Who else but Stevie Wonder could turn most of Chicago's Grant Park into a giant dance floor?
Marking his first performance at the Taste of Chicago Festival in 20 years, Wonder delighted 78,000 fans on June 28th, treating them to major hits, a few covers, and obscure album tracks. Ranging from introspective to playful to celebratory, Wonder inspired the audience with his infectious joy and powerful voice.
Wonder kicked off the show with four tracks from 1980's Hotter Than July album. “As If You Read My Mind” got an extra boost from a new saxophone and trumpet section, and the crowd cheered when Wonder picked up the harmonica to play a solo. “Master Blaster (Jammin')” brought the audience to its feet; when he sang “Everyone is feeling pretty/It's hotter than July,” the concert transformed into one large block party. He rounded out the Hotter Than July portion of the concert with “Did I Hear You Say You Love Me” and “All I Do,” playing them back-to-back as on the record. The audience sang a good deal of the verses on the latter song, proving that this crowd knew every lyric to every Stevie Wonder song.
He then delved into the Songs in the Key of Life album with “Knocks Me Off My Feet,” featuring beautiful keyboard work. Again, he seemed to pick songs to fit the day's weather; “I see us in the park/Strolling the summer days/Of imaginings in my head,” he crooned, the sun shining down on the adoring audience.
Changing gears, he added a vocoder effect to his voice while singing “Have You Seen Her,” which he stated he wanted to try out just for the Taste of Chicago. He then transitioned from humorous to spiritual with “Higher Ground,” again bringing fans to their feet.
After playing an extended jazz instrumental (spotlighting the musical chops of his impressive big band), he segued into “Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing,” even speaking a bit of the beginning gibberish from the original recording. Improbably, considering the size of the venue and crowd, he managed to retain the intimacy of “Visions,” featuring delicate piano and guitar riffs. Interestingly he added a rock guitar solo toward the end, making “Visions” rise to a loud crescendo. Surprise guest Rev. Jesse Jackson walked onstage at this point, lauding Wonder for his contributions to various social causes. This provided the perfect introduction to “Living for the City,” which he dedicated to “anyone who has experienced prejudice.” Watching everyone—black, white, young, and old—dance and sing along gave credence to Wonder's message of unity.