Taken from PoughkeepsieJournal (Nov 3, 2006)
Let the fire inspire
Michael Franti & Spearhead bring their high-energy sound to city
by John W. Barry, Poughkeepsie Journal
Musician Michael Franti and his band Spearhead
usually get the crowd jumping to its feet.
He does not stand, he towers.
At 6 feet, 6 inches tall, San Francisco-based singer-songwriter Michael Franti is one inch shorter than former NBA star Julius "Dr. J" Erving. Draped in dread locks, Franti often performs barefoot.
He loves to jump up and down on stage while singing, for what seems like intervals that last several minutes long.
Typically, hundreds, and at times thousands, of fans — depending on the size of the venue he is playing — join in for a group jump. It's part pre-school recess, high school varsity gymnastics match and midnight exorcism.
Franti sings tender songs about raw emotions. But he also takes on such global issues as war, racism and religious intolerance. On his latest album, he stokes emotions by embracing the literary, environmental and biblical icon of fire.
Franti next Thursday will bring his band Spearhead to Poughkeepsie for a sold-out concert at The Chance.
"He is one of those human beings who, you use the word beautiful to describe and it doesn't relate to his physical attributes," said Jimmy Buff, program director and midday host on WDST (100.1 FM), who has interviewed Franti and seen him perform live. "He just exudes goodness. His performances are unbelievable, just filled with, and I hate to sound cliched, but positive energy through and through."
Franti will arrive in Poughkeepsie — for a concert being staged by WDST — on a tour supporting his most recent collection of songs, "Yell Fire!"
"There is the old expression, 'don't yell fire in a crowded theater,' meaning if you stand up and scream 'fire,' you're going to alarm people unnecessarily," Franti said this week during a telephone interview with the Journal. "Now is the time we need to be standing up to say there is this fire taking place in the world and we need to put it out — the fire of the wars that are raging; the fire of our dependence on oil, which then leads to these wars; and global warming and the pollution of our food supply. ... People need to be talking about this around the water cooler at work, their dinner table."
Franti got a first-hand look at the fire in 2004, when he toured three parts of the world directly affected by war — Baghdad, Iraq; the West Bank; and Gaza Strip. He brought along a film crew and in July released, "I Know I'm Not Alone," a documentary that shares its title with a track on "Yell Fire!"
While in the Middle East, Franti saw entire city blocks that had been destroyed by bombs and children playing in rubble.
"I didn't have illusions that I was going to go over there and save the world," Franti said. "I just went there thinking, if I can play music for people, like I do all around the world in concert halls, that people will open up and tell their story, and that's what I wanted to hear. In terms of making the film, my goal was not to change minds, just to try and open minds."
Art in the valley
Franti's reach extends around the world, but his stop in Poughkeepsie will bring him back to a region of the United States of which he is particularly fond. Franti has performed many times in the Hudson Valley, including a concert at The Chance with Ziggy Marley in 2004 and more recently, in June at Hunter Mountain in the Catskills.
Franti even mentions "Woodstockers" in his song, "Hello Bonjour."
"I'm fascinated by the history," said this father of two boys, ages 19 and 7.
"I thought the history of art began with the concert that everyone knows about," Franti said, referring to the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair. "But I learned that no, there was an artistic community long, long before that ... I think it's an important place in American history and American art. Every time I go there I learn a little bit more about it."
While in Poughkeepsie, as he does at each stop on a tour, Franti will seek out a local yoga instructor willing to lead a class in exchange for a concert ticket. He also hopes to play a little indoor soccer before the show with his fellow road warriors, a tradition that sometimes occurs inside concert halls.
At show time, this native of Oakland, Calif., who grew up in Davis, Calif,. and has lived in San Francisco since 1984, will attempt to approach anew a ritual in which he has engaged thousands of times.
"It never gets old," he said of performing. "We try to do it different every night. I'm on a quest, a personal quest as an artist to, every day, write lyrics and try to find new ways to inspire people."