By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star
Michael Franti and Spearhead, Sun Down Stage
Michael Franti brought his political party to Wakarusa Sunday night. Its platform is both progressive and accessible: share love, be honest, bring the troops home and, oh yeah, have fun.
Franti was backed by his five-piece band Spearhead, and within moments of taking the stage had the masses jumping, waving, clapping and singing on cue. The 90-minute show leaned heavily toward the group’s newest release, “Yell Fire,” and its kinetic energy rarely waned. With barely a pause between songs, Franti’s mix of dub, soul, rock and smatterings of country topped by his spoken/rapped leftist lyrics created a fervor and energy unseen in the political arena by the newest voting generation.
Spearhead’s platform was augmented by a couple of well-placed covers. A medley of “Get Up, Stand Up/Stir It Up” drew great applause, but was dwarfed by the reception for “What I Got.” The Sublime cover was wrapped around a medley of the Sesame Street theme, “The Rainbow Connection” and Cookie Monster’s trademark “C is For Cookie” that Franti said was the high point of a recent gig in San Quinten prison.
The show ended with a stunt guaranteed to put Franti’s already-high approval rating through the roof with at least half the audience when 10 topless, body-painted women joined the band onstage. It was a move no other political party would dare to attempt.
Medeski, Martin and Wood, Sundown Stage
Medeski, Martin and Wood, the most democratically named band since Crosby, Stills and Nash, opened their 80-minute set with a frenzied cacophony of mashed organ keys and frenetic drumming joined by a rock-solid bass line that didn’t let up for 20 minutes.
So much for a soft opening.
Few bands can pull this off without getting monotonous, but more than 15 years of playing hundreds of shows together annually have made the trio the tightest musical battery imaginable. Pockets of melody spring to life from improvisation before a nod of the head or flick of the wrist send the music spiraling off again.
MMW’s music is difficult to describe and impossible to classify. Suffice it to say they are one of the few groups to be greeted with open arms by the traditional fans at the Newport Jazz Festival and the jam fans at Bonnaroo.
Though they were not joined by guitarist John Scofield, who has been touring with the band, no one seemed to mind. A scan of the crowd revealed hundreds of heads locked into the band’s groove, bobbing in unison. Since the trio has no vocalist it’s as close to a sing-along as they’re likely to get.
The Greencards, Homegrown Tent
The Greencards won enough new fans with their mix of melancholy and up-tempo bluegrass music to have their visas renewed indefinitely.
The quartet’s sound split the difference between Old Crow Medicine Show and Allison Krauss and Union Station, but with Krauss’ sense of longing replacing Old Crow’s down-home humor.
Though they performed several original numbers, the absolute high point was a haunting cover of Patti Griffith’s “What You Are.” Anchored by a strummed mandolin and electric bass, singer Carol Young’s voice nailed the heartache and longing of the lyrics. The song built quietly in intensity with an acoustic guitar providing tender sympathy and touches of color from a violin. The applause from that number alone was enough to move the band through customs with no problems.
Wakarusa Music Festival (2008)
Wakarusa Music Festival (2006)