Spearhead gets to the point, outshines the noodlers

Nothing says summer like outdoor sex. There’s definitely nothing worse than enjoying such a liberating act on a campground picnic table and being happened upon by a curious group of “Junior Rangers.” A bit of warning, especially to those of you who love a cool breeze and sun on your bum: campsites in big campgrounds aren’t private. On the upside they do offer great nature programs for nosy little rascal’s and have great slide shows about Indians at night. Needless to say my partner and I skidaddled far away from those nosy Junior Rangers to check out what I like to call a hippie fest. This one was called “A Family Affair.” It took place June 15-17 at a beautiful RV campground at Arizona Beach, just south of Port Orford, Ore., near the California border. The three headliners were David Grisman, Les Claypool’s Flying Frog Brigade and Spearhead. Spearhead, as well as a few opening acts were the highlights. I was too busy dodging Junior Rangers to catch Grisman.

I normally don’t fancy hippie fests but it had been a long time since I’ve indulged. In a way, I missed the drum circles, dreadlocks, drugs and the opportunity to purchase or trade for “super gooey vegan ganja gooball’s,” “fatty ganja brownies” and Marlboro Reds. Legitimate vending was also in full swing with over 50 vendor tents creating a little hippie mini mall.

Once you get used to the “vibe” these festivals or shows can be allright, especially for people watching and interacting. This one was special because you camped 200 yards from the ocean and could sit on the black sandy beach as the sun sinks into the ocean, the waves crash heavily and the temperature drops like 50 degrees in two minutes.

Saturday night’s headliner Les Claypool and his Flying Frog Brigade wasn’t as impressive as Claypool’s former band, Primus, but I’m not in high school any more either. They were tight and talented, but sounded like every noodling jam band does. Solos were too long and noodly and Les’s voice is somewhat annoying. The sun had set and it was cold outside. Despite Les’s pleas for booty shaking, people generally remained huddled together, content to trip in peace, while Les noodled.

The best part of Saturday was a little Moroccan trance group called Hava Lima. They played in a carpeted, candle lit, incensed hemp tent after Garajmahal (a decent, somewhat funky jam band) and before Claypool. They played various drums, chanted and sang trippy vocals. They would pause and point to an image projected on the tent’s ceiling and say this is so and so, from Morocco, he is a wise Moroccan guy. They also looked very cute and cuddly in Moroccan-looking sweaters and hats

On Sunday we sat down in the grass to watch Soundtribe Sector 9. Someone had told me they were like “hippie electronica” so I was curious. They got people dancing more than any jam band had. They mixed electronics with live instruments and did minimal improvising on top of house, drum and bass, and broken beats. I even got my tired ass up and danced. The bass was thick and the subtle melodies were true.

After some more tired jam bands with silly names like Jeremiah Puddleduck, came the Sunday night headliner I had been waiting for: Spearhead. The group, led by political activist and songwriter Michael Franti, came out and kicked ass for over two hours. Franti – whose socially and politically conscious lyrics struck an obvious chord in this audience – sang, rapped and kept the band and audience energized the whole time.

The band, made up of keyboards, guitar, female vocal, bass and drums, showed its proficiency by laying down tight funk, Latin, hip-hop, disco and rock rhythms, sometimes mixing styles in the same song. Mid-tempo, buttery hip-hop gospel soul tunes from the albums became higher energy dance tunes that often appropriated elements and hooks from classic soul, Bob Marley, Sugar Hill Gang, and other artists. It was live sampling at it’s finest.

The audience responded well, dancing, waving hands and often just listening to what Franti had to say. Periodically Franti would tell some stories, tales of urban social injustices that would give pause to the otherwise moved crowd. It was a well-planned, professional show.

It seemed, on the surface, at least, that many of the attendees at the Family Affair choose to drop out of the system rather than try to change it. Hopefully Spearhead inspired some to action. If not, it was still a damn good time for all.

Spearhead, whose new album Stay Human is out now on Six Degrees records, will be playing Berbati’s Pan on July 10.