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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Summerfest Daily Highlights: Thursday, July 7

Katy Perry, Michael Franti and Yonder Mountain String Band

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Katy Perry w/ Marina and the Diamonds
Marcus Amphitheater, 7:30 p.m.


Katy Perry is contemporary pop music's most cynical success story. The daughter of Christian pastors, she launched her music career with a religious-rock record in 2001 under her birth name Katy Hudson. After the record tanked, she gave up on Christian music and reinvented herself as Katy Perry, a brash, cleavage-flaunting sensationalist. The first singles from her 2008 commercial reinvention, One of the Boys, were designed for maximum head turning: On “Ur So Gay,” she emasculates a metrosexual boyfriend, and on her breakthrough “I Kissed a Girl,” she drunkenly locks lips with a girl “just to try it.”

Perry's follow-up album Teenage Dream tempers the mean-spirited edge that ran through One of the Boys while refining its basic formula of brassy dance-pop and steel-reinforced ballads, all bellowed breathlessly. It has proved an even bigger hit, clinging near the top of the charts since its release last August and managing the rare feat of four No. 1 singles, including last summer's inescapable “California Gurls” and her current hit with Kanye West, “E.T.,” a bizarre tribute to intergalactic love set to an arena-rock beat. (Evan Rytlewski)

Michael Franti

Miller Lite Oasis, 10 p.m.


“Music is sunshine,” says Michael Franti, frontman for the band Spearhead. “Like sunshine, music is a powerful force that can instantly and almost chemically change your entire mood. Music gives us new energy and a stronger sense of purpose.”

The positive energy of Franti's music, especially his recent release The Sound of Sunshine, offset difficult beginnings. Franti, 45, was born to an Irish/German/French mother and African-American/American-Indian father. Fearing family rejection, Franti's mother put him up for adoption. Franti's adoptive father was a professor of epidemiology and preventive medicine at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Franti graduated from the University of San Francisco.

While in school, Franti began writing poetry at a priest's encouragement. Using a bass purchased at a pawn shop, he started writing music. Franti's punk leanings eventually morphed to include the hip-hop/reggae/funk blend he is known for today.

Franti is big into social causes and serves as an international ambassador for CARE. He is a vegan and, for the past 10 years, hasn't worn shoes.

“Music is something you can't hold in your hands, smell, taste or even see,” Franti says. “Yet feeling these little vibrations tickle our eardrums can lift us up and out of our most difficult moments to unimaginable heights.” (Michael Muckian)

Yonder Mountain String Band
Potawatomi Bingo Casino Stage & Pavilion, 10 p.m.


Banjo player Dave Johnston was looking for a new sound when he asked novice mandolinist Jeff Austin to join his band The Bluegrassholes while both attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the early 1990s. The band dissolved, but the two Chicago-area musicians discovered a musical synchronicity. Both moved to Colorado—Johnston to Boulder and Austin to Nederland—setting in motion the formation of Yonder Mountain String Band.

The pair met bassist and Pittsburgh native Ben Kaufmann, a former film school student, and guitarist Adam Aijala, a former forestry major at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, at a Nederland club. The four musicians formed YMSB in December 1998.

The “newgrass” quartet has attracted a following among younger bluegrass fans and the jam band crowd, thanks to its intense instrumental raves. The group has released several live albums, but describes itself as “tape-friendly,” allowing fans to record its concerts. YMSB, a favorite of music festival attendees, has performed at venues as diverse as San Francisco's Fillmore West and the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

The band's recording of George Harrison's “Think for Yourself” appeared on This Bird Has Flown: A 40th Anniversary Tribute to the Beatles' Rubber Soul, testimony to YMSB's flexibility. (Michael Muckian)