June 24, 2003
Chastain Park Amphitheatre - Atlanta


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What a night! Aretha’s return to Atlanta was a triumph from start to finish. Decked out in a fittingly regal white ball gown and backed by members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and her own amazing band, the Queen of Soul led an amped up crowd through a perfect night of music and spirit. She didn’t even make the audience wait for the hits. After a few opening numbers, she dove straight into jaw dropping versions of “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman,” “Rock Steady,” “Respect” and “Chain Of Fools.” The quintessential diva displayed only the better qualities of that tag tonight. She was relaxed, joking and in fine voice. The only question was how to follow up when you’ve done all of your biggest hits in the first half-hour? We needn’t have worried.

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Soon she invited out a surprise guest. It was none other than The Temptations’ Dennis Edwards. The voice of “Papa Was A Rolling Stone,” “Ball Of Confusion” and “I Can’t Get Next To You” stood next to Aretha and surprised her by kicking the band into “My Girl” with the lyrics changed to “my queen” in honor of Aretha. The entire crowd was on its feet swaying and singing along to the gentle rolling classic. Ms. Franklin seemed genuinely moved and after Dennis left the stage, she continually called to him until he came back out. When he did return, the two provided the attendees with one of the most sublime musical moments imaginable. Leon Russell’s plaintive “A Song For You” was transformed into a tour de force gospel duet between two of the greatest vocalists in the history of soul music. Back and forth they went, each raising the other to new levels of intensity and excitement. When they sang of a place “where there is no space or time,” I was there in that fantastic moment. That one song could have been five minutes or five hours. Time itself stopped to listen to these two go at it. After an extended standing ovation, Edwards left Aretha to once again try to top the untoppable.

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She casually sauntered over to the piano and told us how special tonight was. This usual show biz line felt truer than ever as the dusk gave way to a beautiful Southern night. Behind the piano, she keyed up and invoked the Spirit of The Lord in true gospel style declaring, “He is here, He is here!” Even the staunchest non-believer had to have felt the electricity moving through the air. In the middle of what appeared to be a completely ad-libbed song, she stood up and started gliding across the stage in an inspired dance that had the whole crowd on its feet, clapping and shouting. With a big smile gracing her face, she moved back to center stage and asked us to remember Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first black mayor, who had passed away the day before. No one can quiet the chatter of a Chastain audience, but this had ceased to be a show at an outdoor shed. This concert had become a place of Holy Communion and connection. When Aretha asked for a moment of silence, that place became the most solemn, reflective and quiet place on Earth. This was a perfect moment. I actually heard the gulp in my throat as the chills ran up my arm. Without a word, she led into a tribute called “Make Them Hear You” that cried out for honor and justice in a subtle, yet determined voice. Following this, she reminded everyone that this was to be her final tour. She listed all of the places she had played in Atlanta, all the way back to the legendary Royal Peacock. After announcing that Chastain was one of her “all-time favorite places,” she said she’d miss us. She ended with a graceful and poetic reading of “I’ll Be Seeing You.” This was one of the most special concerts of my life. I’m honored to have been there.

Chris McKay/

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