I’ve had the pleasure of up-close and personal meetings with several celebrities in my life, of which 90 percent are because of the many years I’ve been associated with Bohemian Caverns in DC, and particularly the few years I managed Liv (which is closing; you might have heard).
But most pale in comparison to the night that Stevie Wonder unassumingly walked into Liv with just a few folks in his entourage, sat on stage, went upstairs to eat, then came back down to the stage and gave an impromptu concert where I’m fairly certain he made up a song on the spot.
Then walked out.
How this came to be is a story unto itself; it’s not like Stevie was just driving through DC and saw a sign for Bohemian Caverns and thought, “let’s go in there and make the lives of potentially hundreds of people. I sure do hope there’s a keyboard on stage that I can take advantage of.” That just doesn’t happen. What did happen though?
Wrote a song about it, like to hear it, here it go.
Every few months at Liv, we had a party called Wonderfull. It’s a party created by DJ Spinna in NYC, where for the ENTIRE night, every song is either a Stevie Wonder song, or a sample of a Stevie song, or inspired by Stevie, etc. It’s a whole night of Stevie Wonder, hence the Wonderfull title. DJ Spinna is a monster of a DJ; if you ever get the opportunity to hear him spin, you should go. Trust me, he’s worth the money.
Now, Stevie has made surprise appearances at some of these parties in NYC and LA and is a big fan of both the party and the concept. It has to be pretty damn cool to have a party named after you where a DJ can run an ENTIRE evening off of your music and keep people dancing. That’s a pretty high honor.
Well DC ain’t exactly NYC. Sure, we’re a cosmopolitan and neopolitan and afropolitan city and what not and henceforth, but its not exactly a hotbed of superstar musicians and entertainers unless a concert or something like BET Honors is going on. When I lived in Atlanta, it was NOTHING to see famous folks walking through Lenox Square Mall on a random Tuesday. DC? Not so much.
So, we had this party scheduled for Saturday, October 12, 2013. This party usually brings out a few hundred people, somewhere between 150-250, on the regular. I don’t remember this particular night being sold out or anything. It was just another Wonderfull party at Liv with a $15 cover charge. Pun intended.
When I’m working a party, even just providing small, needs to be done, support, I always show up early. So I got there and ran into the owner, Omrao, who told me that Stevie Wonder was in town for some , and there’s a 50/50 chance that he’ll come to the party. He said to keep that to myself (no problem), but I can’t pretend that a small part of me wasn’t super excited at the possibility of Stevie Wonder coming through.
It’s freakin’ Stevie Wonder.
So in preparation for what might happen, Omrao secured a Motif 8 keyboard to have at the ready for Stevie should he both show up AND decide to bless us all with some music.
Well, the night starts off like usual, and I’ve heard nothing about that percentage changing. It’s a dope party so its all fun anyway. Then Omrao told me, “he’s coming.”
At that point, we had to loop our security detail into the fold. He was coming with a few of his personal staff and was going to need to be escorted up the stairs and onto the stage area. Our DJ booth, where Jahsonic was spinning first, and where Spinna would take over, isn’t a booth so much as it puts the DJ front and center to the party. He’s not just up there playing music, it’s a performance. We had the stage area behind the DJ blocked off anyway for VIP status, ya know, just in case. All these preparations…just in case.
Now here’s what I do know…Wonderfull is a good party. Now imagine how that party would have turned out if folks KNEW Stevie Wonder was going to be there? Everybody in DC would have been there.
But that’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works. I can’t tell you how many parties we’ve had where we knew a celebrity would be there but their management team made it clear we couldn’t advertise this fact. Which to me, is stupid..for thos parties. Eventually, I may write about one in particular. Club’s closing down anyway, right?
For this one, we had no clue if he was actually going to show up or not so there would be no way to push it. But what we did know is that as SOON as the first pic went up on Instagram or Facebook, the floodgates MIGHT open. Or at the very least would be filled with ALL the “ZOMG!!!!!! WHY DIDN’T NOBODY TELL ME STEVIE WAS GON’ BE THERE” comments.
I don’t remember what time he actually showed up. I’m guessing it was around 1130ish, but quiet as kept, in a black SUV, shows up Stevie Wonder and his staff. We had a few people in line and when he walked by, escorted by security, somebody said, “GTFOH, WAS THAT STEVIE WONDER??? STEVIE WONDER IS HERE??”
He was escorted up the steps and onto the stage. For a few moments, nobody knew what was happening. All they could see was a commotion and security moving people out of the way. But then it became clear to everybody who was there, Stevie Wonder was in the building at Wonder-full, chillin’ on the couch listening to DJ Spinna rock to his music. Of course, everybody and their grandma wanted to get close to take a picture. After about 30 minutes, Stevie and his team went upstairs to our completely blocked off second floor so that he could eat. But of course the energy in the party was on a fever swell as folks couldn’t stop talking about the fact that Stevie was there.
After an hour, there was movement. Stevie made his way down stairs and onto the stage then took up residence at the keyboard we had set up.
He went to work. For nearly 10 minutes, Stevie took over and began playing and sing songs along to DJ’s music as well as performing his own songs. I’m pretty sure he made up his first song on the spot.
He wowed the audience who were all in smiles and still in amazement that we got a WAAAAY cheap Stevie mini-concert at Liv. After he was finished and after a few pictures with folks, Stevie and squad rolled out and we continued the party.
But IG and Facebook did their jobs. Pictures of Stevie Wonder exploded all over DC and folks were upset that they didn’t show up but were excited at the same time. Stevie got there too late for folks to make a mad dash to U Street, but we had him in the club at Wonderfull.
To this day, it still stands as one of the most memorable nights I had working in Liv/Bohemian Caverns.
Pretty much, it was wonderfull.