May God bless Michael Franti! Many elements that he generates—great music, love, humanitarianism, and environmentalism—combined to make Franti and his band Spearhead’s concert at Point State Park on the first night of the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival a memorable occasion.
Franti, San Francisco-based and a self-described rebel/soul rocker, is known for his positive lyrics, jam music, and beautiful ballads that derive influences from hip-hop, rock, funk, jazz, reggae, and folk. In addition to being a very talented songwriter and musician, Franti is dedicated to working for good in the world. He has toured the Middle East as an advocate of peace, is a strong supporter of South Africa’s Ubuntu Education Fund, and has helped many other causes. He is also a voice of hope and inspiration in a sometimes mean and cynical world—a true uniter and not a divider.
He loves his fans so much that he even posed for pictures and signed CDs in front of his merchandise table for almost an hour before the show. It was a sight to behold, with Franti scraping the sky at 6’6″, tattoos on his arms, and barefoot. His height, however, is mitigated by his kindness which makes him seem less lofty. It was hard to see who was enjoying the experience more, the fans or Franti.
With a sizable, enthusiastic crowd on the large grass lawn of Point State Park—the smell of gyros and funnel cakes wafting on the evening breeze—Franti and Spearhead took the stage. As they did a collective roar of approval rose from the crowd.
Early in the set list was one of the group’s top hits, “The Sound of Sunshine.” Afterwards Franti said to the crowd “[you’re] so freakin beautiful” and told everyone to take something off, such as a T-shirt or hat, and twirl it in the air. You don’t have to give these instructions to Pittsburghers more than once; people were instantly twirling shirts and hats like they do their Terrible Towels. Franti and the band then launched into “All I Want Is You.”
He was having a great time singing and playing his acoustic guitar, which had a red guitar strap with big white letters that spelled out HUMAN vertically on it. During the show he often went into the audience and played. Franti’s band Spearhead is composed of highly talented musicians including Carl Young (bass), Manas Itiene (drums), J Bowman (guitar), and Michael Blankenship (keyboards).
He told the crowd, in regard to his new album SOULROCKER—which dropped the day of the concert, and is now already at no. 2 on the iTunes alternative chart—”You’re some of the first people to hear these songs.” This led into “Good to Be Alive Today,” a masterpiece of a song from the new album that not only chronicles the ills of the world today, but offers hope for a better society.
Next up was a fun feel-good ditty called “Summertime is on My Mind.” The crowd was having a blast hitting colorful beach balls up in the air and dancing to the music. Franti said during the concert that he enjoyed walking around the festival and looking at all the great art. Another fun new rocker was “My Favorite Wine is Tequila.” He thanked everyone for coming out to the show and then encouraged people to grab a friend, or for people who don’t know one another to link up, and then performed “Crazy For You,” also off the just-released SOULROCKER.
Franti and Spearhead performed several more songs from the new album in addition to old faves as the sun set in a most glorious hue of orange and the early evening transitioned into a beautiful night. Michael Franti and Spearhead gave the assembled a good time and reinvigorated hope for a bright future for our planet.
photos: Rick Handler
Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central and loves great music.