NEW ORLEANS » Applause and approval greeted Stevie Wonder as thousands stood for hours to hear his pre-Super Bowl concert that also featured guitarist Gary Clark Jr.
Escorted on stage late Saturday by his daughter and backup singer Aisha Morris, Wonder performed several of his hits, including his opening song, “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).”
That was followed by “Master Blaster,” Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel,” and Wonder’s own “Higher Ground.”
The 62-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member headlined the event outdoor event held near the Wyndham Riverfront Hotel on the eve of today’s game between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers.
Thousands packed a tent set up on a parking lot across the street from the hotel to hear Wonder, Clark, R&B artist Janelle Monae and French electronic music DJ Martin Solveig.
“I expected greatness from Stevie and that’s exactly what I got,” said Brendan Cawley, of New York, N.Y., after Wonder’s performance.
“I loved how he ad-libbed a lot of his songs and got the audience involved,” said Cawley’s friend, Jason Alex, of Los Angeles. “It sounds like he’s still got it.”
Wonder’s early-’70s hit “Superstition” will be featured in two of this year’s Bud Light Super Bowl commercials. The beer company sponsored Saturday’s concert, one of many held to entertain the thousands of fans in the city for the game.
Brandon James, of Grambling, La., said this was his first time seeing Wonder perform live.
“I always heard my parents talk about how great he was and he is. Most performers come on and only do two or three songs. Stevie gave us a show!” he said.
The last time Wonder entertained such a large gathering in New Orleans was at the city’s annual Jazz and Heritage Festival five years ago.
Saturday night was also a return performance for Clark, who played last year’s Essence Festival and jazz festival.
“There are so many talented musicians in New Orleans that I always feel like I have to step up my game, when I come here,” he said after his set.
Carmella Smith of Orlando, Fla., said she hadn’t heard of Clark prior to the concert but was leaving as a fan.
“I didn’t know who he was, but he was very good,” she said.
Though known for his blues riffs, Clark has stated that his musical influences are many and include blues, jazz, soul, country and hip hop. He joined Wonder’s set, playing electric guitar on several songs including “Isn’t She Lovely” and “Ribbon in the Sky.”
Clark said he could feel the audience’s energy during his set, which included several songs from “Blak and Blu,” which was released in October and debuted at No. 6 on The Billboard 200.
“The crowd was really great,” he said. “They were ready to have a good time.”
He also put his spin on electric blues guitarist Albert Collins’ “If Trouble Was Money.”
“I had to go there,” he said. “This is the South.”
Opening the concert was Monae, whose rendition of “I Want You Back,” by the Jackson 5, had the crowd dancing and singing along with her. She also treated the audience to an energetic performance of “Tightrope,” the first single from her 2010 album “The ArchAndroid.”
“I’m so honored to be here, to share the same stage as Gary Clark Jr., who’s absolutely amazing and Stevie Wonder, who’s always been an inspiration to me. I’m just glad to share this moment with them,” she said after her set.
During Wonder’s performance, both Monae and Clark joined him on his finale song, “Superstition.”
“It was phenomenal,” Monique Craswell, of New York, said of Wonder’s show. “He’s a talent you can never see enough.”
Solveig closed the show. Before his set, he said this was his first visit to New Orleans and his first Super Bowl experience.
“The city is so full of history and for me, being French, it’s like I really feel a connection,” Solveig said. “It’s quite amazing. I’m very excited to be a part of such an event. I love the diversity of the people attending and performing. It’s all very interesting to see.”