with Michael Franti
Saturday, June 1, 2012
By Scott Gudell
It was day one of the 2012 outdoor concert series at CMAC and the weather decided to make itself known. Rain, wind and nature in general decided to challenge those that showed up that evening. But audience and performers bonded together and helped create a positive, memorable evening.
Michael Franti, whose addictive mix of hip hop, reggae, funk and more, bounded onto the stage…he was barefoot as usual…and immediately lifted the spirits of the audience. He was determined to shine even as the skies remained damp and cloudy. He invited audience members to join him onstage. He danced through the aisles and ventured beyond the safety of the pavilion’s embryonic overhang. He sprinted out to the furthest point of the lawn to personally greet even more audience members. Later, he worked his way up the stairs to pay homage to the chosen elite that inhabit the balcony. If he could have found a way to ascend higher, he would have.
His song messages are about universal love, co-existing and understanding other. His messages are about working hard to not only truly love a woman but to love all of the brothers and sisters he has on the planet…and beyond. With the aid of a tight, energetic band, Franti continuously sent positive messages to all that would listen. As an artist who believes in human rights and the quest for peace and freedom, each song compounded his faith mankind. Truly a powerful musical ambassador.
Then it was time for the veteran whom I last saw decades ago at the exact same venue with opening act Jimmy Cliff delivering similar positive vibes that Franti radiated (and Cliff was probably an inspiration for Franti.) Brit Steve Winwood settled in behind his vintage organ and delivered “I’m A Man,” one of his earliest hits from when he sang with the Spencer Davis Group in the 1960’s. A few moments later, Winwood and company launched into classics such as “I Can’t Find My Way Home” (Blind Faith), “Higher Love” (which showcased Winwood, now on guitar, on an extended solo), “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” and “Light Up Or Leave Me Alone” (both Traffic songs) and more.
Although many of the songs were from decades ago, the group was determined to keep things fresh. “Light Up…,” for example, had a fierce street groove pulsating through it while Winwood, back at the organ, invited each band member to present extended, creative solos. As with his later Traffic days, Winwood eschewed the simple bass/drum/guitar rock formula and was supported by bass/congas/sax/clarinet/drums and flute as the group settled into a creative spot somewhere between rock standards and jazz improv. Although there will always be hints of Ray Charles soul, Winwood and company still charted their own course of high energy music. After a break and an encore, Steve Winwood exited CMAC once again.