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Taken from The Rival at American University (Oct 16, 2018)

Concert Review: Michael Franti and Spearhead

Using the power of music to reveal what it means to be human

by Naomi Eskenazi

Michael Franti and Spearhead rocked the Fillmore on Sunday night, bringing their messages of diversity, peace, and authenticity to Silver Spring.

They opened the show rocking the house with a reggaeton influenced beat in which they transitioned smoothly with their hit "I'm Alive". Michael Franti came on stage in usual bare foot fashion and indulged the crowd with an incredible performance, flashing peace signs everywhere.

When I asked Jim Hoskinson, a staff member of the Fillmore, about Michael Franti he said: "His shows are always a good vibe, lots of positive energy and messages."

And he was totally correct.

I attended with my father and I figured either him or I would look out of place, but to my surprise neither of us did. What I noticed immediately was how the audience was full of people of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds. The energy brought by the band and circled within the crowd was beautiful and full of positivity. It was as if the entire crowd and the band were one entity in movement. Michael Franti and Spearhead encouraged the audience to jump and dance and wave their arms. Even my Dad was getting into it.

The band consisted of Michael Franti on vocals and guitar, Carl Young on the bass, Manas Itiene on the drums, J Bowman on the guitar, and Mike Blankenship on the Keyboards. They were accompanied by guests and openers Dustin Thomas accompanied by his larger than life hair and Victoria Canal who held similar messages of joy, positivity and what it means to be human.

The venue was modeled after the original Fillmore in San Francisco. A beautiful place, with chandeliers at the ceiling, upstairs seating, and red velvet curtains framing the stage. The venue not only looked the part but held up quality sound with high ceilings to amplify an amazing bass quality, a necessary component to any band that plays reggae influenced beats.

In between songs, Michael Franti discussed his diverse background on stage. His biological mother was of German, Belgian, and Irish decent, and his biological father was of African American and Native American decent. Franti was put up for adoption due to his biological mother's fear of her family's disapproval of her mixed son. Franti was adopted by Carole and Charles Franti, who were immigrants from Finland.

"Mrs Franti went to church one Sunday and heard there were 149,000 children within American who need permanent homes for adoption. So she went home to Mr Franti, who I guess was just sitting on the couch, she said 'Charlie, I know we already got three kids of our own and we're living in married student housing but I think we should adopt another one!' and that was me!

"So I grew up in this super mixed melting pot of a household. Five different kids of different sizes and shapes and colors. I used to go to school and I was like this tall skinny brown kid in a mostly white school. And as you can imagine I had this huge afro and I was SUPER skinny, like if Colin Kaepernick were a toothpick that would've been me, Colin Kaepertoothpick. Anyway, I go to school and I get picked on and my mom would say 'Michael I want you to just be you'. She was the one who really taught me what it means to hold on to being yourself and just try to show that off in every way, and to be human and be your authentic self."

What I found most enchanting about the performance was Michael Franti and Spearhead's messages of breaking down barriers. Franti invites members of the audience on stage to sing and goes into the audience, breaking down the walls of conventional performer/onlooker. Similarly, he plays music spanning across all genres drawing influences from raggae, jazz, funk, folk, and rock.

For me, growing up in a mixed household made this really hit home. We live in a world where people are very quick to put things into narrow labeled categories without really taking any time to understand the nuanced nature of our world. Nothing is simply black or white, there is so much blending within one another and its what makes this world beautiful. Franti reminded me of that.

Overall this concert felt far more than a concert. Michael Franti and Spearhead use their talent and platform to create positive change and spread radiance in their shows. They weren't just playing for their fans, they were playing for the soul. The band really wanted their audience to have a fantastic time through their performance. I have never been to a concert such as that before. In a time where tension and divisiveness seem to be prevailing, Michael Franti and Spearhead remind us through the unity of music that we may seem to have differences but are all human. Franti comments to the audience about the healing power of music and concerts; "The way things are going we need one day a week to do this shit!

The Stay Human Tour was accompanied by Michael Franti's film tour of his Stay Human documentary, which will screen in select film festivals across the country. This documentary follows Franti's travels across the globe and his findings of what it means to be human.

Michael Franti and his wife Sara Agah Franti created the non profit organization Do it For the Love that brings those with life threatening illnesses, veterans, and children that face severe challenges together to be able to attend live concerts from their favorite artists and experience the healing power of music. Since their founding five years ago they have granted over 1,600 wishes. To learn more and give support, visit doitforthelove.org.


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