Photos by Jim Mimna
The Scene: The sold-out Michael Franti and Spearhead show at Red Rocks on Friday night reminded me of everything I love about Colorado. I had just spent three weeks in upstate NY with too much rain and too little music, so this show was much needed. Red Rocks is beautiful year-round no matter the weather, but certain nights on The Rocks are just spectacular and this was one of those. The clear skies and cool night breeze sweeping in after a warm day was the perfect way to end a workweek for most, but for me, it was the perfect way to return to a place I call home…Colorado’s live music scene.
The crowd was one of the most energetic, beautiful, and radiant I had seen in a while, and we all welcomed summer with dancing feet and hands raised to the sky. I saw dreadlocks, flip flops, cowboy hats, and high wedged heels. There were dancing girls in summer skirts with exposed belly’s and backless shirts jumping with hands in the air and the corners of their mouths to the sky. Children, baby boomers, young professionals and barefoot undergrads danced next to each other as beach balls flew through the air. This entire show was nothing but 100% fun from start to finish and the audience was committed to having the time of their lives. I hadn’t seen Michael Franti live in over 8 years, and I was amazed at the size and dedication of the crowd. Selling out Red Rocks, and making people feel like all their worries are gone, is no easy task but damn did Franti make it look like it was the most effortless and natural thing for him to do. Franti doesn’t just perform to a crowd, he transforms them and transports them to the happy place that some people can only enter a few hours a month. I never considered myself a big Franti fan, but he got me into my happy place by the second song, and I stayed there till the end. This show was simply “the sound of sunshine coming down”.
The Opener: Zach Heckendorf. 19 year old Denver native Zach Heckendorf was meant to warm the crowd up, but I do believe he brought them to a full boil. This kid and his band tore through some great material, and even though something about his sound seemed very familiar, it was also totally unique. If you like Dave Matthews, Jack Johnson, or Brett Dennen, then you will absolutely love this guy. Positive, energetic, and original, Heckendorf has shared stages with some huge names, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was head-lining Red Rocks within the next few years. For a crowd to erupt in cheers as hearty as the ones he got would have floored a seasoned veteran, so I can only imagine what it did to a young hometown boy. Strong work Mr. Heckendorf!
Michael Franti and Spearhead: Franti started the night off with “East to the West” and the bass rumbled the rocks. The whole set was bass heavy, but it was done just right. Feeling the music sometimes means literally feeling the music…you dig? The song “Everyone Deserves Music” is simply written, yet contains a powerful message. I would say the same about most of Franti’s songs. He doesn’t write deep and cryptically poetic lyrics, rather he makes straight forward statements that cut through all the bull and make it easy to connect to the words immediately. Franti is the voice of revolution, and not just the social revolution he speaks of in some songs, but the revolution of a joy filled life. “Yes I Will” and “Sound of Sunshine” focus more on that inward revolution, and “Sound of Sunshine” was the song that described the whole night, and Franti’s music as a whole.
“Ganja Babe” was the first song I ever heard by Franti, way back in 2003. I was living in Manhattan at the time, where Sex and The City had nearly every woman on the street in pointy toed heels, and that song made me scan for the elusive ganja babe in a crowd of Cosmo ladies. I visited Colorado a year later, and I saw flip-flops instead of Manolo’s, and girls drank beer. I moved here two weeks later and this Michael Franti show reminded me of all the reasons I made that decision.
Franti played more politically charged songs like “Yell Fire” while the happy and secure Colorado crowd danced and put their hand in the air, singing along to a song that they should actually be afraid of. The crowd may have been part of the 99%, but the more fortunate part of that large number. The truly oppressed and suffering can’t afford a Red Rocks ticket. So, when you bounce up and down to Franti’s music, don’t lose sight of the message, and be grateful to be able to attend a show like his.
After closing the night out with “I’ll Be Waiting,” he returned to the stage for an encore of “Say Hey” and “Long Way Home.” I couldn’t think of a better way to kick off the summer than attending a Red Rocks show on a night as beautiful and fun filled as last Friday. Franti had us dancing with joy in our hearts, and hopefully thinking on subjects we don’t always address. Reggae was a sound of revolution brought to the masses, and artists like Bob Marley wrote songs that were full of optimism, sunshine and hope while painting true pictures of pain and despair at the same time. Franti is following that tradition by keeping both love of life and the need for change in the forefront…all while making you have the time of your life!
Stage Presence: A+
Set/Light show: A-