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Sunday, Aug. 3, 2003

Michael Franti: a man for all stages


Michael Franti was the man of the festival, the one artist who embodied the spirit of Fuji Rock better than anyone else. As tall as a basketball player and sporting wild dreads that reach the middle of his back, he was seen everywhere -- dancing with the crowd at the Talib Kweli show, hanging out backstage at the Red Marquee during The Music's set, checking out the food stalls, doing some disco karaoke at the Net Cafe -- all in his famously bare feet, which must have walked through a lot of mud this weekend. Franti started out in the San Francisco Bay Area hip-hop collective The Beatnigs, which eventually morphed into the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy.

With his new funk group, Spearhead, Franti marries his serious political concerns to a much sunnier musical style without compromising. Philosophically and stylistically, Franti and Spearhead fit the festival vibe perfectly. He talked with everyone he met, and was clearly at home in the festival atmosphere. Though he could hardly blend in, he identified with the crowd more than with the other artists, most of whom stayed only long enough to play.

And he gave it all back early Monday morning with arguably the best performance of the festival, a glorious, funkified rock 'n' rap show that had the Red Marquee pulsing and jumping as he vented his bile at militarism and intolerance. "You don't know how good it feels to get out of the U.S. for a little while," he said, indirectly indicating that the folks he rails against would likely find the Fuji Rock Festival amusing and repugnant. "All the freaky people make the beauty of the world" was his mantra. For three full days, freaky people were the world, and he was King Freak.



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