Miami Beach’s Centennial Concert: Gloria Estefan, Celeb Cameos, and Conga Lines

It’s hard to imagine how the founders of Miami Beach envisioned their island paradise a century in the future. It’s unlikely that they foresaw Miami Beach residents in 2015 using selfie sticks or drones. They also probably could not see Flo Rida coming.

But Flo, along with fellow 305 superstar Gloria Estefan, was one of the many performers with South Florida connections who took the massive stage assembled on South Beach last week.

Ocean Drive was closed off and a Ferris wheel spun next to the volleyball courts. As you walked on the blue carpet past the sea grape trees toward the beach, it was disarming to see not the Atlantic Ocean, but an enormous playpen filled with thousands of white folding chairs facing a stage with humungous screens that televised the action.

The cast was star studded. Weatherman Al Roker introduced Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who claimed none of the artists were paid. They were there, he said, out of love for Miami Beach and because they cared about climate change. At 8:20 p.m., Levine introduced Andrea Bocelli as “the greatest tenor in the world.” Few in the audience could offer a counterexample. But they also couldn’t deny that Bocelli has some serious pipes on him.

Flanked by the Miami Symphony Orchestra and the soprano Maria Aleida Rodriguez, Bocelli reminded the crowd how much opera they knew simply by having eaten at an Italian restaurant. His renditions of “O sole mio” along with contemporary songs like “Con te partirò” brought cheers during his fifty minutes on the stage. Later came the big gun, Gloria Estefan. She danced out in great spirits to “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” seeming to have the time of her life.

She also brought out her daughter Emily to duet a medley of KC and the Sunshine Band songs and earned mother of the year honors by letting her daughter do a solo song. After her niñita finished, Gloria returned to the stage to introduce local movie star Andy Garcia, who said a few kind words about Miami before sitting in with the band to demonstrate his method acting on the bongo drums. Then Gloria wrapped it up by reminding everyone that Miami Beach isn’t the only one getting older. We are all gracefully aging. And introducing “Conga,” she said: “You remember this one, it’s 30 years old.”

Instantaneously, conga lines slithered all over the beach for her final song. Next was Barry Gibb, the lone surviving Bee Gee.

Strumming his guitar and singing behind teeth that were brighter than the half moon in the sky, he was granted the longest set, a dozen songs of disco magic. Gibb, whose brothers and bandmates, Maurice and Robin, have passed away, brought his niece out and she sang with him on many of those Saturday Night Fever classics.

Barry can still reach the high notes and had the crowd chicken dancing and singing along. It was kind of surprising the next performer, Wyclef Jean wasn’t invited on stage for “Stayin’ Alive” as he has his own cover. Maybe Jean was hurt as he didn’t play that song in his set either.

Instead the former Fugee focused on his many other covers. He did Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” and “Redemption Song.”

Then he brought out Fantine, a protégé of Emilio Estefan, to sing Lauryn Hill’s part for “Killin’ Me Softly” and ran through the crowd before climbing on the railing of the VIP section to sing “Ready or Not.”This was an extended celebration. It started at 5 p.m., so by the time Flo Rida took the stage at 1:15 a.m., much of the packed house’s fans (including Mayor Philip Levine) were gone, either in their pajamas or across the street at Mango’s.

But the diehards stuck around to see a quadrant of scantily clad dancers hyping up a sunglasses-wearing Flo Rida. He presented hits like “Good Feeling,” “Low,” and “In the Ayer.” With all the fireworks and celebrity cameos, including Luther Campbell and Scarface’s Steven Bauer, it’s a good thing the party-planning committee for Miami Beach's 200th-birthday celebration has some time to figure out how to top this one.