Concert Review: Stokley with Phil Denny and Shaun LaBelle at The Loft

StokleyHundreds of people dressed in their most impressive upscale evening attire. Round tops highlighted by the glow of flickering candles. Not a single empty seat.

The beauty of an intimate show is how close the audience is to the performers they’re watching. Not close as in their proximity to wherever the acts are set up, but their connection to the artist’s aura in the room, their career stories and personal journeys, and of course their music. It’s the indoor equivalent of a campfire bonding.

The brains of Holland Productions were clearly aware of this all-important dynamic when they decided to book iconic multiplatinum-selling producer/musician Shaun LaBelle, fan and critic-adored saxophonist Phil Denny, and Mint Condition front man Stokley to join forces on The Loft stage in Lansing, MI October 4th. And was there to feel every bit of the heat!

The accomplished stars’ mix of R&B, soul, jazz, and funk went down as smoothly as the drinks being served, quenching a hot crowd thirsty for flavor.

LaBelle took the stage first, his smile as bright as the shiny, cream-colored bass hanging around his neck. After chopping with the band that included Jeff Canady on drums, Tony Gordon on keys, and Kenny Rocket on guitar, he welcomed Denny to the stage, his flashy presence an immediate fire starter.  A few songs later Stokley joined the pair, walking fearlessly into a full-on blaze. The sound of his voice made the audience explode. The three musicians really began to smoke during a rendition of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Love’s Holiday,” which turned into an organic sing-a-long that had much of the audience on their feet.

With Denny sitting on the side for a moment, LaBelle and the band dipped into a jazzy jam session with Stokely impressively imitating a trombone with his voice. But like a runner reacting to a starting gun, Denny returned to the stage once they’d finished, grabbed his sax, nodded “yes” to his mates suggesting he was ready for what’s next, and three stars ambushed the unsuspecting audience with an awesome performance of Hi-Five’s classic chart-topping hit “I Like the Way (Kissing Game).”

Stokley, LaBelle, Denny and company didn’t disappoint throughout their set at The Loft, closing the night with Mint Condition favorite “What Kind of Man Would I Be.” The flames of enjoyment peaked.

Eclectic ensemble band Collective Peace opened the show with a soul-bending set met with rousing ovation. The Detroit native band flexed their James “J Dilla” Yancy-inspired tunes with the utmost skill, building even more anticipation for their eagerly-awaited full length debut album.

—Mr. Joe Walker

Known as “The Word Heavyweight Champion”, Mr. Joe Walker is a biographer, author, and columnist, currently a senior writer for, staff writer for Muskegon Tribune Newspaper, and writer of popular Concrete Magazine blog “Tinna: See”. Also co-creator of, Walker’s acclaimed, award-winning work has been published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker, connect with him on Facebook, and also visit his blog

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