Michael Franti is what my Wyoming born-and-bred father would call a damn hippie, but the crowd at Red Butte on Tuesday night seemed to think he was a damn likeable one.
Franti and his band Spearhead played to an eclectic audience that is unique to Utah – older folks, young families with children, and college kids looking for some fun. The crowd was jumping from the first notes of “Sound of Sunshine,” when dozens of beach balls were shot into the air by audience members. By the way, if you don’t like being constantly told to put your hands up or jump really high, a Michael Franti concert is not for you.
Lots of families with little kiddos flooded this concert, and Franti took advantage of that by having kids come up on stage during several songs to sing and dance with him.
“I love that here in Utah, families come together to listen to my music,” Franti said.
Part of Franti’s appeal is his willingness to immerse himself in the audience. He and his band members ventured into the crowd onto several occasions to perform about half the concert on small platforms. This meant that those audience members could join him on the mini-stages to sing and dance alongside the barefoot, tatted artist. Franti’s music is a mix of pop, techno, rap, funk and reggae. When he opts for an acoustic guitar, you can really see his talent, but most of the time his band takes over.
When Franti sang “We are all earthlings” things got a little too granola for me. Franti verges into reggae territory (he’s pretty much obligated because of his dreadlocks) but it comes across as reggae for really white people. I am a really white person, so I feel that I can make this judgment. There’s too much pop and not enough steel drums and pure vocals, but maybe that’s just his style. The crowd loved it. Franti’s “My Favorite Wine is Tequila” and “Good to be Alive Today” got the crowd moving their hips and singing along.
In between songs, Franti lamented the chaotic violence that has plagued the world in the past months. Franti said he is “uniquely informed” about social issues because of his diverse ethnic heritage and family. He called for love and acceptance to fight against hate. Some of his songs attempt to make those same statements about peace and social justice, but I feel that just as soon as he’s onto something, he backs off with lyrics about loving a girl or dancing in the sunshine. His music is catchy and definitely dance-worthy, but I was left wanting more of the in-between-songs Franti with his firm convictions and hope for the future.
The love for the earth and humanity – and possibly for herbal refreshment – was strong with Franti’s crowd. All around me, concertgoers had donned t-shirts with Franti’s mottos of “Love is my religion” and “Eat, sleep, hug, kiss, dance, change the world, repeat.” Several times in the night Franti urged the crowd to “give the people you love a big hug.” The crowd obeyed, sharing their love (and spilling their beer). He even got people to square-dance with their neighbors.
Franti and his band sang his rap/pop song “11:59” for an incredibly long time – long enough for the band to make it around the entire amphitheater several times. The number was split up by Franti’s Jamaican backup singer belting out some of Adele’s “Hello” and Franti’s tribute to Prince with “Purple Rain.” The medley went on forever, but it was still interesting, and he got more cute children involved, so good on him.
When he returned to the stage, Franti busted out upbeat hits like “We do this every day” and “Life sounds Like” to a crowd reaction of – you guessed it – more jumping.
One of Franti’s final numbers was his most well-known hit, “Say Hey (I Love You).” He brought a bunch of children on-stage and kind of sped through it. A little bit of a disappointment, considering that most of the crowd was sticking around for that song. Franti’s concerts definitely have a specific audience, and it looks like Red Butte just fit the bill.