I've been pretty lucky this year getting out of ruts at the Capitol Theater in Madison, going to events there that were either free or so well worth the price that the expense was trivial. When the Dalai Lama appeared there in May I was the last person to get in without a ticket (Here's a story about the appearance. Here's another). I was in the fourteenth row, dead center. NPR news anchor Michele Norris spoke there on September 29, and again I was among the last people to get in before it was full.
Surprisingly, the best event there was this past Saturday, when I went to a concert by rock/reggae/hip-hop artist Michael Franti and his band Spearhead. The rock station I listen to, WMMM, gave his song Say Hey (I love you) a lot of play, and I wanted to see him do it live.
The concert started off at a pretty energetic level, but I was bored. I was thinking I was getting too old for this kind of thing, and didn't feel like being there. Then it kicked into high gear. The band was pretty animated, with members going out into the audience to play, and Franti disappearing, then reappearing in the balcony. He invited a couple of pretty heavy women onto the stage at one point to dance along with him as he sang. It was pretty amazing. I captured most of it with my little digital camera turned to video, but so far it is unplayable. It was the first time I made a video of anything, and I learned one little lesson: Stop between songs, or you get a huge file that is near-impossible to play back. (Any tips on how to resolve this are welcome).
At one point Michael Franti started a song with a few lines from the Grateful Dead's Casey Jones. Lest anyone think it is a pro-drug song, it's just metaphor, like all great songs. It was a strange coincidence for me, because I had been working on the song to do in my next attempt at Gomeroke.
During another song I was thinking how much his voice sounds like reggae legend Peter Tosh. A few tunes later he invited the opening act, Tamarama, to come out and help him with the song Tosh dueted with Mick Jagger, Walk & Don't Look Back. (Here's a video of a previous performance.)
Franti introduced a new song he has been working on, a testament to the varieties of love experienced by people. He talked about being part Irish, German, French, African-American, and Seminole. He also spoke about being given up for adoption, and how he enjoyed coming to Wisconsin because it is where his adoptive parents are from.
He performed his summertime hit, The Sound of Sunshine, to great audience delight.
He didn't take a break, and when it finally came time for the concert to end, I began to wonder if he was going to do Say Hey. Then I reverted to my stock answer about concerts. You pay your money down and take what you get. It's all good, so stay in the present, not second-guessing about how you want it to be.
His second encore song, the finale, was Say Hey (I love you). It was a slow lead-in, and the energy was building up like a thunder cloud. As he started going into the song he invited all children six years old and under onto the stage. That was pretty neat, I thought, as the stage filled up with little kids.
Then he called for everyone over sixty to come onstage. I thought, urk, I don't want to do this, but it would have been more embarrassing not to go up, so up I went, and soon was dancing on stage with a bunch of kids, some people my age, and Michael Franti and his band.
It was surreal. Michael Franti is six foot-six, and towered over everyone else on stage. He was really gracious, and at one point turned around and asked my how old I am. I told him sixty-five, which he repeated, and he then asked a couple of other people. One person was sixty-six, so I wasn't the oldest.
His bass player scooted in front of me, and was also very gracious. I had to put Kleenex in my ears, it was so loud. Everyone in the house was singing and dancing along with the music, and the energy in the building was incredible.
Then it was over. His piano player came over to me to thank me for coming up on stage. I was pretty stunned, and told him this was better than a Grateful Dead show. They are from San Francisco, and he was thankful. A woman hugged me on the way out.
"Wicked" was getting out at the main theater of the Overture Center at the same time the concert ended, so there was a contrast between the high-brow and low-brow audiences. I think we got the better of the deal.
I feel like I'm a different person. Concerts tend to be uplifting for me, as I wrote about in Altered States a few years ago. This was on a different level, taking me out of myself, out of my safety zone more than before. Hmm. I've gone out of my safety zone my whole life, but this was different. I've done a lot of risky things, some that almost cost me my life, but dancing and singing on stage in front of a crowd of people is beyond anything I ever would have attempted on my own.
We are fortunate to have these transformative experiences. I'm still reeling from the concert (and my ears are still ringing), and looking to move forward with what I learned from this. I took a class many years ago with the great Dick Olney called "Thinking in other categories." This was truly in a different category. Go see Michael Franti if you get a chance. You might get called on stage.
To view the video Michael Franti made after the show, click here.
This is one of the songs perfromed at the concert.
He did this song too. It's best with headphones. Two lead guitars! Here's another version. Then there's this acoustic version.
Here's an acoustic version of Say hey (I love you).
This video shows Michael Franti doing Walk and Don't Look Back, medleying into Casey Jones in a concert in 2009. Here's a version with "Counting Crows."
He did Say Hey last year in Santa Fe with kids on stage. See it here.
Here's a YouTube list of other Michael Franti songs.
For the words to Say Hey (I love you) click here. These guitar chords work. It seems to hint at capoing up one fret.
Here's a great live version of The Sound of Sunshine. And this, at the same concert, the 2010 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Tennessee. Here's an NPR story about Michael Franti at the Bonnaroo Festival, including the audio of the entire performance.
This is my favorite Peter Tosh song. In 1980 I lived in a house with the minions of Greenpeace Great Lakes in Ann Arbor. One of them had Peter Tosh's album "Mystic Man," and it played for many hours, kind of theme music for the group as they planned their latest shenanigans. They pulled a lot of stunts, going to Toronto to "jump the fence" at a nuclear plant, climbing a cooling tower at a huge coal plant in Hammond, Indiana (if I remember right), and something or other at a nuclear plant in legendary Rocky Flats, Colorado. Here's my second favorite Peter Tosh song.
This site links to a lot of transcripts of Dick Olney's workshops.
R.I.P. Solomon Burke. I wrote a little something about him here. For a more primordial version, click here.