Franti Preaching Peace, Charity At San Fran Fest

Like countless other musicians and organizations across the country, Michael Franti's annual Power to the Peaceful festival has a crucial new task this year: offering aid to victims of Hurricane Katri

Like countless other musicians and organizations across the country, Michael Franti's annual Power to the Peaceful festival has a crucial new task this year: offering aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina. But, as Franti points out somberly, those effects speak to the kinds of unresolved social issues that his politically charged festival has aimed to address over its seven years.

"It's unfortunate that this catastrophe points out a lot of the shortcomings that we've been talking about," Franti tells Billboard.com. "We're asking questions. Should we be spending money on bombing Iraq and Afghanistan, or should we be spending it back home? It brings up a lot of questions about global warming, about Bush's neglect of the Kyoto accord, and of course, the war."

To that end, he said the festival, which will be held Saturday (Sept. 10) at the Speedway Meadow in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, will collect funds for the Red Cross in addition to keeping with its original anti-war theme, "Bring 'Em Home."

Power to the Peaceful will feature its usual eclectic lineup of musicians, including Franti's own Spearhead, Zap Mama, the String Cheese Incident, Saul Williams, Anti-Flag and Jean Grae. Speakers will include keynoter Angela Davis, actor Woody Harrelson and filmmaker Robert Greenwald.

Hundreds of social justice organizations will be represented, and for the first time, the festival will spotlight a handful of skateboarders and extreme sports demonstrations.

In addition, the festival has added its inaugural film component on Sept. 12-13, which will include a screening of "I Know I'm Not Alone," a film about Franti's 2004 trip to Iraq, Palestine and Israel. Franti painted his goals this year as less about racial divides and more about economic ones, and says those visits made that all the more clear to him.

"It's not just black people or Latino people," he said. "The majority of the people I met were poor people, and that's who we're seeing taking the brunt of this disaster. I feel like it's symptomatic of the neglect going on for a couple of decades in this country, of placing the emphasis on corporate needs and the needs of the military."

The free festival started in 1999 with "a few thousand in a small park," Franti said, and last year drew 50,000. "What we've tried to do is make it not just about war, but about social justice. Peace isn't merely the absence of war, like Martin Luther King Jr. said, it's the presence of justice -- justice of a domestic, international and environmental level."

Franti is optimistic that his views and voices are being heard. "With what's been happening in Crawford and New Orleans, now it's in people's discussions at the dinner table," he says. "People are saying, 'Hey, maybe we need to have a change of direction. Why aren't we taking care of things domestically? Why have we so long neglected global warming?' And I really feel like people are going to bond together and try to move forward and change the direction the world is going."

As previously reported, a new Franti album, recorded this summer in Kingston, Jamaica, and executive produced by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, is slated for release next spring.