Michael Franti launches summer concert season
Michael Franti kicks off the season with energetic performance at Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater
“Live music is back, y’all,” Michael Franti shouted jubilantly to the audience Friday night at Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater.
He had promised that live music, hugs, dancing, gatherings, art and culture would return in the title track and video of his latest album, “Work Hard & Be Nice,” and he ushered it all in like a refreshing rainstorm after a very, very long drought.
Michael Franti and Spearhead played their hearts out, and the crowd ate it up: Few sat down during the continuous 2 ½ hour show.
Satsang opened the night, fusing classic country and modern Americana into themes revolving around letting go and being fully present. After a few great tunes, vocalist and guitarist Drew McManus asked everyone to raise their arms to the sky and, with a scream, let go of anything they no longer wanted. And scream they did. The release set off a nearly three-hour celebration of life and love and music and open-air dancing.
Michael Franti and Spearhead took the stage with the rousing reggae beats of “Just to Say I Love You.” He talked about the “devastation” of finding out his tour was canceled for “one whole month” at the beginning of the pandemic, then launched into “The Sound of Sunshine” as crowds raised their hands and jumped up and down. Throughout the night, an atmosphere of gratitude, relief, release and pure joy infused the Ford Amphitheater.
In his signature style of reaching out, encouraging community spirit and simply having a blast, Franti walked through the aisles, through the full lawn and up to the very top of general admission seating, singing, hugging and interacting with fans. Furthering the celebratory atmosphere everyone helped create, a group sitting in the lawn held up cards that alternately read: “Love Deeper “and “I’m Alive.”
Franti also promoted a sense of community by inviting kids and a few adults on stage, including Vail Valley locals Gretchen Pleshaw and Jeff Chizmadia, who got engaged in January in Beaver Creek and picked up their marriage license a couple hours before Friday’s show. Chizmadia proposed again, this time for all of Vail to witness.
“I have been to many Michael Franti shows and met him numerous times — he is such an incredibly loving and sweet soul,” Pleshaw said. “When he saw us in the audience, I pointed to my ring to let him know we were engaged, and that’s how we were celebrating — by being around our friends and positive, amazing souls dancing to live music. Because of COVID, we couldn’t share the (engagement) moment with our friends, and it was great to finally be around everyone and share the excitement with them. We have all been missing being together, dancing, hugging and celebrating in general because of COVID, so this moment was so very special. I was overwhelmed with emotion and love, and it is a moment that will be tattooed across our hearts forever. We thought it was so beyond kind of Michael to give us that moment that we will never forget.”
Sprinkled in-between tunes, Franti reflected on the effects of the pandemic.
“From one breath of a person who had the virus first, it literally spread to (affect) every single person on the planet, and I also thought, well if that’s true, then maybe it can be true that if one person does one good thing for somebody else … that that same thing can happen and spread all around the world as well,” he said, talking about how the pandemic allowed us to take time to contemplate how we show up for family, neighbors and the planet. “Thank you all for being examples of that kind of love and that commitment to making the world a better place for every single person every single day.”
He choked up talking about deaths from COVID-19, including his own biological father’s. He brought tears to some in the audience as he performed “Flower in the Gun” while scrolling a long list of mass shootings, with locations and dates, since Columbine. Then, he literally got the place jumpin’ with more of his feel-good tunes, like “My Lord.”
“Something I learned about during the pandemic was just that sometimes when you get so stressed out, you feel like, ‘man, there’s just nothing you have,’ sometimes you just have to do something and just lay it all down and let it all go away. You got to just go out in the woods and scream. You gotta run. You gotta put on some Michael Franti and Spearhead music really loud and jump up and down,” he said, giving the audience an opportunity to let it all go with “Lay It All Down.”
All night, the show acted as a testament to the power of the human spirit to endure hardships and come out the other side, singing, dancing and sharing the joy of live music.