The man is an American institution. I got to see him last night at the Austin City Limits festival.
Initially torn between seeing him or My Morning Jacket, my musician and producer friend Bruce Hughes advised me to go see Stevie by saying this:
His connection to the source is the fifth element.
Who can resist a recommendation like that?
I met my friend Fran Tatu there — her first ACL festival — and we hung out for some Patrice Pike and a little Preservation Hall Jazz Band with the Del McCoury Band. (I have a crush on PHJB’s tuba player, Ben Jaffe.) Earlier I’d seen Daniel Lanois’ Black Dub and some gospel acts.
Fran loved ACL, which is saying something, since she’s from New Orleans and is a long-time Jazz Fest aficionado.
Not to go too far off on a tangent here, but I love Jazz Fest. I’ve been once, pre-Katrina, and want to go again. In comparison, ACL doesn’t attract the diversity of ages and races that Jazz Fest does. I loved that if you wanted to, you could hear just jazz, just blues, or just gospel, each in its own tent with chairs to sit on, all day, every day, for 10 days.
Austin’s food scene doesn’t rival New Orleans, but there are plenty of creative offerings here, and the food at ACL is getting better and better. I love that ACL brings in the foodies who help make Austin Austin: Hope Farmers Market, Odd Duck Farm to Trailer, The Mighty Cone, Amy’s Ice Cream, The Daily Juice, Maudie’s Tex-Mex, The Salt Lick, Stubb’s BBQ, Torchy’s Tacos, and more.
I enjoyed a Green Tea with Mint and Honey from Sweet Leaf Tea and later an Energizing Kombucha from Hope Farmers Market. I had a Wahoo’s fish taco for lunch (tasty) and a bacon-wrapped sweet pepper with goat cheese from Odd Duck (wowza!).
Back to Stevie Wonder. He played song after song that I knew without even having to think about it. “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” “Superstition.” “Living for the City.” “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” “That’s What Friends Are For.” “From the Bottom of My Heart.” “Brand New Day.” “Isn’t She Lovely?”
His hit songs have become embedded in American culture since the 1970s. He and I are almost contemporaries, and so these are the songs of my adult life. So positive, so loving, so catchy.
He mentioned that he is a United Nations Ambassador for Peace. He advocates for the disabled around the world, and he takes this role seriously enough to let it influence his music. We were lucky to have him share with us a song he’s still working on, “Check On Your Love,” in which he calls on the people who advocate religious war to, well, check on their love. It incorporates some middle Eastern sounds, which we sang along to (or tried to — singing along with Stevie is hard).
He spoke of his esteem for President Obama, of his desire to have more schools than prisons, of not going back to the bad old days, and more. Right after he praised Obama early in his set, some people in front of us left. Republicans, probably.
All in all, a great set. Started late, ended late. He played and sang, bossed, created, taught, preached, shared. After it was over, I rode my bike to my car, put my bike on the car rack, visited with Katy and Robert, drove home, and stayed up until nearly 2 a.m., my head filled with Stevie Wonder songs.
None of my photos of Stevie turned out well enough to share. We were too far away, and the monitor didn’t photograph well. So sorry about that! He looks great. Happy, healthy, with no restrictions in the neck and jaw — none. He keeps it loose.
I also want to mention how much I enjoyed hearing Daniel Lanois’ Black Dub. I admire his songwriting and sound. His new band includes a lovely young blond woman with more soul in her voice than her years would suggest was possible, who was adept at drums, rhythm guitar, and keyboards as well.
This amazing talent is Trixie Whitley. She could be huge like Adele if she wanted that level of fame — and right now she’s in great company. (I overheard some guys around me praising her. When she picked up a guitar, they said they’d really fallen in love with her.) Here’s a photo of some tight, tight vocals being sung.
I partook of a chair massage at Massage Rocks. I had met the owner, Jon Sullivan, just last week when he talked to my class. So nice to have that available for those of use whose bodies get weary at events like ACL. I vote for a yoga corner at next year’s ACL!