Summer solstice is Wednesday, a time for Alaskans to get outside, play and absorb some desperately needed vitamin D. Moose's Tooth is taking advantage of the extra daylight hours with its annual outdoor solstice concert, which this year features the sunny sounds of Michael Franti and his band Spearhead.
"Music is sunshine," Franti said on his website. "Like sunshine, music is a powerful force that can instantly and almost chemically change your entire mood. Music gives us new energy and a stronger sense of purpose."
Born in Oakland, Calif., the 46-year-old musician, poet and barefoot activist promotes music as the great human equalizer. Many of his songs take on controversial issues like the death penalty, climate change, globalization and war. His first band, The Beatnigs, and later his group The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, used industrial punk rock and hip-hop to voice opposition to injustice.
Formed in 1994, Michael Franti and Spearhead continue the tradition of candidly addressing current social issues, but the band relies more on resonant rock chords and Franti's soulful voice. The group's debut album, "Home," featured prominent veins of funk and soul, while the most recent album -- fittingly titled "The Sound of Sunshine" -- conjures images of laid-back days on the beach, with a sound that also touches on reggae and folk.
The group has made multiple appearances on programs like "Democracy Now," and Franti has received the Domestic Human Rights Award from Global Exchange. Lyrics from the group's anthem "Bomb the World" are now scrawled on T-shirts and bumper stickers the world over ("You can bomb the world to pieces, but you can't bomb the world to peace").
Franti's advocacy also carries over to his yearly Power to the Peaceful music festival in San Francisco, and in 2005, he journeyed to war zones in the Middle East to see the effects of battle firsthand. He traveled with a few friends, a video camera and a guitar and recorded his time in Palestine, Israel and Iraq, eventually producing the documentary "I Know I'm Not Alone: A Musician's Search for the Human Cost of War."
"It was pretty simple," Franti said in a CBC television interview in 2006, shortly after the film was released. "I didn't want to talk to generals or politicians because I got sick of seeing that on the news every night, having this war explained to me with high-tech graphics and charts and stuff. I wanted to see what life was like for people -- for everyday people."
The film shows footage of Franti playing music with children in the street, in hospitals and with American soldiers.
"We all have a responsibility as human beings to try to be as aware as we can of what's happening in the world and to change our part of the world," Franti said in the same CBC interview. "So that's what I did -- I went there with a guitar. I didn't go there on a peace mission; I went there to sing songs for people on the street because it's what I know how to do."
"To play for people and share your songs with them is to make a real connection," said Franti on his website. "That's why we play (surprise) shows for those who can't afford to come inside. They need the songs too -- maybe more."
Michael Franti and Spearhead bring positive vibes to Moose's Tooth's solstice concert