Published Sep 17, 2016Michael Franti & Spearhead headlined at Rifflandia's main open-air stage Friday night (September 16) to a very stoked crowd. His typically friendly rock-reggae suited the all-ages venue perfectly, booming out messages of peace, love and brotherhood across the surrounding neighbourhoods. Unabashedly dressed in camo-pants and bare feet, he danced and jumped across the stage with the energy of a much younger man. It was all good, for a while.
After that, it wasn't spectacularly entertaining — just another set of large festival stage-friendly music, preaching to the converted choir of self-proclaimed present-moment freaks.
Admittedly, it was hard not to like the man — the songs were catchy, the stage gimmicks timed correctly, the set varied. Especially hard not to like was Franti's propensity to play from a raised platform in the middle of the crowd, with a wireless, hands-free microphone, like a pop star. Bringing the random members of the audience up to sing with him also boosted the smile factor, even if he sang flat half of the time.
The story Franti tells, however, is fairly one-sided and reductive. In a phrase: "It's all good." Popular maxims of loving one another, living in the now, practicing gratitude and recognizing the sentience of all living beings featured heavily in his songs. Right on.
One thing though: as the crowds filed out at the end of the set — lighting up cigarettes, shouting over one another and almost getting run over by traffic — and headed toward the darker, grimier night venues, it was hard not to ponder how much good this had all done. Was Franti helping us to stay on the bright side, or had he covered over vital truths about the world's current state with fluffy minivan-friendly techno-reggae? It's a question that remains unanswered. At least most seemed to enjoy the escape.