance all night. How would one stop themselves when “Tell Me Something Good”, “Sweet Thing”, and “Through the Fire” are coming from just a few yards away?
Khan returned the duet favor when McDonald joined her on stage… but the night’s highlights truly came from the final three songs of the evening: “I Feel For You” (which was prefaced by the sassiest request of “Say my name!!!” by Khan), “I’m Every Woman”, and “Ain’t Nobody”. Pavilion, lawn, gift shop, parking lot, medical tent, the whole place, were joined in a group experience where neither age, race, or location of seat mattered. Everyone agreed in those moments that, truly, ain’t nobody better than Ms. Chaka Khan.
Unexpectedly agreeable weather set the stage for high hopes for an outdoor show in one of the prettier venues in the area. And McDonald, Khan, and Sharkey didn’t squander the opportunity to impress. Long live the unifying powers of smooth soul music.
Photography by Jared Dunleavy / Ravinia Festival
Words by Jill Hopkins
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