Jason Smith isn’t usually at a loss for words, but all he could do was yell when he found out, after the Stevie Wonder concert Thursday night, that he would get a chance to meet the star.
Smith, who lives in a People Inc. group home in Orchard Park, co-wrote and sang a song called “I Wonder,” explaining how much Wonder has inspired him. After more than 200 shares on Facebook and some local publicity, including a story Wednesday in The Buffalo News, Live Nation, the promoters of the tour, added meet-and-greet passes to the tickets they had already given Smith and his companions.
Gary Spears, Smith’s quality life coach at People Inc., waited until after the nearly four-hour show to tell Smith that he would achieve his dream of meeting Wonder.
“I have gotten to know Jason pretty well in the months that I’ve been working with him,” Spears said. “If he were to know what was coming up, he would have a hard time actually focusing on the concert itself.I thought it would be great to pull it out of our back pocket at the last minute.”
After the show, Spears and People Inc. staffers Tammy Reed and Nancy Olszowy paused on what Smith thought was their way to the van. Holding up the pass, Spears said, “Now listen, if you want to see him you have to wear this. That’s your ticket to see him, face to face.”
“All right!” Jason yelled.
Spears estimated that about 100 people gathered to greet Wonder after the show, but Smith’s group was moved to the front of the line.
Although everyone had been warned that Wonder might not spend much time with them and they might be able to get only a group photo with him, shot by the tour photographer, Wonder spoke with Smith for several minutes, Spears said.
“He actually took some time to stand next to Jason’s wheelchair, they talked a little bit, and Jason told Stevie how much of an inspiration Stevie has been to him. Jason is not one who is shy or short on words, and he was almost speechless.”
Smith wasn’t so starstruck that he missed out on his chance to ask Wonder to autograph an old album. “I told him that I loved him and he’s like, ‘I love you too,’ “ said Smith. “I asked him when his new stuff is coming out and he said probably next year because he is also working on a gospel album as a tribute to his mother.”
Then, said Spears, “Jason tugged on Stevie’s coat and asked if he could have a hug, Stevie said yes, and I get emotional just thinking about this, because it was really special. He kind of bent down, he seemed to understand that Jason was a gentle soul, and they hugged.”
“I’m still on cloud 9 and I’m going to be on it for a while,” Smith said Friday morning. “It just goes to show you that if everybody helps somebody, no matter what the disability is, they can make their dreams happen, and everybody made mine happen.”
The night began with a welcome in the parking ramp, where the attendant first thought the group’s van was a delivery van. Spears said, “When we said, ‘No, we have Stevie Wonder’s No. 1 fan in here,’ he said, ‘Is that Jason?’ ” Smith said, “I said, ‘Yep!’ ” The attendant returned their money and welcomed them to the show.
“From that point on, we had a couple dozen people who recognized him and stopped to say hello, they went out of their way to greet him, and that made him feel like a million dollars,” said Spears. After Spears picked up the backstage passes at will-call, he gave them to Smith and said, “Hold these while I take a quick picture.” But Smith didn’t know the significance of the passes.
The group enjoyed the concert, which Spears noted “spanned the best part of Stevie’s career, he did a montage of his bigger hits, then he just jammed. He played some Beatles, did some things from Motown, and a big crowd-pleaser was a sing-along to the old Boxtops’ hit, ‘The Letter.’ They just played their hearts out, and our seats were phenomenal, Live Nation hooked us up with some great seats.”
After the final encore, the group made their way into the hallway, where Spears told Smith that their night held one more surprise.
“When Gary showed me the after-show stuff, I was like a little kid in a candy store, because I didn’t know if it was going to happen,” said Smith.
In the meet-and-greet room, guests mingled with musicians and backup singers. A saxophone player talked with Smith about his interest in setting up a foundation to provide music therapy. The group also spoke with a backup singer. “Gary played the video for her and she started crying and hugging me,” said Smith. She told the group that if Wonder had not already seen the video of Smith singing his song, that she would make sure he did.
“It all came together so nicely,” said Nicole Forgione, marketing communications manager for People Inc. “We are so appreciative to Live Nation and to Stevie Wonder and his staff for providing the tickets and inviting Jason to be a pert of this unique meet and greet opportunity.”
“I am so thankful for everybody from People Inc.,” said Smith. “Gary, who I call Daddy-O, and everyone else, they were all pulling for me, and so were my parents, Mike and Sandy, and my sister, Lauren. This is something that I dreamed about when I was little and it finally became a reality. I’m still on an emotional high right now, and I don’t want to come down from it ever.”
Story topics: Stevie Wonder