Mavis Staples

Blues legends, alt-country innovators and war refugees provided an entertaining, fresh spin on one of the state's most notable outdoor concert series.

Perhaps the strongest show of the year in the Red Butte concert series was by Son Volt, which is fronted by one of America's best songwriters, Jay Farrar. Despite a reputation as a sometimes disappointing live act, Farrar & Co. delivered a searing set of songs that touched on rural American life, national politics, long drives on empty roads and lonely Main Streets.

On par with Son Volt was the Soul Stew Revival, a pairing of Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, two exceptional guitarists and singers who also happen to be married. The show was a rollicking affair of originals and covers that felt more like a Bayou swamp stomp than an evening in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains.

Other shows were notable as much for the people on stage as for the music they played. Two musical and cultural legends, Betty LaVette and Mavis Staples, shared a bill that was steeped in history. Meanwhile, the Sierra Leone Refugee All-Stars brought a high-energy optimism and fiery musicianship to accompany their story of life in the refugee camps during their country's civil war.

About the only thing marring the Red Butte concert series was an early departure from a talented but temperamental troubadour.

Ryan Adams, a late replacement for the injured Mary Chapin Carpenter on the series schedule, generated a lot of hype and excitement before his late-summer show. After all, it was his first headliner as a solo artist in Salt Lake City, he had a new album, "Easy Tiger," and he seemed to say and do things that indicated a new-found maturity.

Yet his show gave more of the bad Ryan than good, as he said almost nothing from the stage, sat next to the drum riser wearing sunglasses, and then, in a move that seemed to puzzle even his band, walked away without an encore. Sadly, his antics ruined for most people what was an overall strong and entertaining musical performance.

Luckily, it did not cloud the entire summer. And with a new stage planned for next year, things can only get better at the Garden.

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