String Cheese Incident, Dennis Kucinich, and Amy Goodman joined Michael Franti of Spearhead on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks to celebrate the power of peace.
Story by Mark Miller
A gorgeous Saturday afternoon in San Francisco’s urban oasis of Golden Gate Park featured all the typical trappings of a outdoor jamband festival; tens of thousands of colorful, music-loving and liberal-leaning fans, plenty of pot and patchouli floating in the air, and vendors both official and unofficial hawking anything one could slap a price tag on.
Yet the 6th annual “Power To The Peaceful” (PTTP) event, presented by Spearhead singer/lyricist Michael Franti (in conjunction with Guerilla Management) was more than a typical concert, with considerably more political activism on display, as well as sporting an ethnic diversity one would be hard pressed to find at a typical jamband festie.
This year’s PTTP theme was “Stand Up and Be Counted,” part of Franti’s mission to get more people registered to vote in this election year, and there were activists milling throughout the crowd, enabling people to register while not missing a beat.
PTTP took on added significance this year with it being held on September 11, the third anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. that claimed over 3000 lives and led to charges that the Bush administration took advantage of the tragedy by authorizing military force in Iraq and cracking down on civil liberties at home.
PTTP was held at the park’s Speedway Meadow, not far from a road named “Marx Meadow,” appropriately enough, given the socialist leanings of many of the more fervent activists on hand.
Along with the official vendors selling hemp goods, paraphernalia and all kinds of food and clothing, there were more socially conscious booths; such as one for the anti-war group “Not In Our Name” and one highlighting the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, whose conviction for allegedly murdering a Philadelphia police officer in 1981 remains controversial to say the least.
Not surprisingly, Bush Bashing was big business too, as T-shirts stands sporting slogans such as: “Hemp is an Herb. Bush is a Dope” did brisk business.
Many speakers and musical acts made appearances at PTTP, including Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, rapper Gift of Gab from Blackalicious and the John Butler Trio, who ventured all the way from Australia to perform PTTP.
String Cheese Incident was probably the biggest draw, as they performed an hour-long acoustic set and their combo of bluegrass/world beat/hippie psychedelia mixed sweetly with the late summer vibe. Their opening number “Search” seemed especially apt on this day, with its choral lament of “searching for love.” Though the Cheese did lack some of their usual quasi-trance intensity felt at a characteristic electric show.
The keynote speaker was Amy Goodman of New York City, host of Democracy Now!, found on free speech Pacifica Radio. Goodman contrasted the PTTP gathering in Golden Gate Park with the recent Republican National Convention held in the Big Apple, remarking, “We weren’t allowed to use our public park (Central Park) for free speech.”
She elaborated on the “corporate media blackout” of the 500,000 protestors who gathered that week in NYC to protest the Bush administration. She also called the media “the Pentagon’s most powerful weapon” and challenged those in the crowd to challenge the filtered information the mainstream media provides the public.
Goodman recalled her memories of 9/11/01, as she was broadcasting live just blocks from Ground Zero at the fateful hour. She also noted a list of assassinations and acts of terrorism that have also occurred on Sept 11, most significantly the assassination of Chilean President Salvador Allende as part of a US-backed coup to overthrow the legitimately elected socialist leader. Although Allende’s death was declared a “suicide,” it is now widely established that the CIA engineered the overthrow.
Though she did not come out and say it, Goodman may have been drawing a link between the coup against Allende and the conspiracy theories that assert Bush and crew “knew” of the 9/11 attacks in advance, and allowed them to take place, in order to justify the aforementioned war in Iraq and the crackdown on civil liberties.
Goodman then passed the baton to Michael Franti and Spearhead and their unique blend of politically charged electric acid reggae.
As far as pure musical force, Spearhead topped the more noted String Cheese Incident, especially with the booty-shaking bass of Carl Young, felt especially strong on opening number “Crazy, Crazy, Crazy.”
The perpetually barefoot Franti was a political pied piper, getting thousands of people to sing along with the charging anthem, “Bomb the World” and its apt lyrics, “We can bomb the world into pieces, but we can’t bomb it into peace.”
Franti also electrified the crowd when he said PTTP wasn’t sponsored by Budweiser, the Gap or Pacific Lumber, but “by the people of San Francisco!”
Spearhead’s high-energy set was interspersed with mellow acoustic numbers, allowing Franti to reflect on his recent ventures to Iraq and the West Bank in Israel.
He said he spoke with U.S. soldiers in Iraq, with most expressing their desire to come home, which led fittingly enough into the gentle ballad “It’s Time to Come Home.”
Franti also evoked his recent visit to New York and participation in the protests against the Republican convention. He ironically suggested he expected Bush to see the protests and call off the war the next day. This led to Franti discussing the frustration activists such as he can feel when things “don’t change overnight.”
But Franti drew optimism from his disappointment, stating that the annual PTTP was about “planting seeds” for future change. Although sometimes it seemed that many in the crowd were there more for the party than to become politically active, Franti’s sincere intentions prevailed on this day.