GULF SHORES, Alabama — Every great festival needs a great headliner to help close things out. And on Sunday night (May 19), the Hangout Festival snagged one of music's biggest icons for its finale: Stevie Wonder.
The R&B icon sent the tens of thousands home happy after a weekend of beachside fun that included sets from Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Kendrick Lamar, Twenty One Pilots, the Roots, Kings of Leon, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Bassnectar and Imagine Dragons.
Wonder played more than two hours of hits and carefully curated covers that touched on nearly ever facet of his career while also paying homage to the music that inspired him, from the Beatles to Parliament and Michael Jackson. The set opened with Wonder center stage jamming on a keytar cover of fellow Motown legend Marvin Gaye's "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)."
The already salt-tinged air got even more fragrant when he boogied into the reggae groove of "Master Blaster (Jammin')," keeping the island groove going during a sun-splashed take on Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel" and, a short time later, Bob Marley's "Is This Love."
The thing about Wonder is that it's almost impossible for him to play a set that's not jam-packed with the kinds of hits that bring smiles to his fans' faces and get them bobbing, swaying and shaking their hips in the cool nighttime beach breeze. The clavinet-rocking "Higher Ground" kicked off a string of smashes that perfectly capped the weekend's peaceful, easy vibe, including the a song he said he hoped would some day cease to make perfect sense, the inescapably catchy hard-times anthem "Living for the City."
Paying tribute to one of his influences, Wonder mixed a soulful take on the Beatles' "Day Tripper" with a bit of Parliament's funk classic "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)" and, later, did a powerful run through John Lennon's "Imagine." And the hits kept coming, including the ultimate party jam "Sir Duke," "Isn't She Lovely," "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours," "My Cherie Amour," "I Just Called to Say I Love You," his classic Paul McCartney duet, "Ebony and Ivory" and, of course, a deep funk, horn-blasted 10-plus minute workout of "Superstition" to end the night.
It was the perfect, peace-filled capper to a weekend of positive energy, pulsing music and peaceful easy feelings down by the Gulf of Mexico. There's a reason this fest's motto is "Be nice, or go home." Until next year, hang loose.