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We were sitting by a dirt road, shading ourselves with umbrellas and sipping beer, when that voice came over the PA: "Can I have the acoustic guitars? Sorry, I started that out in C. I'm trying to find my groove."

That voice belonged to Bonnie Raitt, one of my all-time favorite singers for going on 40 years. She was the headliner at a Red Butte Garden concert Tuesday, fronted by the legendary Mavis Staples. It was the second concert I'd attended this year; the first was in April when Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band took the stage in San Jose, Calif., and tore that house down.

As a woman nearing my 60th birthday, those concerts got me to thinking about how so many of our musical icons have barreled into their third acts with as much energy, creativity and mastery as they've ever had. How they have funneled a lifetime of joyous work into a few hours of pure joy for the crowds, many as gray-haired as the performers. And how both audiences were heavily weighted with far younger fans, dancing and calling out the songs they wanted to hear.

Maybe, like me, these artists have a bum hip, an early bedtime and no need for an alarm clock. But also like me, and a lot of people my age, they get up in the morning and go to work, the days flashing by like they never did when we were younger.

I'd like to be working at 73, just like Staples. She remains a vivid presence, shouting, singing and growling songs ranging from "For What It's Worth" to "The Weight" and "I'll Take You There," dipping into her gospel, blues and civil-rights-movement roots.

"We've missed you," she told us. "We wish you joy and happiness and inspiration and some positive vibrations."

Raitt, a white forelock highlighting her long red hair, retains that clear, sometimes ethereal voice, which can also get downright down and dirty. She's as political as ever, saying, "Lord, take care of those in the hurricane's way, and let the ones in Tampa take care of themselves."

With that, she raced into "Something to Talk About" and, at the end, said, "I bet that put a little hitch in your gitty-up."

Back to Springsteen, who's also 62. At his concert, he threw himself into the crowd to be surfed by scores of willing hands during a brief interlude of a nearly four-hour show.

He also made me and many others put our faces in our hands and weep when he played "American Skin (41 Shots)," for Trayvon Martin, shot to death this year by a neighborhood watchman in Florida. It originally was written for Amadou Diallo, killed in 1999 by New York police. Both were unarmed, both were black. It could have been written about the freedom riders of the 1960s.

These were the nature of the events that shaped our younger lives, and now our older ones. On Tuesday night, those were the songs that still do.

One of these evenings when I'm alone, I'll put on a CD and stand on my hearth, belting out "Tell me what it is, success," right along with Bonnie playing slide guitar.

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at, and Twitter, @pegmcentee.

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