Stevie Wonder Delivers in Spades on Life Is Beautiful's Opening Night
The Life Is Beautiful Festival, entering into its third year of festivities, has featured headliners such as Kanye West, Outkast, Foo Fighters, Kings of Leon and The Killers. None could hold a candle to the tenure of the 2015 opening night’s featured act.
The festival that launched in downtown Las Vegas in 2013 -- and features 18 sprawling blocks of world-class street art, culinary demonstrations and, of course, performances -- had the pleasure of kicking off this year's festivities with headliner Stevie Wonder taking the stage.
Prior to the legendary musician’s performance, the table was set with stellar performances from the likes of Top Dawg Entertainment’s SZA, AWOLNATION and Shamir, among others. As the thousands of festivalgoers sweated it out in the Vegas evening’s sweltering conditions while feasting on fine foods from some of Las Vegas’ top restaurants and indulging in intriguing art installations, they were greeted with strong sets from Minnesota’s Atmosphere -- who rummaged through their impressive near-two decade catalog of emo raps -- as well as the downtempo stylings of Thievery Corporation and their robust catalog of grooves taken from their nine studio albums.
But the first day of festivities hovered around Stevie Wonder, and even some of today’s finest artists had to tip their cap to the braided legend during their performance.
Before Hozier’s soulful set took everyone to church -- courtesy of the 2015 Billboard Award-winning song of the same name -- the Irish singer took a moment to gush about what was to come.
“I saw my name next to Stevie Wonder and I flipped my f---ing wig,” he said during his set that saw him roll through songs including “From Eden” and “Someone New.” And he certainly wouldn’t be the only one.
At 10:45 p.m., Wonder emerged onstage with a full band backing him and tore right into the desert air with one classic cut after another. From the funky chords of “Higher Ground” to the reggae tinged “Master Blaster (Jammin’),” it was a sight to behold as three generations of Stevie Wonder fans were dancing on the grassy grounds.
For the next two hours and 10 minutes, Mr. Wonder would brilliantly serenade the crowd with four decades worth of material. Even 130 minutes wasn’t enough for the 25-time Grammy Award-winning artist -- because hits such as “Part Time Lover,” “Lately” and “I Just Called to Say I Love You” never made their way into his set list.
Regardless, Wonder was on his game as he blessed the crowd with his trademark harmonica on the sweet “Send One Your Love” and tickled the ivory on the 1986 adult contemporary hit “Overjoyed”(which '90s babies may know best from an Air Jordan commercial).
He playfully dueled with his background singers as they displayed their powerful voices. But, always the jokester, Wonder warned them to not steal the show from him.
Obviously, for the youngsters in the crowd that aren’t in tune with Wonder, there was performance a couple of blocks away that certainly satisfied their festive mood.
For those who preferred to turn up to the midnight groove, Major Lazer had the formula over at the Ambassador stage.
With Washy Fire leading the fist pumping frenzy, Major Lazer’s 70-minute romp was their mashing of reggae, electronic, house and EDM genres as they slid in choice cuts from three full-length albums, Peace Is the Mission, Free the Universe and Guns Don’t Kill People… Lazers Do.” One of the highlights found Washy Fire demanding the crowd to remove their shirts and toss them into the air on his count of three, providing a exhilarating spectacle.
But at the end of the day, this was the Stevie Wonder show, and the 65-year-old never seemed to tire as he glided through his classic ballads and closed strong with “Superstitious,” “Sir Duke” and “Living for the City.”
Perhaps the crowd was worn down from some brutally warm weather conditions, but Wonder appeared to have more in his gas tank. Unfortunately, his time was up, and arguably one of the greatest singer/songwriters the world has ever seen took his bow and exited stage right to punctuate a magnificent kickoff to the 2015 edition of the festival -- while setting the bar high for fellow headliners Imagine Dragons and Kendrick Lamar.