Everyone’s welcome at Stevie Wonder’s ‘Song Party’

Updated August 10, 2018 - 10:07 am

Stevie Wonder guided us through his “Song Party” at the Park Theater on Wednesday night. As the crowd swayed and sang, I recalled partying with Stevie while watching “Sesame Street,” and listening to “Songs in the Key of Life” on vinyl, through headphones, loudly and poorly singing along to all the words.

It is not possible to pinpoint when our first party was, because Stevie Wonder’s voice and music and image have been around all of my life. I can remember watching an episode of “Sesame Street,” with Wonder performing the song with his full band and a bunch of kids my age.

I don’t know why Wonder was on the show that particular day — maybe the program was brought to us by the letter “W.” But I recall how he smiled from behind those shades, and the cultural spectrum of kids who rejoiced in the song.

One kid in particular held the railing of an outdoor staircase and flipped his hair around. I wanted to be that kid, or at least be his buddy.

To enjoy Stevie Wonder it didn’t seem to matter how good a singer you were. Everyone just shouted to his songs, following along as if he were the instructor — and during “My Cherie Amour” in Wednesday’s show at the Park Theater, he referred to himself as a teacher.

Even off-key, we are welcome in the song party. This has been the case forever.

When my parents brought home a copy of “Songs in the Key of Life,” I commandeered the album and took it to the family stereo, in a corner across from the old Zenith TV. We had a pair of these oversize headphones that were white and made of some kind of space-age plastic. The earpieces were covered with thick foam-rubber, so all you could hear was the music from the vinyl album. I remember my parents shouting at me to quiet down as I called out these songs.

I listened to “Key of Life” endlessly, it seemed, my elbows pressed deep into the shag as Steve’s singing was trapped in my head. I gazed at that album cover, those orange circles around the artist’s face, as if being hypnotized by the music. There were even four extra songs on a disc I’d later know to be called an EP. Four more songs! I considered it a musical dessert.

As Wednesday’s show played out, it occurred to me that Wonder had introduced me to so much. When I was 10, I had no clue who “Sir Duke” was. I only knew this Duke Ellington person must have been important if he merited the title of that song. Satchmo was Louie Armstrong, Ella was Ella Fitzgerald, Glenn Miller … a musical education in a single verse.

I’m sure the first time I’d heard a harmonica on a record was even earlier, on “Fingertips,” and I did not even known much about blindness until watching Wonder perform on TV, whether it was “American Bandstand” or “Soul Train” or “Sesame Street.”

Inspired mostly by Wonder, I took piano lessons as a child. I once asked my instructor how this man could perform so wonderfully and effortlessly without being able to see the keys or read any music.

She explained, “Because he is a genius.”

Deep into Wednesday’s set, Wonder fired up the first reggae song I’d ever warmed to, “Master Blaster.” Man. It was time to get up, groove up, and let it out. As if subconsciously, I sang every word to that song, “From the park, I hear rhythms! Marley’s hot on the box!”

And I had not heard “Master Blaster,” end to end, in about 30 years.

Such penetrating brilliance defies explanation. An entertainer friend who was also in the audience said later, “I was watching that and it was like, ‘Yeah. OK. He wrote all those songs. He’s the best of his era. Top five all time.’ ” Wonder has two more shows, Friday and Saturday, at the Park Theater.

Afterward, because we sometimes live in ridiculously good fortune, I was invited to meet the man. One condition was I would not try to interview him — so neither of us would be working as I said hello. But I was able to say “Welcome to Las Vegas” to Stevie Wonder. I told him I’ve seen all the shows in Las Vegas, and I’ve not seen any better than his. I said I hope he’d return, too.

Then Stevie Wonder asked if I had fun. I said, “I think I had as much fun as you did.” We clasped hands and posed for the requisite backstage photo. And the whole time, he smiled in a way that made me feel like a kid again.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

