There are two kinds of first concerts, and both are often equally embarrassing. There’s the first concert your folks took you to see, and then there’s the first concert you went to sans parents. The first usually takes the form of some ridiculously dated legacy band from your parents’ glory days, and the second is almost always a horrifying pop extravaganza that, years later, you lie about when your friends ask you what your first concert was. Hell no it wasn’t New Kids on the Block. It was Nirvana, god damn it. I swear, you should’ve been there. Backstreet Boys? Screw that. My first show was Dre, and if you say otherwise, I’ll destroy you.
I have better answers to the “What was your first concert?” question than most people, but they’re still a bit silly. When I was 4, my parents took me and my brother from our home near Los Angeles to Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming. My parents are not the country types, not by any stretch of the imagination, but my mom had a cousin who lived near there, and we had gone to visit him. My first concert, then, was at Cheyenne Frontier Days, Mickey Gilley and the Charlie Daniels Band. I remember nothing, as I fell asleep halfway through the show. My first concert without parents was a decade later, Guns n’ Roses and Metallica. We had moved to Colorado by then, and I remember the first note delivered by the opening act, Ice T’s hardcore group Bodycount, rattled Mile High Stadium. It remains to this day perhaps the loudest note I have ever heard live.
In any case, 4 years old is too old to be seeing one’s first concert, but my parents had me late in life and were from another era. Their musical loves were Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, not the Beatles or the Stones. So attending rock concerts was not exactly their forte. But I have been a professional concertgoer off and on for a decade. And with a 20-month-old son of my own, I was determined that his first concert would be much earlier and a lot cooler — I had to give him something to brag about to his friends years from now.
Which brings us to Saturday’s lineup at SunFest. After my son woke up from his nap, my wife and I packed him up in the car and got out of the house by about 2:45 p.m., exactly one hour till Michael Franti and Spearhead would take the Bank of America stage. I was determined that Franti would be my son’s first show. We made the drive from Pompano Beach to West Palm Beach in about 40 minutes, parked the car in a $25 parking lot, walked quickly to the gate, and were at the Bank of America stage precisely at 3:45 p.m., which gave us a couple of minutes for beer and hot dogs till the man came on a few minutes late.
I’ve seen Franti play maybe half a dozen times now, interviewed him twice, met him once, and he has always entertained, enlightened, and invited his audience to see the world with love in their hearts. Sounds cheesy, I know, but a Franti concert makes for anticynic medicine. I have left every one of them reinvested in the idea that this is not the best of all possible worlds, and that it can be changed for the better simply through kindness, understanding, and generosity. That feeling generally leaves me after being kicked in the teeth by real life for a few months afterward, but every show brings it back. Saturday was no different. Watching my son bop up and down and shake his hands to “Life Is Better With You” damn near made me weep.
Songs such as “Life Is Better With You” formed the mainstay of this Franti show. Franti also debuted a new song, “Earth from Outer Space,” the gist of which was that, if he could see everything from space he would still want to come back to the ones he loves. Again, pretty, joyous tunes celebrating love and life. The angry rants of the Bush years, and the great antiwar album Yell Fire!, only made an appearance during the title song of that album, with its scathing rebuke to Fox News’ Iraq War era reclassification of suicide bombers: “The F-15 is a homicide bomber.” Franti, ever a hopeful idealist, sounded more sure of his vision than ever.
We had played Franti’s big hit, “Say Hey (I Love You),” for our son a few times, so when Franti closed with it, the boy could hardly contain his enthusiasm. Though too tired to continue dancing, he raised his arms from his stroller seat and squealed and squealed and squealed. Later that night, after we caught the last couple songs by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and the first few by the Marshall Tucker Band, the boy sat on our bed just before we put him down for the evening. He played with toy cars, vrooming them across the mattress. I sang him the chorus to “Say Hey,” — I love you, I love you, I love you. He looked up at me and responded, “I love you.” It was the first time he had ever said the words.
The last time I interviewed Franti, I said in closing that I wanted to thank him for Yell Fire!, an album that had preserved my sanity through the Bush years. The man laughed, and said thank you in return. Now, I have something else to thank him for. The first time my boy told me he loved me, it was because of Michael Franti. Thank you.