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Taken from Edmonton SUN (August 13, 2007)

Franti challenges...

But last night's crowd didn't rise to it


Michael Franti
Michael Franti performs with his band Spearhead on mainstage last night at the Edmonton folk festival in Gallagher Park. (Tim Smith/Special to Sun Media)

Buffy Sainte-Marie talks about "a magical weekend." Her voice sounds sweet, for sure. It quavers, envelops. She looks iconic and all.

Wish I could tell you more, but deadlines and all ...

Earlier, Michael Franti, challenges us to "take the great risk of peace" - this, reiterated, was the most important idea of the '60s, fitting for our folk fest crowd. And though - or perhaps because- we're more cynical now, it's actually even more important these days - though try telling that to anyone defaulting on a mortgage.

Music and politics, together again! For this reason, I love the idea of the folk fest, in full force on the hill last night. Yet in a crowd that's supposed to be hippy through and though, this sort of overtly defiant politicking fell flat. Just look around you among the Volkswagen ads and more rules than ever - the ideals are just not here. At least the beer glasses are bigger than ever.

Franti and his band Spearhead brought us all a Mountain Equipment Co-op kind of reggae; namely, one with lots of instruction on how to enjoy it, how to dance, how to clap louder, how to react in specific and various ways to the government that few of the tarp-crouchers ever, ever will - except in dinner party conversation. We are, after all, busy with our own lives and real estate agents.

But it's Sunday night on the folk fest hill! Isn't there something sacred here? Scenes of such glory have preceded us - just for fun I'll pick David Byrne as one of the finest and forget about Norah "Snorah" Jones.

Well, here it is. Franti, up there right now doing a medley of the Sesame Street theme, C Is for Cookie and Kermit the Frog's Why Are There So Many Songs About Rainbows, though hitting us on a certain nostalgic level, just don't etch anything into stone for all time. With, uh, Muppet songs. To say the least.

There was a lot of that kind of talk at this year's folk fest - not just bitchy critics comparing our lineup to Calgary's, but a widespread unease; it had people excusing their absence from Blue Rodeo yet again, pointing out that last night's Ozomatli - named after an Aztec monkey and being a fair representation of commercial Mexican worldbeat - was one of the best thing they'd seen. I liked 'em, for sure.

Franti, later, pulled off a twisted cover of Lady Madonna, brought out the funk as the crowd seemed to demand it but, man, there just wasn't really anything interesting or compelling up to Buffy Sainte-Marie.

Ozomatli did have better luck, but, seriously, how many of their records do you have? None, right? Not to get into a long debate about commercial success, but though the band has won Grammys, they don't really mean all that much to us an audience.

Nor could they blow us away with a sound as alive as, for example, Gogol Bordello, Uz Jsme Doma or - why not - NoMeansNo. Named after an Aztec monkey god is a definite checkmark - so is the fact they can turn the repetition of "let the good times roll" over some drum beats turn into a genuinely moving song. But they, like the band that played before them Ollabelle, lacked a determined centre. Because both bands that begin with "O" are buffet bands - acts that try for a half dozen styles without coming up with their own - we're kind of left with nothing memorable. They could do everything except ... anything original.

Man, I hate being hard on the folk fest. For one thing, it's a boring stance, but why is that? Because it keeps happening over and over again.

Of course, like sex or pretty much anything you dub "boring," it's all up to you to have a good time, right? And so, for the record, this year's folk fest was a great time - despite the redundant lineup.

Still, with near-sellout crowds, we get what we deserve.

To take Franti's line, we should be more involved in the world around us. The other side to that argument, of course, is that they really could bring in Smog or Neko Case and sell out, too. Or even the final gasps of local Our Mercury - as a good friend of mine pointed out. Soulful, awesome.

The opener on the mainstage, Ollabelle, I barely want to talk about. Trapped somewhere between Alannah Myles' Black Velvet and Ricky Skaggs, we have again an example of a band who just doesn't know how to define themselves as artists.

It's a cruel world when it comes to this kind of thing, but then again, Franti, despite rocking at the end, came off as no more original than Chumbawamba with his "Hey now, you're a rock star" soundtrack funkiness.

Bill Bourne on his own, seriously, was the best part of the night - straying bravely away from adult contemporary, faded '80s hits and all things Boomer.

Like I said, though - dull lineup, great fun. As ever.


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