I saw Stevie Wonder from a great distance for about 25 minutes on Saturday (June 28), but, hey, at least I can say I’ve seen him. I hadn’t even planned on attending his free show at the Taste of Chicago in Grant Park, but I was downtown to see a different concert (Orchestra Baobob at the Pritzker Pavilion), and I was there early, so I wondered over to see Wonder for a bit. Easier said than done. The park was as crowded as I’ve ever seen it, with cops blocking off most of the entrances. The police weren’t allowing any more people to enter the main section of the park because it was already filled to capacity. So I found myself standing on a sidewalk way, way, way, way back in the park. Still, it was really fun to see so many people getting into the music, including kids as well as some gray-haired folks who obviously have been Stevie Wonder fans for a long time. This is the middle of what turned out to be a three-hour concert – amazingly long for a free summer-festival show. Most artists seem to do the short version of their regular concert when they’re playing a gig like this. As Wonder ran through one hit after another, people shouted out words of encouragement, talking to Wonder like he was an old friend. People danced and shook their heads in wonder.
…And then I was off to the Pritzker Pavilion. I believe I had seen Orchestra Baobob three times at the old HotHouse, and it was great to see them again, this time on the pavilion’s beautiful outdoor stage. Those intricate, interwoven guitar, drum, sax and vocal melodies sound like a aural tapestry on record. In concert, all those subtleties are still there, but the rhythms are more obvious – rhythms that make you want to dance. As I’ve seen happen with some other world-music shows at Millennium Park, the security guards struggled in vain to keep dancers from filling the space in front of the stage, trying to get them to leave room in the aisles for people to walk through. Near the end of the concert, the singers gestured for the audience to stand up and get moving, proclaiming, “Music is for dance!” At that point, the security guards gave up and the dance party really got under way.
As if that weren’t enough music for the night, I stopped at Schubas on the way home to see Hayden, a.k.a. Hayden Desser, who recently released the excellent album In Field & Town. I’m a latecomer to the music of Hayden, who’s been recording for years, and now I definitely want to track down his earlier records. I wasn’t sure what sort of crowd he would draw, since he doesn’t seem to have a lot of hype, but the room was quite full with enthusiastic fans. Hayden has a sweet, mellow voice, and his folk-rock sounded great in live performance. I showed up in time to hear the last few songs by opening act Haley Bonar, who sounded stronger this time with a band than she did at a recent solo set.