Tribute to musical icon will launch Dorton Arena concerts this year

Gabriel Bello promises big things when he performs in Dorton Arena on the opening night of the N.C. State Fair this year.

“We’ll be playing some of the best music that’s been put out in the last 50 to 100 years,” Bello recently told me. “Hopefully one of best bands people have ever heard.”

Bello leads a Stevie Wonder tribute band (complete with backup singers and instrumentalists) called Natural Wonder. He obviously thinks highly of the legendary artist he emulates. However, he didn’t always think he’d be going on tour and entertaining people who love the music of Stevie Wonder.

When he was in college he actually wanted to impersonate another famous singer during a variety show, but when someone else signed up to play that other celebrity, a show organizer suggested he perform a Stevie Wonder tribute.

About ten years later as Bello was pursuing a music career, someone else again suggested he perform as a Stevie Wonder tribute artist.

“He said you have the talent and the range and all of that,” Bello recalled.

The rest, as they say, is history. Bello gave it a shot and even learned to play harmonica to fully embody Stevie Wonder.

North Carolina has been Bello’s home since 2006. He now lives near Charlotte, but he admits he’s never been to the N.C. State Fair. He said he’s been thinking about making the trip with his wife and kids for a few years. Now he’s thrilled that his first visit will be to perform on the Dorton Arena stage.

“[I’m] honored, incredibly honored,” he said. “It’s always great to be a part of things in North Carolina. I really enjoy living here.”

Bello said it will be nice to play a show just a couple of hours from home because he’s often on the road to other states when he’s on tour. He said he hopes to have a little time before his show to sample some of the fair food. He puts funnel cakes and anything salty or cheesy at the top of his list, but what he’ll really have his eye out for is anything with bacon.

“My wife and I have already been scouting out what we want,” he joked.

Bello’s show will be just one of the many live music performances during the fair in 2019. The live music has become just as much a part of the fair as all the rides, games, exhibits and food.

Since I was a kid, checking the list of performances has always been a part of planning a trip to the fair. …but wow, has the list gotten longer over the years! There are three stages at the fairgrounds where musicians perform as part of the Homegrown Music Fest. Our friends over at Deep South Entertainment have worked their magic again this year to put together a list of more than 50 musical acts.

Bluegrass musicians will play in Heritage Circle each day, while a variety of other musicians will play on the Waterfall Stage outside Dorton Arena. The biggest shows happen inside the arena.

Again, Bello’s band Natural Wonder performs on opening night October 17. For a full list of bands and show times check out the Homegrown Music Fest section under “Attractions” on the N.C. State Fair website.

About Tractor Pull

Tractor Pull is the fair-themed alias for Brandon Herring, a public information officer in the Public Affairs Division of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. He's no stranger to the fair or the farm. A North Carolina native, he grew up helping on the family farm just east of Lumberton. After more than 15 years in TV news, he's sharing news of a different kind these days. He loves the rides on the fair's midway, but also loves that the fair has so many other things to see and do that are grounded in agriculture. His favorite fair food is a funnel cake with just powdered sugar - a classic!

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