Entertainment Videos
Brownie sundae at VegeNation in Las Vegas is completely vegan
Donald Lemperle, chef/owner of VegeNation in Las Vegas and nearby Henderson, NV, makes his sundae with ice cream made with coconut and almond milks, a brownie made with coconut flour and oil and organic sugar and cacao, and fresh fruit. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Taste of the Town: Henderson Booze District
Those who like to support local businesses and sample local products will find the best concentration in an unlikely spot: a Henderson industrial park.
Founder of theatre talks about a favorite play
Ann Marie Pereth, founder of A Public Fit Theatre Company, speaks to the Review-Journal about which play she would see every day if only given one option. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N interactive exhibit
The new exhibit features original and recreated props and plenty of interactive features. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Writer's Block and Lucy are open in Las Vegas
The Writer's Block and Lucy are open in Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas ice cream shop offers everything in the kitchen sink
Have you ever wanted to eat an ice cream sundae out of a kitchen sink? Who hasn't, right? At Sloan's, located inside the Venetian, you can do just that. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Maxie’s in Las Vegas puts eggs Benedict in a box
Chef David Mangual at Maxie’s in The Linq Promenade in Las Vegas makes his eggs Benedict in a brioche “box” layered with spinach, bacon and tomatoes and topped with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Caviar Twinkie Served at Stripsteak in Las Vegas
Stripsteak Executive Pastry Chef Vivian Chang and Chef Gerald Chin create a novel savory food item that looks like a familiar sweet treat at the restaurant in Las Vegas. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal)
NAB attendees battle to qualify for Fortnite event
NAB is sponsoring an online video game event with Epic Games’ Fortnite allowing attendees to qualify to go head to head with top players. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Arctic Shrimp Sandwich at Saga near Las Vegas
Chef Gert Kvalsund, a native of Norway, founded Saga Pastry + Sandwich in Henderson to give Scandinavians a taste of home. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Guy Fieri and Sammy Hagar talk UNLVino
Guy Fieri and Sammy Hagar talk about the upcoming UNLVino vent. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Christie Brinkley at Smith & Wollensky
Christie Brinkley, in town for her run in “Chicago” at the Venetian Theatre, paid a visit to the Grand Canal Shoppes’ still-under-construction Smith Wollensky on Monday for a ceremonial first toast at the bar. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Two artists create a mural for peace in Las Vegas
2 artists create a mural for peace in Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Inside Kaos nightclub and dayclub
A look at new club at Palms.
CinemaCon Brings Theater Professionals To Caesars
CinemaCon is not just celebs, it's also a place where theater owners can browse the latest in seats, projectors and concessions. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas restaurants provide a taste of ballpark food
The Las Vegas Ballpark, home to the Las Vegas Aviators, will serve food from Giada De Laurentiis and a team of favorite local restaurants. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Taste of the Town: Bobby Flay Opens Shark at the Palms - VIDEO
Bobby Flay opens Shark at the Palms; his first high-end restaurant in 15 years.
Chef Marc Marrone at T-Mobile Arena
Chef Marc Marrone has opened a bao cart at T-Mobile Arena. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bellagio fountains celebrate 'Game of Thrones'
A medley of the theme for HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and the song “Winter Is Here” from the show premiered at the Bellagio Fountains water show on the Las Vegas Strip on Sunday, March 31, 2019. The new number will run in rotation through April 13. The series premieres its eighth and final series on April 14. (Mick Akers/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegan Aunt Chippy talks about being on Jimmy Kimmel's show
Concetta Potenza, Aunt “Chippy” to Jimmy Kimmel, talks about her first time being featured on her nephew’s show. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The "Flight Unknown" At Bar Centro at Bazaar Meats Las Vegas Features 5 Innovative Cocktails
The "Flight Unknown" At Bar Centro At Bazaar Meats Las Vegas Features 5 Innovative Cocktails (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Cotton candy crowns pancakes in Las Vegas
At Maxie’s at The Linq Promenade in Las Vegas, executive chef David Mangual fills pancakes with fruit and cream cheese and piles on pastel cotton candy, which is melted in a stream of chocolate syrup. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Bananas Foster Pancakes go up in flames at The Stove near Las Vegas
Chef Antonio Nunez at The Stove in Henderson, near Las Vegas, flames the pancakes tableside for a fiery presentation. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
El Loco Rollercoaster at Circus Circus' Adventuredome
The El Loco rollercoaster opened at the Circus Circus' Adventuredome in February 2014. It features a 90-foot ascent, followed by a drop that produces a negative 1.5 "verticle G," a 180-degree turn, and reverse 240-degree roll that turns into an inverted drop. The coaster reaches a maximum speed of 45 mph and is the only indoor coaster of it's kind in the U.S., and is the second indoor El Loco coaster in the world, according to MGM Resorts.
Bartending flair competition at the Nightclub & Bar Show
Highlights from the ten contestants who competed for the Shake It Up Flair and Classic Competition at the Nightclub & Bar Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Justin Kingsley Hall shares details on his next gig
Chef Justin Kinglsey hall shares some details about the newArts District restaurant he's developing with Kim Owens. (Al Mancini/Las Vegs Review-Journal)
Film prompted Carrie Hogan to found 2 farmers markets in Las Vegas
Carrie Hogan founded Fresh 52 Farmers and Artisan Market in Las Vegas after realizing she had to do something about the influence of factory farms on the food supply. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Seafood dishes being made at Pasta Shop near Las Vegas
Executive chef Edwin Martinez incorporates fresh pasta into Lobster Salmon and Saffron Shrimp Sauté at Pasta Shop Ristorante & Art Gallery in Henderson, near Las Vegas. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Andrew Carmean will be the only local participant in upcoming demolition derby
Andrew Carmean, a demolition driver, will be the only local participant in upcoming derby at the Plaza Hotel. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Masso Osteria first anniversary in Las Vegas
Scott Conant was in town Tuesday to host a one-year anniversary party for his Red Rock Resort restaurant Masso Osteria.
TOP NEWS
Home Front Page Footer Listing