Michael Franti & Spearhead once again inspired a sold-out Meijer Gardens crowd to dance, sing for the duration of a steamy two-hour set of reggae/rock/rap infusion on Wednesday.
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Music can be a unifying force for good, and a live musical performance can especially bring together a group of strangers in the spirit of peaceful solidarity.
As they’re wont to do, Michael Franti & Spearhead demonstrated this artistic ideal once again during a sold-out performance at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park on a sultry but gorgeous Wednesday night.
The nearly two-hour, 20-or-so-song set was familiar to anyone who has previously enjoyed a Franti show at Meijer Gardens — and, really, there is no other way to experience his shows but to enjoy them. (If you can be grumpy and/or disengaged at a Franti show, I’m not certain live music is your thing? Just a thought, cause he’s really fun.)
Beach balls. Sing-a-longs. Dancing. Hugging. Rhythmic clapping. Sweaty arms waving. Musicians mingling in the crowd. Kids brought up on stage to sing with the band. So much jumping. Spilled beverages and high fives.
It’s an interactive, egalitarian party and everyone in the audience is invited. And better yet? Everyone — or nearly everyone — seems to willingly participate.
For a venue that recently has earned some criticism for staid crowds, Wednesday’s show brought the energy, thanks in no small part to the strong showing of kids in the mix. Quick shoutout to parents who bring their children to live musical performances and encourage them to listen, dance and have fun. You are giving your kids a gift, and I hope it contributes to another generation of music lovers.
PEACE AND CLARITY AMID WORLD TURMOIL
From the moment Franti and Spearhead — percussionist Manas Itiene, keyboardist Michael Blankenship, bassist Carl Young and guitarist J Bowman — took the stage, until the moment of departure, people were engaged and loose. In a world of complex and crappy news and events, this was a few hours of peace and clarity.
Musical highlights of the evening included the always-moving “11:59” (from 2013’s “All People”), plus crowd-pleasers “The Sound of Sunshine” and “Say Hey (I Love You).” Though, with a Franti show, it’s not just about the notes played but the message delivered.
As with Franti’s recent Meijer Gardens stops, the noted peace activist/singer/poet hit town in the wake of horrific national news of hate and violence. Last year, he arrived just days after the Pulse Nightclub massacre. In 2015, he was here a few days after the Charleston church shooting. This time, it’s white supremacists and neo-Nazis openly marching on American cities and various political unrest.
As in previous years, Franti took several moments to respectfully acknowledge the pain and loss of these events while lifting up the victims and helpers and emphasizing the continued need for love and the difficult task of peaceful work: Unity.
It’s like he sang while standing in the midst of Wednesday’s sweltering crowd; “One drum and only one rhythm, one tribe and all of us singing.”
Show openers Satsang were an appropriate fit for that peace/love/acceptance formula which Franti has cultivated. The three-piece Montana-based “conscious collective” offered an entertaining reggae-infused 45-minute set to warm up the already-receptive audience.
PHOTO GALLERY: Michael Franti & Spearhead, Satsang at Meijer Gardens
Photos by Kendra Kamp
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