The Grand Opera House, a gem of a theater in the center of downtown Wilmington, was the perfect venue for beloved balladeer Smokey Robinson to spend an intimate evening with his loyal fans.
For a completely captivating 90 minutes, the celebrated singer/songwriter entertained his guests and reaffirmed his love for his craft. Backed by a skilled and spirited rhythm section, Robinson, who looks and sounds amazing, took a nostalgic and often amusing trip down memory lane, while gently promoting his latest release, "Time Flies When You're Having Fun."
Before the highly interactive show, fans were invited to write their names on index cards, which were collected, put in a box and placed on the piano. Then, in what felt like a cozy evening in his living room, Robinson would randomly take a card from the box, read the name, and that lucky individual had the floor as well as a microphone to make a comment, ask a question, and of course, request a song.
His fans reached back so far into his prolific catalog of classics that Robinson could not remember the words to some of his own songs. Starting with lighthearted tunes like "Mickey's Monkey," "Shop Around," "You Really Got a Hold On Me," "My Girl," "I Second that Emotion" and "Being with You," the knowledgeable members of the sold-out audience ultimately began to request unforgettable ballads such as "Fork in the Road," "Cruisin'," "Tracks of My Tears," and of course, the exquisite "Ooh Baby Baby."
The hits just kept on coming – basically Robinson's life's story in song – and soon it became abundantly clear that iconic composer, who evoked this same type euphoria during the glory days of the Uptown Theater, was still at the top of his game and has achieved a longevity that is almost unheard of in his industry (Aalthough Robinson, who has a Grammy Award and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, recalled that he once tried to retire from performing).
"I started to grow old and I was in the office . I was vice president of Motown, and I'd go there everyday and do my office stuff," he said. "After about two and a half years I was getting miserable because I missed you and I missed this, but I didn't tell anybody. I just went along with it.
"So after about three years or so, Berry Gordy, who is the founder of Motown Records, he is my best friend, so he came into my office one day and he said, 'Hey man. I want you to do me a favor.' I said, 'What?' I thought he was going to tell me something corporate to do or something. He said, 'Look. Get yourself a band. Go make a record, and get the f**k out of here!' I said, 'What did you say, man?' He said, 'You heard me. I want you to get yourself a band, I want you to make a record, I want you to get the f**k out of here!'
"I said, 'What happened, my man? He said, 'Man, I know you. You're my best friend! You are miserable! When I see you miserable, it makes me miserable, and I don't want to be miserable! So I want you to get out of my face!' So I wrote a song called ‘Quiet Storm,' and here I am."
By evening's end, Robinson had his fans and the staff of the charming Grand Opera House enraptured, including one particularly helpful staffer by the name of Ward Raison, and after the show, I had a moment to ask the legendary entertainer what inspired him to plan such an intimate and special event.
"I love people and I love my fans," he said just before departing. "I wanted them to get a chance to participate in the show, and just find out whatever they wanted to know."