Life is Beautiful was genius to book Stevie Wonder.
The downtown Las Vegas festival — now in its third year — kicked off the first day of their three-day festival with the first legacy headliner they’ve ever booked. It’s those types of acts that will make it stand out and also make it a destination festival rather than something just for the locals.
Stevie lived up to the billing. Walking onto the stage with a keyboard strapped to his chest, he was easily the most anticipated act of the night despite it being a pretty stacked undercard. He wasted no time, jumping right into the classic Marvin Gaye tune “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” and it would begin a two-hour run of the legendary Stevie performing classic song after classic song.
Though he’s 65, Stevie’s voice sounds just as good as it ever has. He had the full support of the crowd, who were wowed into dancing in the 90+ degree heat after a long day in 100 degree temperatures.
From “Higher Ground” to “Mon Cheri Amour,” Stevie dusted off all his old classics and had you feeling like a genius for skipping EDM artist Major Lazer in favor of his soul-inspiring set (however, we did get photos of Major Lazer’s flashy set).
The opening riff of “Superstition” sent the crowd into a frenzy and would begin the final 40 minutes of what can so far be considered the best headlining act in the festival’s history. Way to keep things going in the right direction, Las Vegas.
The only thing that stood out to me as odd was how Stevie kept making comments about God considering this festival was taking place right in the loins of what is probably the devil’s favorite city in the US. But it’s Stevie, so no big deal.
On the undercard, rising singer-songwriter Hozier delivered a memorable set. He was wowed by the idea of opening for Stevie Wonder.
“I saw my name so close to Stevie Wonder’s [on the festival lineup poster] and I genuinely flipped my lid,” he said midway through his set. The singer proved himself capable beyond his one mega-hit, the set-closing “Take Me to Church.” He even included a mash-up of songs that featured a snippet of Warren G and Nate Dogg’s 90s classic rap jam “Regulate,” which came a few songs after a cover of “Blackbird” by the Beatles.
Hozier’s crowd wasn’t thin, but it wasn’t close to Stevie levels due to the fact the burgeoning band Twenty-one Pilots were performing simultaneously on the slightly smaller Ambassador stage. I caught the tail-end of their high energy set, which seemed to exceed people’s expectations.
Classic hip-hoppers Atmosphere probably featured the most pot smoke of the day. The undercard also featured a wide array of other talented acts, though I didn’t get to the fest from LA until 7pmish. Our photographer Tom Dellinger was shooting all day and has a brief recap of what he saw.
In spite of temperatures around 100 degrees, the performances were seemingly unaffected and were sizzling as much as the temps. Notable performances came from many of the later sets that included Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Lindsey Stirling, Thievery Corporation, Awolnation, Twenty One Pilots and Major Lazer.
AWOLNATION was a a personal favorite as singer Aaron Bruno brought a lot of intensity to the set. Edward Sharpe singer Alex Ebert interacted wonderfully with the crowd and had one of the day’s biggest singalongs with their hit “Home.”
YouTube star turned pop star Lindsey Stirling wowed the crowd with her violin skills. Thievery Corporation were a great alternate choice to Twenty-one Pilots while waiting for Stevie’s headline set.
The festival felt notably younger than past years. Tickets were given away for free to incoming freshmen at UNLV. Those coming from LA might have been like myself and gotten into town later than others. Saturday promises to be the most packed.
Words: Mark E. Ortega and Tom Dellinger
Photography: Tom Dellinger
Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros
Twenty One Pilots