Good times

Let’s just start calling this next stretch of 10 days or so “The 29th Annual Horns’ Good Times Tour.”

Somehow every year this time of the year comes loaded with good fun (heck, just look at last year's run around this time ... ) and memories to last a lifetime. The weather is ideal. The baseball season is heating up. Summerfest arrives. And it all falls around my special day. After all, it was all this time of year that inspired me to start this little blog (What was I thinking?!)

Only this year, I barely saw it coming. We were getting buried in snow right up to, oh, April. Then Phoebe came and swept our attention away from life as we knew it … Our thoughts also have been caught up in soaring gas prices, natural disasters, tough economic times and hopes that change is on the way soon (Obama ‘08!)

This week I’ve been buried in a flood of deadlines and projects, including my part in preparing the finishing touches on what is shaping up to be a truly memorable baseball weekend -- but you’ll hear more about that next week.

What I’m trying to say is Summerfest -- the event I’ve come to live for every summer -- slammed me in the face this year … Sure, I had my schedule lined up weeks ago …

… Saturday: Dashboard Confessional
… Sunday: Polyphonic Spree
… Monday: Gin Blossoms
… Tuesday and/or Wednesday: O.A.R.
… And next Thursday: Ingrid Michaelson

… But still it felt as though it had to be another week or two away. Seriously, when did the end of June arrive …

So tonight was opening night for the Big Gig … But I had no plans of going up tonight. My plan was to partake in my first baseball game in weeks …

That all changed about 12:15 today while I was driving to catch some lunch. Kates called me to say I was the benefactor of a single ticket to tonight’s Stevie Wonder show at the Marcus Amphitheater. Summerfest’s opening night. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

My jaw hit the floor. And I’m pretty sure my eyeballs hit the windshield too.

As badly as I wanted to go to the show when it was announced, my hopes subsided. Never in a million years, I thought …

I got out of work this afternoon, printed out my e-ticket and off I went. I think it finally hit me around 5:30 tonight as I was driving up on the Interstate, Stevie blaring on my iPod and “Uptight” started playing … Everything was all right.

By 7, I was in my seat, under the overhang and just off the left corner of the stage. As expected, about 80 percent of the crowd was comprised of Baby Boomers, but there was a good chunk of my generation, too.

The tickets read “An Evening With Stevie Wonder,” and as hard as it was for me to believe, the buzz was that there would be no opening act.

Sure enough, at around 8, Stevie appeared to roaring cheers and a standing ovation of course. His beautiful daughter Aisha had escorted him on stage and Stevie laid out a theme he would carry throughout the night, explaining his excitement and hope for changes to come and endorsed Obama himself. “I’m excited about us becoming a united people of the Unites States,” he said. Completing his schpeel and talking about his desire for equality, he added “It’s not about the color of your skin, it’s about the color of your heart.”

And then the music began.

In his backing band, I counted three percussionists (including bongos, set, etc), two keyboardists, a sax and trumpet player, three guitarists (including a bassist) and three backup vocalists … Stevie played for about 2 1/2 hours, non-stop, and I counted 26 songs in the set. It truly was an evening with Stevie Wonder.

He opened with what was, as far as I can tell, a new song that backed up his opening commentary and then seamlessly moved onto four other songs that I didn’t immediately recognize either … But I didn’t care. They all sounded good, and I knew I was watching a legend do his thing.

Finally, Stevie started up “Higher Ground,” and the crowd darted to its feet … He followed that with an extended smooth jazz jam on which he played a bit of his harmonica and then gave way to let every single member of the band showcase his and her talents. It was a very cool jam …

Next up was “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” -- one of my true Stevie Wonder faves -- and finished it off with a sweet samba jam …

But then he started toning things down a little with “Visions,” which, unfortunately for Stevie, sent a good batch of the crowd to the concessions. Not that he noticed … The song started another run of songs that I didn’t know well, including a new one called, “Keep Fooling Yourself, Baby Girl.” And Aisha joined him at his keyboard for a solo of her own, “Love You Right Outta My Life.”

Afterward, the two shared a cute moment as Aisha handed her father a towel, and he urged her to wipe his head with it … Interestingly, I had just been thinking moments earlier, oooh, this would be a good time to bust out “Isn’t she lovely.” And lo and behold, no sooner had Aisha wiped his forehead, Stevie was leaning into his keyboard and playing the opening, as Aisha started dancing around him … After all -- trivia alert -- Stevie wrote it for her

Just when he had the crowd up again, he took down the mood once more with “Ribbon In The Sky” -- though he did humorously introduce it by asking the crowd, “I wonder how many people have made love to a Stevie Wonder song?”

He followed it up with “Overjoyed” …

Then! Finally! ... He cranked the energy level way up by reeling off, one after another, “My Cherie Amour,” “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” “Sir Duke” and “I Wish.” … People were dancing in the aisles, the brass was nearly blasting the roof off amphitheater. It was absolutely awesome … In another seamless transition, the band went into “I Just Called To Say I Love You,” and then they capped off the amazing run of songs with “Superstition.”

Here's my vid clip of "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" ...

Closing things out, Stevie introduced the band once more and then let backup singer Keith John sing “Fever,” in a cool tribute to his father Little Willie John … The band ended the night with “I'll Be Loving You Always,” a slower number that again seemed to have the crowd a little disappointed. People started heading for the exits the way they leave a stadium when the home team is down by eight runs in the seventh inning …

(Here's a review from Stevie's similar show the other night in Detroit ...)

In the meantime, I stayed, holding out hope that he might play by very favorite of his songs “Uptight (Everything’s Alright).” But it didn’t happen.

With the clock going on 10:30, I wiggled my way through the crowd and out of the amphitheater and scurried over to the Classic Rock Stage, hoping to catch Three Dog Night finishing their set … But I arrived just as the flood lights were coming on and the crowd was starting to leave. Doh!

I looked at the schedule for other possibilities. They Might Be Giants and Gnarls Barkley were going on at 11, but neither was enough to keep me there. I was ready to head home … and believe me, I’ll have plenty of time at Summerfest. Don’t wanna get sick of it after one night …

Just as I started heading to my car, loud explosions began popping behind me … I turned around, and the fireworks were popping off over the lake …

Pretty sweet way to end the night.

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