Stevie Wonder rocks stadium About 25,000 people attend free concert before NFL debut

September 06, 1998|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Dancing on asphalt to the music of superstar pop singer Stevie Wonder, a crowd estimated at 25,000 celebrated last night outside Baltimore's newest jewel -- the Ravens football stadium -- on the eve of its official Opening Day National Football League debut.

Wonder's electric piano music ricocheted off the brick stadium facade and expressway overpasses as the crowd sang along to his hits, and fireworks lighted the sky through much of the 1 1/2 -hour performance on a nearby parking lot stage.

"It was a miracle," said Marie Taylor of Woodlawn as she sang along to Wonder's "Superstition."

"When Baltimore wants to have a party, I'll be there," declared Wonder, who agreed Thursday to perform as a last-minute replacement for Aretha Franklin, who canceled because of illness.

The crowd filled most of the parking lot, arriving with lawn chairs, blankets and newspapers to sit on -- but most stood during the concert to see the stage.

The football palace was illuminated with banks of multicolored lights, spotlight beams and lasers, and during the musical performances, large aluminum Ravens with red laser-light eyes and green smoke pouring from their talons were lowered from the stadium.

Wonder's loudest applause came when he played the harmonica alongside 23-year-old Dontae Winslow, a Baltimore jazz trumpeter.

The crowd also enjoyed a performance by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which performed selections from "West Side Story," by Leonard Bernstein, and a furious version of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" punctuated by fireworks under the bright full moon.

The BSO also accompanied Wonder and, synchronized with a fireworks finale, closed the show with a rendition of "God Bless America."

Baltimore-born actor Charles Dutton was the master of ceremonies for the opening of the festivities, declaring that the Ravens would beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in today's official opening game -- and accentuated his prediction by playing taps on a trumpet.

David Modell acknowledged from the stage the presence of his father, Ravens owner Art Modell, and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Maryland Stadium Authority Chairman John A. Moag Jr. -- all warmly received, with nary a boo from the throng.

"I love the whole atmosphere. It brought the city together, especially with so many businesses leaving," said Tilghman Strudwick, a Loyola College employee from North Baltimore.

Vanessa Pearce, visiting from Alexandria, Va., arrived an hour early to get a good spot. "I love Stevie Wonder and wouldn't miss it," she said. "I saw it on the Internet."

pTC The crowd left quickly after the show.

And by 10: 30 p.m., workers had most of the parking lot cleaned up and were hauling away barrels of trash as Loane Bros. employees removed 1,000 folding chairs that had been set up for invited guests -- making way for the cars whose drivers will be battling for spaces at today's game.

Pub Date: 9/06/98

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