On Scene: Socially conscious success


— Before he showed up on the 2008 Free Summer Concert Series lineup, the only thing I knew about Michael Franti was that a promotional copy of his 2006 release, "Yell Fire!," sat on the floor of my Jeep for 10 months before I sold it to a used record store.

I never opened it. And after Franti's set Friday at the free concerts, I can see that wasn't the best choice.

I also can see why the record store clerk eagerly chose Franti over I'm From Barcelona's "Let Me Introduce My Friends." Apparently, Franti's blend of hip-hop, reggae and rock has wider appeal than the joyful choruses of a Swedish indie rock collective. Go figure.

Although I've only been to three of them, each Free Summer Concert I've made it to has been, in some way, a surprise. There's the shock of how many people turn out for it. And then there's the joy of discovering something you didn't know you liked, and making that discovery with 5,000 people who are all glad it's Friday.

Franti - who started his music career in hip-hop, and started his free concert with a hefty dose of socially conscious messages - is the ultimate outdoor concert performer. He demands that the audience jump through the majority of each 12-minute song. His love of roots reggae and 1960s radio pop combine to make something that is, in every way, ridiculously danceable. And his messages - applied to music rather than song-break stands on politics and the state of the world - make paying attention to his lyrics a worthwhile effort.

Especially on his newer stuff, there's a conscious pop nostalgia in Franti's music that moves it past its roots into its own sound. Think of it as the audience-affect equivalent of one of his late-set covers, "Dancing in the Moonlight." This is a song that everyone older than 5 knows, and is written by a band called King Harvest, which no one younger than 40 knows.

Those two factors are like Franti's music: We know the sound, and we know we like it, and we don't really care or need to know where it came from.

Franti has a keen understanding of what his audience wants to hear, and as long as he delivers it, he can say whatever he wants. And for a free concert, that's perfect.

- Margaret Hair, 4 Points


kingharvest 8 years, 9 months ago


Thank you for your reference to Dancing in the Moonlight. Just to give credit where credit is due, DITM was written by Sherman Kelly, an old friend of ours from Ithaca, NY, who did play with us for a while after DITM became a hit in the US.

Last year we opened a My Space page and I continue to be amazed that, as you say, our audience continues to grow with kids from 6 to 60.

It is a "supernatural delight"

All the best,

Rod Novak King Harvest


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