By: Denise Bruhns
The Deer Valley Concert Series has officially begun! Sunday night marked the opening of the seven-show series that will take place throughout the summer. The series which is presented by Deer Valley Resort along with The State Room Presents takes place on the majestic resort at the foot of what in the winter would be a ski slope. If you’ve only been to Deer Valley in the winter you’d never know that once summer hits, this ski slope turns into the beautiful Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater. It’s the perfect place to escape the heat of the valley. It can get a little cool up on that hill, but what better way to warm up a brisk mountain evening than with reggae and blues funk? Michael Franti & Spearhead along with Ziggy Marley.
It was pretty clear upon arrival that this was going to be a good night. The Snow Park Amphitheater was clearly sold out. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people in that venue! You’re allowed to bring your own food and drink to the Deer Valley Concert Series so people throughout the amphitheater had their own picnic style dinners set up. I must admit walking through the crowd that I was impressed with some of the food people brought. People were not messing around with their spread. It seemed that everyone was in good spirits and that was not about to change when Ziggy Marley took the stage.
The sun hadn’t set when Ziggy walked out to generous applause. When it comes to reggae music I kind of feel like that’s how it should be. I always think of summer and sunshine when I hear reggae. Being at the beach or by a pool and soaking up the sun while the reggae beat plays. In this case, we were on a mountain far from the ocean or anything tropical, but it felt good to be outside listening to Marley.
Sometimes opening a show can be difficult. Especially in this setting. People might be still eating or socializing and not totally ready to put all of their focus on the music. But Ziggy Marley is a headliner in his own right and it was obvious that many people in attendance were there to specifically see him. I don’t think too many people were distracted by food or conversation. The majority of the crowd was up and dancing throughout Marley’s set. It was impossible to sit down when Ziggy played the songs of his father, Bob Marley. “Jammin’” got everyone really excited. People were up from their chairs dancing and having a great time. “Get Up Stand Up” was another huge crowd pleaser. Ziggy got the crowd singing along during this one. He would sing and the crowd would repeat what he sang. Then everyone sang along with him when he sang “Stand up for your rights.”. He finished the song by including “Human rights” asking “What about the children?” and “What about the woman’s rights?” into the song. The crowd roared their approval after that song. That’s the amazing thing about these songs and this style of music, there’s a deep political and social message in there and yet you’re totally dancing along to it. It’s quite possible that the crowd favorite of the night was “One Love”. This Bob Marley classic has always been a favorite of mine so I might be biased. Ziggy and his back up singers blended perfectly on this one. People were dancing, singing and swaying from the front row to the top of the hill. It was just a good time. And there we still had Michael Franti coming up!
Before Michael Franti took the stage a video played of him speaking to his child. As the video played images of the best things in the world and the perils of the world were shown while Franti’s voice spoke of his hope for his son. The video ended with him encouraging his kid to not let the world get him down and to “Just stay human.”. The inspirational message set the tone for what was about to be an uplifting and memorable evening.
When Franti walked out on stage with a headset microphone I had a feeling he wasn’t going to be staying on that stage for very long. He opened with “I’m Alive (Life Sounds Like) and “The Sound of Sunshine” where he brought a kid onto the stage to sing along with him. Not long after that Michael Franti took to the crowd. If you bought a general admission seat out on the lawn and were worried that you’d be away from the action well your worries were in vain. When I say Micheal was in the crowd, I mean he was in the crowd. There are some shows where someone will take to the audience and they’ll have a million security people surrounding the so the audience can’t get close. That was not the case here. Franti made his way through the audience high fiving, hugging and patting people on the back as he worked his way throughout the amphitheater. Franti made his way through the audience singing “Good to be Alive Today” and Just to Say I Love You”. I don’t think he missed a spot in that crowd. It was impressive that he could sing and play so far from the stage. His sound people must have perfected the playback in his inner ear monitors. That’s not an easy thing to do. Franti made his way back to the stage while singing “My Favorite Wine is Tequilla”.
The funk driven “You’re Number One” really got the audience moving. I didn’t think that was possible since we were all up and dancing for most of the set. The sun had finally set and the stage lighting was now shining across the entire venue.
Franti took a moment to address the crowd and share his story of being adopted. He mentioned that his mother and father, already with three children decided to adopt him and later a brother. He spoke of how his mother was a school teacher. Franti stated that there was no more important job than teaching the youth and said: “Teachers should get paid what they’re worth.” He mentioned that his mother never had to go through school shooting training and now teachers have to go through it twice a year. He talked about the importance of ending gun violence which followed with his song “We Can Be The Flower in the Gun”. It was a touching moment and seemed to really move the crowd.
Michael Franti invited the audience to introduce themselves to the strangers around them and to put their arms around each other. People hugged and put their arms around their new friends as the show ended with “When the Sun Begins to Shine”. When the song was over he greeted the crowd at the front of the stage, shaking hands and hugging many of his fans. He seemed to take a genuine interest in them as they gathered around him.
As I left the Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater I asked my daughter Sophia what she thought Michael Franti’s music. She said, “love?”. That’s it. In a world with so many sad, frustrating, horrible things happening (that he doesn’t ignore), he is all about being present, connecting, caring and love.