More than 60 musicians and vocalists will gather Saturday to honor Stevie Wonder in another summer BandHouse Gigs tribute, but this year the venue will change.
The event will take place at the Fillmore Silver Spring instead of the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, where most have taken place in the past.
The Fillmore, designed primarily as a rock ‘n’ roll venue, has the potential to expand BandHouse’s audience as the organization continues to experiment with different venues tailored to different shows, says BandHouse co-producer Ronnie Newmyer.
It also has the potential to give the mix of Washington-area artists who participate in the shows additional visibility in the region as they try to further their individual careers.
“[Additional venues] look great on a resume and it could lead to other opportunities to perform on their own,” Newmyer says.
Known for its standing-room only area in front of the stage, the Fillmore will provide reserved seats on the floor and in the balconies near the stage for the Wonder show. For $5 less, fans can stand toward the rear of the floor and the balconies.
Newmyer says one of the reasons BandHouse chose Stevie Wonder for this year’s summer tribute is because Wonder doesn’t tour often, and the tribute is a chance for fans to hear his music performed live.
Participating this year in a BandHouse tribute for the first time will be Kenny Wesley, who lives in Washington, D.C.
“I’m honored that I’ve been asked,” says Wesley, who will be performing Wonder’s “I Wish” and “That Girl.”
“He’s got that range, and he’s very soulful,” Newmyer says.
Wesley says he’s looking forward to working with other performers on stage.
“They’re from different genres of music, which makes it more exciting,” Wesley says about the artists.
BandHouse producers mix and match the artists to perform different songs, giving them a chance to work with new people.
“They love the unique collaboration that happens in a BandHouse show,” Newmyer says. “The sense of community is very strong.”
But working out which artist works with which artist can be a challenge, because if one change is made, it triggers another.
“It’s like the world’s largest Rubik’s Cube,” Newmyer laughs.
Newmyer says the show will be sticking to Wonder’s recorded arrangements but the artists will be bringing their own interpretations to the songs.
“Every singer really transforms the song and makes it their own,” Newmyer says.
Also performing will be Lea Morris, known as LEA, singing “Superstition,” along with Wonder’s ballad “Overjoyed.”
Morris says she enjoys performing in the tributes, because it’s a chance to both meet new artists and see old friends.
“It’s why I keep coming back,” says the Silver Spring native, who now lives in Virginia.
“You’re able to see friends, share the night and support each other,” she says.
Julia Nixon and Mary Ann Redmond will be singing a duet of “Higher Ground,” and also performing are Anita King, Annie Sidley, Chris Dennard and Alfredo Mojica Jr., who is the lead singer for Sin Miedo, a Washington salsa and Latin jazz band.
“There are some small combos and very large ensembles,” says Newmyer, who will be performing himself on bass with “Tommy Lepson and the Soul Crackers.”
The band will be performing a medley of “I Was Made to Love Her,” “For Once in My Life” and “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” using backup singers and horns.
Also on stage will be the Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band, a Washington, D.C.-based band that plays music from West Africa and its own compositions.
Chopteeth co-founder Michael Shereikis says they’re working on Wonder’s “Master Blaster,” and some of the band members also will be backing up other performers.
“Stevie Wonder is one of the funkiest songwriters this country has ever known, so we’ve been having a ball getting to know his songs more intimately,” wrote Shereikis in an email.
Wesley, who sometimes ends his own shows with Wonder’s “Creepin,’ says, “It’s hard to be an American and not appreciate Stevie Wonder.”