Franti and Spearhead still preaching to the choir, choir still loving it
By: Chris Stewart
Posted: 10/5/09

Michael Franti has not worn shoes, except in legally required situations like airline flights, in nine years. Considering the amount of social justice, humanitarian, and peace issues that Franti is involved with, one might assume that his barefoot status represents a cause. Turns out, Franti just enjoys it.

The same balance is found in his music: a blend of reggae, funk, rock, pop, and what your music textbook might refer to as "world music."

Opening for Franti and his group Spearhead was Trevor Hall, a young California-based singer also riding the acoustic/reggae/pop wave. Hall played with just a drummer and a bassist, creating a simple entry portal for the audience into the night's offerings. Youthful and improbably appealing, Hall sang joyful songs about falling in love and breaking the bonds of difference in the world.

Many songs by Franti and Trevor Hall deal with humanitarian issues. In fact, considering how unendingly upbeat the music and atmosphere of the night was, there were more references to war than in a drunken conversation between Julius Caesar and Michael Moore.

Franti and Spearhead are a little more world-weary, having been around long enough to write songs that look back at bittersweet street scenes of past generations. But no matter how much he's seen, Franti never sees things as too bleak to be reached by music, love and family.

"Music is bigger than black or white, gay or straight, Christian, Muslim, or Jew," Franti, taking the stage after Hall finished, said.

The music was rhythm-heavy, with hand drums as well as a set, and keyboards riding the off-beat. Franti talks, sings, and raps, moving from one to the other seamlessly throughout his songs.

The overall atmosphere of the evening bordered on religious, with constant references to the divine ability of music, nature and love. Hall leaped out to crowd surf at the end of his performance. Audience members were told to put their arms around their neighbors, to share love, and to hold hands. Young children in the crowd were brought on stage (yes, there were at least eight kids, eight more than I have ever seen at a Pageant show before).

"We have a song in the top 40 now for the first time!" Franti said, towards the end of the show, referring to "Say Hey (I Love You)" which has indeed charted well.

"We've never had a song in the top 40,000 before," he said.

Afterward, a fellow audience member confided that she thought this was because Michael Franti and Spearhead's current hit "isn't about anything except love." A -Chris Stewart