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Taken from Contra Costa Times (Sep. 12, 2004)

Michael FrantiPolitics, music bring Power to the Peaceful

by Tony Hicks


SAN FRANCISCO - It would have been a perfect snapshot for the Free Spirit Hall of Fame -- if there were such a place.


Tie-dyed pajama-wearing Wavy Gravy warmly embraced presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, while Ralph Nader's running mate, Peter Camejo, lingered in the background. Spearhead singer and left-wing activist Michael Franti championed their causes to a film crew, while people in clothes announcing various political aims washed down their backstage cheese with rainforest tea.


Seemingly, the only cause not addressed at Saturday's massive Power to the Peaceful Festival in Golden Gate Park was the campaign to re-elect George Bush.


Let's just say he was there in spirit.


On one of the area's most congested weekends in recent memory, Franti and various other organizers, including Berkeley's left-leaning KPFA-94.1 radio, attracted an estimated 30,000 people for a concert and all-around liberal lovefest.


"I don't do this for me," Franti said, before his band's set. "I do it for the millions and millions of people who can't go to the polls but who are affected by who is president."


It was the festival's sixth year, though this year's rendition had a more focused theme.


"We're showing George the door," said Wavy Gravy, the Bay Area's rock and roll clown prince since the '60s. Asked if the event merely preaches to a very large, liberal choir, he said. "This recharges the choir; then they can go out and do (stuff) and make the calls. This is where we come to recharge the batteries."


Bay Area entertainers are out in force between now and Election Day. Saturday's show, which filled Speedway Meadow with people, booths and causes, isn't expected to be the park's biggest weekend gathering. That honor probably will go to the Dave Matthews Band today when they play a free show expected to draw 60,000 people.


In addition to Spearhead, Saturday's show featured String Cheese Incident, Gift of Gab, John Butler Trio and Xavier Rudd -- alternative performers with a big enough combined following to turn the area into a giant traffic jam. No one seemed to care. The weather was great and the vibe mostly positive, outside of many, many anti-Bush products available. Everyone was on the same political page.


"Too often the so-called progressive lefties will spend their time carrying signs in masses, and there's not enough emphasis on celebrating," said Weyland Southon, host of KPFA's "Hard Knock Radio" and Saturday's emcee. "There's not enough art and entertainment in the mix. This year there's more of an urgency around these issues, because Bush has got to go."


Finding a dissenter in the masses was difficult. The closest was a San Franciscan wearing an "NYPD" shirt in support of police in his native New York on the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.


"There's peaceful people here, but there's also hostility," said Craig Solomon, a moderate who doesn't support Bush. "There's definitely anti-American sentiment here and it does bother me a little bit. It's a strange vibe. People here don't get it. If the No. 7 bus went down Haight Street and blew up, they might have a different perspective."


Not Concord radical Frank Running Horse, a fixture of social activism at Pleasant Hill's Diablo Valley College since 1973. Running Horse came to the festival with about 200 sign-toting marchers, demanding the government tell "the truth" about what happened three years ago.


"This festival is about the oppressed," he said, adding that the "political meter here is far to the left of liberal. It's not a question of how these people vote. It's a question of whether they get everyone energized and get out the vote."


Camejo and Kucinich spoke between acts, as did young local poets, who got some of the best response from the enthusiastic and well-behaved crowd. When technical difficulties late in the afternoon delayed sets from String Cheese and Spearhead, the crowd got out drums and made its own music.


"Events like this are about spreading a good vibe," said String Cheese fiddler and mandolinist Michael Kang. "Anyone who comes here can feel that, no matter their politics."

 
 

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