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Aimsel Ponti

Aimsel Ponti is a Content Producer at MaineToday.com and a music writer for MaineToday.com and the Portland Press Herald. She has been obsessed with - and inspired by - music since she listened to Monkees records borrowed from the town library when she was six years old. She bought her first Rolling Stones record at a flea market when she was in 7th grade and discovered David Bowie a year later. She's a HUGE fan of the local music scene and covers it along with national musical happenings in her "Face the Music" column and with artist interviews that appear in print in the Portland Press Herald and online at Mainetoday.com. You'll also find her out and about absorbing live music like a sponge and roaming around local record shops and flea markets. Aimsel is also the host of Music from 207 on 98.9 WCLZ and appears monthly on the News Center Maine TV show “207” to talk about...music of course.

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Posted: December 21, 2017

Countdown to 2018 with Kenya Hall’s ultimate Stevie Wonder tribute

Written by: Aimsel Ponti

Kenya Hall photo by Lauryn Hottinger

Although it sure was lovely to spend last Christmas in Laguna Beach, California, I had to miss the annual Stevie Wonder tribute show for the first time in many years. If you went, then you know what a tremendous job Kenya Hall and her band do with this show. So here’s the good news: This year, the show is happening on New Year’s Eve and at the biggest venue yet in its eight-year history: the State Theatre. You had better believe I’ll be at this show, and you should consider coming with 10 of your closest friends because it’s always sensational. I got a quick preview of just how good it’s going to be while bopping around the Old Port on the Wednesday afternoon before Christmas. I was walking up Exchange Street when I heard a perfect sound that I immediately drew me in. It was trumpet player Emma Stanley busking on the edge of Post Office Park. Stanley’s an incredible horn player. She’s part of The Fogcutters and will also be part of the Stevie Wonder tribute show. I stood and listened for a minute, threw some dough in her jar and took it as a sign of good things to come on New Year’s Eve.

In addition to Stanley, the band will be drummer Dave Henault (Sly Chi, The Fogcutters,) Stu Mahan (Eric Krasno Band, London Souls) on bass, guitarist Evan Haines, Pete Dugas (Micro Masse, The Awesome) on keys, backing vocalist Kristine Kentigian, backing vocalist and percussionist Chas Lester (The Fogcutters), Angela Pitteroff on backing vocals and horns, and John Maclaine (The Fogcutters) on horns. There will likely be some special guests dropping in, so keep an eye and ear out. And, of course, the one and only Kenya Hall is on lead vocals. If you have yet to hear Hall sing, especially live, there’s still time to make it happen this year. Her voice is big and gorgeous, and it does wonders with Stevie’s songs.

Here’s a clip from 2012 to give you an idea of how great these shows are:

I reached out to Hall to get the lowdown on this year’s show and how it ended up being on New Year’s Eve, and all was revealed. First topic of conversation was what songs she and the band would be tackling.

Album cover image courtesy of Motown Records

“We were going to do ‘Innervisions’ this year in its entirety, however, when we got the call to move our date from the 23rd of December to New Year’s Eve, we decided to go with a greatest hits mix. New Year’s Eve is all about the dance party, so that’s what we want to happen,” Hall said.

She’ll get no argument from me, or likely anyone else, about this decision. As for playing on New Year’s Eve, Hall is pleased as punch. “We’re so excited to play the State on New Year’s Eve this year, but I’m also a bit nervous. I’ve played the State a bunch of times, but it never has been fully my show. The State is a big space to fill, so I’m trying not to let this be an overwhelming idea.”

Hall explained that the show was originally schedule for the Dec. 23 at Port City Music Hall, but the act that was slated to play the State on New Year’s Eve had to cancel, creating a golden opportunity for Hall and her band. When State promoter Lauren Wayne called to ask if they’d fill in, Hall was thrilled.

“It’s downright awesome,” she said. “The theater will be filled with so much love this night — much needed love.”

Hall offered up another enticing aspect of the show. “In between sets and finishing out our night is Jay Caron, the multi-talented emcee/DJ/producer who is also half of the hip-hop duo Ock Cousteau.”

Caron will be spinning classic soul tunes creating a dance-party vibe. “It’s going to be an amazing night of music,” said Hall. And I believe her, 100 percent. After all, she and her band will be playing Stevie Wonder songs, so the writing’s on the wall that signed, sealed and delivered, we’re going to feel it all over. To quote Mr. Wonder: “Music is a world within itself/With a language we all understand/With an equal opportunity for all to sing, dance and clap their hands.”

Meet me at the State, friends, and let’s do this thing. And, in case you’re wondering, the show will run through midnight, so get ready to countdown the seconds with Kenya.

8th Annual Tribute to Stevie Wonder with Kenya Hall & Friends

9 p.m. Sunday. State Theatre, 609 Congress St., $15 in advance, $20 day of show. statetheatreportland.com

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