Taken from Philadelphia Daily News (Feb. 19, 2010)
Fran-tastic! Peacemaker Michael Franti opens for John Mayer at the Wachovia
by JONATHAN TAKIFF, Philadelphia Daily News
John Mayer has, of late, taken knocks for statements
in a "Playboy" interview.
Having Michael Franti open for him shows his true self.
OK, SO MAYBE John Mayer isn't the savviest spin doctor when it comes to giving interviews. And maybe the 32-year-old pop star devotes too much attention in his recent, much fraught-over magazine chat to discussion of celebrity girlfriends, sleeping around and self-gratification.
But this laid-back pop rocker has always been about hanging loose and telling it like he sees it - even when he puts himself in an unflattering light.
And if you actually read what Mayer's got to say in the March issue of Playboy about gaining acceptance from African-American musicians, or about the dichotomy between his "Benetton heart" and his more traditional sexual preferences (which he describes in terms this writer interprets as comically self-deprecating), it's clear that the guy's heart is in a decent place. And that he's been unfairly raked over the coals by gossipmongers, especially for dropping the N-word.
Need another sign of Mayer's good intentions?
Please to note his choice of opening act for the "Battle Studies" tour coming to the Wachovia Center on Sunday.
Michael Franti is one of the most righteous dudes in contemporary music today, using his art to bring the peoples of the world together. He's all about ending political, religious and racial discord, eliminating poverty and hunger "through consensus." The last thing on his mind is being just another pop star, "just the beat of the week."
Jeez, the guy even went into Middle East war zones (Israel; Baghdad, Iraq; the West Bank; and the Gaza Strip) a few years back to tune up the dialogue with his guitar and came away with a compelling documentary film, "I Know I'm Not Alone," and a companion album, "Yell Fire!" that explores the human cost of war.
"The studios would have nothing to do with the film," he admitted in a recent chat. "So we set up a unique, grass-roots distribution system to get it out - people having screening parties in their homes. Ironically, the DVD wound up being my biggest seller, until this year."
Now, after a mere 24 years on the case, Franti is finally gaining the recognition he deserves, with solid radio play and apt exposure on Mayer's tour.
"This is a win-win all around," Franti shared a few weeks ago, before all that hell started breaking loose for Mayer. (A local group, Racial Unity USA, has said that it plans to protest outside the Wachovia Sunday.)
"John was looking for somebody to open the show who was compatible musically with his stuff, who would connect to his audience and at the same time bring in some new listeners. That's me. My following is all over the map - young to old, racially mixed, straight and gay."
All kinds of blood flows through Michael Franti's veins: African, Native American, Irish, French and German. His adoptive parents are of Finnish-American descent.
Franti's music is similarly eclectic. Those who tuned in early recall the harsher, fist-clenched protest of his industrial punk band the Beatnigs, then the hip-hop-industrial Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, which also featured jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter and electronic musicians Mark Pistel (Consolidated) and Jack Dangers (Meat Beat Manifesto). The Heroes made some noise opening for U2 on their "Zoo TV" tour.
Since forming his current group Spearhead in 1994, Franti has learned that he can make more friends with sugar than salt, with subtly despairing or rallying messages rather than harsh shout-outs.
He's gradually shifted musical gears, too, embracing a mash-up of mellower soul, funk and hip-hop with a big scoop of groove and spirit-raising reggae on top that leads to inevitable comparisons with Bob Marley and Stevie Wonder.
"There's so much music today, dance music, that's made electronically. But reggae is a dance music that's made with live instruments," Franti underscored. "That's what's always drawn me to it. I've always wanted to be with a band, not just a DJ and a rapper."
Spearhead got off on a good foot, recalled the musician, recording their first couple of albums in Philly with producers Joe "The Butcher" Nicolo, Phil Nicolo and Scott Storch.
This past summer, Franti and Spearhead finally scored a big breakthrough with his sunshine-and-light-groovin' "Say Hey (I Love You)," off the 2008 album "All Rebel Rockers," recorded largely in Jamaica with ace producers Sly and Robbie.
In fact, the buzz for that track actually started with "a little run on triple A stations [including Philly's WXPN-FM] in September 2008," he recalled. "As the weather turned cold, they stopped playing it. Then last spring, a few Top 40 stations in smaller markets like Salt Lake City and Green Bay started playing it and got such incredible reactions that other stations picked it up. By the summer, it was on at every beach party and barbecue in America."
Today the track has surpassed "double platinum," with more than 2 million sold.
There are lots more goodies on the "Rebel Rockers" set that you could also be getting into - from the infectious shout-out to 6-billion-strong, "Hey World," and reggae-globe-hopping "Rude Boys Back in Town" to the gentle, count-your-blessings "All I Want Is You."
A new album continuing the sonic/lyrical themes is now in the works.
Oh, and didja know that Franti has another local connection? Philadelphia Phillies centerfielder Shane Victorino uses the Michael Franti & Spearhead song "Light Up Ya Lighter" (from the "Yell Fire!" album) as his batter walk-up music.
"That's such a cool thing," said the artist. "It's a really anthemic song, perfect for playing in a stadium, and it's also become kind of the theme song for a lot of soldiers in Iraq."
Wachovia Center, 3601 S. Broad St., 7 p.m. Sunday, $51-$76, 800-298-4200, http://www.comcasttix.com/.