Photos by Bill Foster
It was 12:15am and the almost four-hour-show was a fulfillment of childhood fantasies, family bonding, girls night out, guys night out (though we don’t call it that), a dance marathon and a reminder that music is one of the greatest catalysts for freedom.
Thompson Bowling Arena was electric, even before the show started. In fact, you could feel “it” before you entered the building. Often arena shows are more about the party than the songs, but this was not the case with Stevie Wonder. It is a rare occurrence to find pre-show energy this palpable (*see every Saturday night show at Bonnaroo). And after talking to a gentleman who saw Wonder in 1984, we found out that the energy of Wonder’s live show had not lost any of its intensity over the years.
Songs in the Key of Life was originally released in September of 1976 and produced four hits including, “I Wish,” “Sir Duke,” “Another Star,” and “AS.” It also contained “Pastime Paradise” which would become the foundation of several songs, including Coolio’s 1995 hit “Gangsta’s Paradise.” The first set was a compete performance of side one and side two from Songs in the Key of Life as well as side one of A Little something Extra, which was a bonus 7 inch included with the original.
After a brief intermission, Stevie brought his four youngest children on stage and his significant other, Tomeeka Robyn Bracy, who is the mother of his youngest two daughters. It was her birthday and under his leadership, we all sang her a rousing version of “Happy Birthday.” He then told a story about one of his older daughter’s giving birth to a girl. “I told her it was going to be a girl. She said, no it’s going to be a boy. (Laughing) I’m glad it was a girl or I would’ve had to sing, (to the tune of Isn’t She Lovely), Isn’t he ugly/How did you make such a boy/Isn’t he ugly/ He’ll never be a good looking as me.”
The second set was side three of Songs in the Key of Life, followed by side two of A Little something Extra and finished with side four of Songs in the Key of Life. There were several mash ups intermixed throughout the second set, including on which included “Overjoyed/Killer Joe/The Star Spangled Banner/America the Beautiful” which came after” Easy Going Evening” and “I’m Walking the Floor Over You/Did You Happen to See the Most Beautiful Girl in the World/My Cherie Amour/People Get Ready/Ribbon in the Sky.” We should note that Wonder introduced us to a new instrument called a Marcodi Harpejji, which is akin to an electric guitar, but the sounds are produced by taping and sliding your fingers. Here is a video of him performing “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers
At this point, it was 11:54 pm. Wonder said, “We’ve only got six minutes left until we go into overtime and I have to pay. What should we do? Are you guys tired? Are you ready to go home?” Met with an uproarious “No,” and after bringing his road manager on stage to confer with the expense of continuing, he told the audience that “Stevie Wonder has left the building.” The residing man in charge would now be DJ Tic Tic Boom. After playing several well-known hits in clip form on his turn table, and admonishing the audience when they didn’t sing along loud enough, he returned to the keyboard for an encore of “Do I Do” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” and “Superstition.”
Wonder’s love of life is infectious. He kept the crowd laughing and singing through the entire show. At 65, he shows no signs of slowing.