Michael Franti & Spearhead Main Stage, Guelph ON, July 24

Michael Franti & Spearhead Main Stage, Guelph ON, July 24
Photo: Matthew Ritchie
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It's hard to think of an artist that epitomizes the ideals of Guelph, ON's annual Hillside Festival quite like Californian singer-songwriter / rapper / humanitarian and all-around cool dude Michael Franti. For over two decades, he and his band Spearhead have been pushing their all-inclusive, anything-is-possible vibes to festival crowds and college freshman across North America. Still, it took the band 21 years to make it up to this neck of the woods, a subject Franti spoke about with a slight sense of regret on Friday night.
 
Say what you will about his sentimental, beachside-store-T-shirt-worthy lyrics, but Franti knows how to draw a crowd, as evidenced by the hundreds of people — primarily families — who packed the grounds of Hillside's Main Stage hours before his performance to catch his headlining slot.
 
At times, the pacing of his set seemed pretty unusual; more upbeat numbers that found Franti running into the crowd, arms raised, dancing and singing along with anyone around, no matter the age, were interspersed with more serious songs featuring introductions touching on subjects like the recent Charleston shooting, his son's kidney disease and his own hospitalization from a burst appendix, and that roller coaster of emotions ran throughout. But his earnestness and energy was infectious, making even the most stout concert curmudgeon dance along to his reggae-meets-EDM-meets-pop rhythms, and feel all the better for it.