The Sound of Sunshine Reigns at Sunfest Day 4

Story by Sheldon Robertson  - Reggae Reflection Correspondent
Photos and Feature by Empress K  - Editor at Reggae Reflection
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To say that dreadlocked  frontman Michael Franti put on a high-energy show is an understatement.  As the band launched into the title track of their 2003 release Everyone Deserves Music, the barefoot vocalist bounded on to the stage, exhorting the audience to jump along with him. A minute later he was leaping offstage to lead a sing-along while wandering through the crowd.

Michael Franti joins the fans

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Franti returned to the stage to strap on a leopard-print acoustic guitar which he strummed on most songs from that point on. Bandmates consisted of lead guitarist J Bowman, keyboardist Raliegh J. Neal II, bassist  Carl Young and Nigerian drummer Manas Itiene. 

Throughout the set the music was consistently upbeat and positive. The uptempo rocker  “I Will Always Be The One” was followed by the title track for  2010’s “Sound of Sunshine”, Franti’s most recent release.  As beach balls bounced around the crowd and girls in the audience whirled with hula hoops, Franti took another excursion into the crowd. This time he was accompanied by both his guitar and his lead guitarist. Like Franti, Bowman was clad in camouflage pants.


Beach Balls and Hula Hoops common sights of the day

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Back onstage, Franti took video of the crowd to show off the nice weather to his friends back home in San Francisco, where he said the weather was rainy and grey. He then launched into a new reggae tune “Earth from Outer Space.”

More upbeat material followed (“Hey Hey Hey”,“Life Is Better With You”) and more audience interaction (Franti brought fans onstage to mime playing guitars). Then after the U2-like rocker  “I’ll Be Waiting” Franti played his best-known hit : “Say Hey (I Love You)”  from 2008’s Sly-and-Robbie-produced All Rebel Rocker.  As to be expected, the radio staple was warmly received by the audience, who sang along even as the song lurched into a sped-up ending.


Michael Franti & Spearhead Fans soaking up the sun

SOJA Soldiers of Jah Army at Sunfest

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SOJA (AKA Soldiers Of Jah Army) is a reggae band from Virginia whose non-stop international touring has garnered them a Grateful-Dead-like following. So undoubtedly some in the crowd watching the 7-piece white-dread outfit on that scorching Sunfest Saturday had probably  followed the band in from another town.



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SOJA  took to the main Sunfest stage mid-afternoon to performs songs from their various releases.  “Sorry” (from 2006’s Get Wiser) proved to be a great showcase for the band’s horn section,  trumpet player Rafael Rodriguez (spotted playing along with Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up” pre-set) and saxophonist Hellman Escorcia (who wore a T-shirt with the logo “Rastafari”). “Strength To Survive” is the  title track of their current album,  the band’s 4th  release but its first for Dave Matthews’ ATO label. Most lead vocals are handled by lead guitarist and band founder Jacob Hemphill, but co-founder/bassist Bobby Lee brought a deep gravelly delivery to  “Here I Am” (from 2009’s Born In Babylon).  The band also performed “I Don’t Wanna Wait” from the same album.



Soldiers of Jah Army out in full force at Sunfest

Sheldon Robertson is a freelance music writer covering the South Florida music scene for his blog The Music Type(http://themusictype.wordpress.com)

Check the slide show below for the full gallery of photos