I guess, yes, technically there was more than one artist who performed on Sunday at Hangout Fest. Best Coast kicked things off early with an appropriately beachy set (at one point declaring that she’d rename “The Only Place” with the Gulf Shores-appropriate but weirdly unspecific “This Place”), and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs proved to be a highlight as they tore through Mosquito tracks and old favorites alike. But then Stevie Wonder took the stage and made us forget about everything else we’d seen that day.
Wonder played for two-and-a-half hours during his headlining set and didn’t once let up. The legendary Motown singer’s pipes remain pristine—he still hit the same high notes on “For Once in My Life” as a 63 year old that he did at age 18. Wonder made sure to squeeze as much material into the set as possible, playing shorter versions of many songs to make room for hits like “Higher Ground,” “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)” “Living for the City” “Sir Duke” and “Part-Time Lover.” He’s certainly got more than enough original material to fill up all his time, but Wonder also worked a good amount of covers into the set, including Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel,” a stunning version of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and a reworked version of The Beatles’ “Day Tripper.”
Wonder also led the crowd in an impromptu sing-along of his Paul McCartney duet “Ebony and Ivory” (“My man’s not here right now—I think he’s probably in England somewhere,” he cracked). He frequently instructed audience members to repeat after him and built harmonies by dividing the crowd into male and female voices.
The hits were all there (Wonder closed with an absolutely wicked-sounding “Superstition”), but perhaps what was most affecting was the obvious joy Wonder still gets from performing and the way his music touches even those closest to him. He took a break during the set to tell the story of his daughter Aisha Morris (who sings back-up for him) and her fiance’s recent engagement and dedicated “Isn’t She Lovely?”—which he originally penned to celebrate her birth—to the couple. Morris had to pause mid-song to wipe away tears.
Wonder himself was overcome with emotion at one point: “My mother was born in Alabama,” he told the Gulf Shores crowd before choking up. “Back in her day, they didn’t have any interest in black people in Alabama—they thought they were nothing, so I just want to thank you all so much for giving me the means to make her comfortable in her final years.” Many in the crowd shed tears of their own as he stood near the edge of the stage and wept, soaking up the audience’s cheers of support, finally flashing a grin and saying “OK, enough of that” and carrying on with the show.
Check out photographer Mark C. Austin’s images from the last day of Hangout Fest 2013 in the gallery below.
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Corey Glover with Galactic
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