Stage was jumping-off point at LaureLive

GRAY AREAS

If there was a overall theme to the second LaureLive music festival, it’s that stages are where you start, not where you stay.

The consensus opinion from last year’s LaureLive, the festival staged by the Elevation Group on the grounds of the Laurel School in Russell Township, is that Michael Franti was the overwhelming favorite with a second-day set where he spent most of the time performing in the middle of the crowd. I only attended the first day last year, but I’ve been to enough Franti concerts to know his live show has that transformational, unifiying impact.

This year everyone followed his lead.

Arkells’ frontman Max Kerman was singing and dancing with those in front of the stage during his band’s early afternoon set on Saturday. Austin Bisnow of Magic Giant did the same thing on the same stage in the same time slot on Sunday.

David Shaw of The Revivalists climbed into the pit several times to get closer to those who crowded the stage for its rousing performance. And Franti, one of the only acts to play both years, continued to break down the barriers between performer and audience. He brought a girl on stage to sing “The Sound of Sunshine” with him, filled the stage with children singing and dancing along to “Say Hey (I Love You)” and wandered through the throng for several songs.

Sunday’s crowd was noticeably larger than Saturday’s, and the buzz over Franti’s appearance last year probably was the reason why. And even though he was horribly off-key on a couple of songs (“My Favorite Wine is Tequila” verged on painful), he didn’t disappoint.

Perhaps the most impressive crowd interaction came from The Unlikely Candidates on Saturday on the smaller South Stage. Lead singer Kyle Morris was on crutches due to torn ligaments in his left foot, but for most of the set he abandoned the crutches and used the mic stand to support himself as he did a one-legged shimmy and shake. He serenaded a fan while lying on the front of the stage and jumped into the crowd for the set-closer “Follow My Feet.”

I can’t believe he didn’t suffer permanent damage to those ligaments, but it was an amazing performance, and the band stood out in a crowded weekend of music.

Of course, others made an impression by being full-blown old school, larger-than-life “stars.”

My favorite set of the weekend was St. Paul & the Broken Bones. Lead singer Paul Janeway, dressed in a fire-engine-red suit with black-and-white checkerboard trim, came out with a cape a la James Brown and wailed like a soul master into his gold microphone. He might not look like a rock star, but sings and commands a stage like one.

Gary Clark Jr., the one performer of the weekend who had the benefit of a full light show by starting after sunset, looked and sounded like the guitar god he is backlit and surrounded by smoke.

It was blistering hot both days and we bailed Sunday before headliner The Head and the Heart, but the setting and the soundtrack couldn’t have better.

Andy Gray is the entertainment writer for the Tribune Chronicle. Write to him at agray@tribtoday.com.

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