Just one day after his 71st birthday, Crooners pulled together an all-star cast of musicians to once again pay tribute to his storied career in music. In the newly remodeled MainStage with enhanced HVAC, raised ceilings, and protective plexiglass surrounding the stage, Stevie’s brilliance was quickly felt. Although quite a large room, the new aesthetics made everything feel more intimate.
It’s a tall task recreating music that is iconic and so distinguishable. But from the first notes of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours”, it was hard to tell the difference. The ensemble of musicians of Brian Kendrick (Mint Condition) on drums, Kathleen Johnson (Prince) and Rhonda Johnson on backup vocals, Art Haynes (R-Factor) on bass, Kevin Anderson (Erica West Band) on guitar, and Ryan Bynum (Northstar) on keys, expertly recreated the nostalgic music.
The carousel of vocalists started out with Jay Bee (The Routine) energizing the artists through “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” and soulfully gliding through “My Cherie Amour”. There were moments where you could shut your eyes and it felt like Stevie was there. Bynum on keys gave a talented performance holding strong to Stevie’s trademark keyboard skills.
Lamont Keten (MFellas) took the stage next to “Love’s in Need of Love Today“. His lighter voice fit perfectly with “I Wish” as the band brought the groove out. That trademark bass line, funky keys, and driving drums instantly bringing back memories of Steve’s double album “Songs in the Key of Life”. Easily known as his classic age of recording, the album was his highest selling and easily regarded as his magnum opus.
Lynval Jackson (International Reggae All-Stars) took the stage next to recreate some of Stevie’s largest hits, including “I Just Called to Say I Love You” and “Isn’t She Lovely”. Lynval added a smooth swagger and higher range sweetness to the stage. Stevie has such a distinct voice and in his career, there’s been variations that each vocalist in the evening brought out. The warmth and heart from Jay, the dynamic and graceful from Lamont, and the sweet swagger from Lynval.
Then Kevin Jackson (TC Jammers) took the stage and added fuel to the simmering fire. “Supersition” ignited the crowd as people danced in their seats. The keyboards charged forward in parts and along with the spirit of Kevin, recreated this hall of fame song. “Ribbon in the Sky” showcased Kevin’s soulful shine. It was a slow simmer down until the band transitioned into “(As) I’ll Be Loving You Always”. The buildup and background vocals in the song are so distinct. The recreation of this song topped the evening as everyone chanted for one more.
Celebrating a musician that has been so influential in our lives feels like a good way to find common ground. We all can agree on the impact and storied career with Stevie Wonder. As one of the biggest faces of Motown, Stevie’s music continues to inspire a younger generation. Watching the band and audience gather to bring his catalog to life was a beautiful moment. Music has the ability to make us forget tomorrow, reel in the present, and sing along to songs that have been in the key of our lives. And that’s a birthday celebration that doesn’t need candles or cake.
Tickets are still available to catch the early show TONIGHT in Crooners MainStage.