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Taken from The Ottawa Citizen (July 8, 2007)

Artists deliver messages of peace

Comments lend political edge to music festival

by Lynn Saxberg, The Ottawa Citizen

Michael FrantiBoth Michael Franti and Sarah Harmer issued a call for peace to the lawn of the Canadian War Museum yesterday, lending a political edge to the Bluesfest party well before Manu Chao bounced onto the MBNA stage.

By then it was dark, and Chao and his energetic band, two of whom were shirtless, wasted no time upping the intensity of the music and the message, immediately stirring the tightly-packed crowd into a surging mass. The frenetic Latin-folk-punk of the Parisian-born performer is a big draw with young people, and there was at least one incident of crowd-surfing early in the concert.

Chao sang in Spanish and French, but he also made the effort to address the crowd in heavily accented English, only some of which was easy to understand. "OK, Mr. White House," he said, "the only way to fight violence is with schools, education..."

On the Rogers stage, Michael Franti delivered a similar message during a condensed version of his usual hard-hitting show. Fans had been wondering how Franti would be able to confine his overflowing spirit to a one-hour time slot, but he did it, graciously showing respect to Chao ("Big up, Manu Chao") at the end instead of giving in to the audience demands for an encore.

It was another terrific performance from the charismatic singer-songwriter-guitarist, who's 6-foot-6 and wears his hair in dreadlocks. He had the audience jumping and waving arms over heads during the first song, Take Me Home, a funky cry to bring the troops home. Sometimes and Hey Now Now deepened the urban end of the groove while Taxi Radio combined Afro guitar licks with Latin percussion and rap lyrics.

Any rivalry that might have existed between the east and west stages at LeBreton Flats was erased by an extended version of Franti's one-love song, East West. The set also included a dynamic Please Take Me Home, the sweet, melodic Sweet Little Lies and the anthemic Rock The Nation. To please the delirious crowd even more, Franti extended What I Got with a bridge made up of snippets of songs from the children's show Sesame Street.

Franti, who's a favourite performer among Ottawa festivalgoers and seems to come back every year, gave his blessing to the new Bluesfest site, but couldn't resist adding a comment. "This is a great place to have a festival, I like it much better than the old place," he said, "and it's right next to the war museum."

Franti paused and looked across the street. "And that lot over there..." He gestured to the south, "They told me they're going to build a peace museum over there. They're just waiting for the funding."

Although that comment was tossed off on the spur of the moment, he had more serious words on the U.S. war in Iraq. "Support those who believe the war is illegal," Franti said. "Do something else for peace rather than continue this same war on terror."

But it's Canadian gal, Sarah Harmer, who gets my vote for the quote of the day. "Let's keep war in a museum," she said near the end of her memorable performance.

Between songs such as Silver Creek, Oleander and Escarpment Blues, the singer-songwriter brought up issues of environmental importance, but also made a solid emotional connection with the audience. Accompanied by her band, Harmer's energy was strong and focused, and her songs held up well under the scrutiny of a vast audience.

With her earthy material and grassroots activism, Harmer provided the perfect warmup to the lyrical fire and bass-y brimstone created by Franti and Chao.

<H6>© The Ottawa Citizen 2007</H6>

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