It's not a stretch to call Jason Mraz the hottest act at Farm Aid 2009. He may not have the legacy of Willie or the hipster cachet of Wilco, but Mraz's star is still on the rise and seems to show no sign of dimming.
Mraz's continued climb to the top, however, is accompanied by a healthy dose of maturity. His songs are always upbeat, but there's a communal consciousness and a holistic spirituality just beneath the good-time vibes. Mraz made his intentions known with his first song, a slightly downtempo version of his hit, "The Remedy." His vocals carried a more soulful payload than the radio version, and the tension crescendoed with the appearance of a horn trio, which gave the song a Latin tinge to go along with the reggae-light upstrokes.
With the possible exception of Neil Young, Mraz was the most vocal about Farm Aid's mission, exhorting the crowd to "flex those activist muscles" and support family farms. He knows what he's talking about: Mraz owns a five-acre avocado farm in San Diego, a biographical detail that's almost too good to be true. (One wonders: Does he wear that straw fedora whilst gardening?)
But while the set started in a low-key fashion (the second song "Never Too Late" was similarly slow-burning), Mraz's charm and goodwill were transmitted to the back of the lawn. Mraz is like an acoustic-pop Justin Timberlake: he's charming and eager to please, and you just might love him in spite of yourself.
Or maybe he's a white Bob Marley, preaching togetherness with laid-back grooves. "Anything You Want" was a call to unity through dub-like vibes and included one of the festival's several oblique marijuana references when he sang that "you can grow anything you want." (Perhaps he was talking about avocados.) Either way, the crowd ate it up.
His six-song set ended with "I'm Yours," a crowd favorite and a final shot at making Farm Aid a communal love-fest (earlier, he demanded that concert-goers high-five their fellow patrons). Mraz's love songs can be sung to one person or many, and his vision of "one big family" provided the perfect pivot-point as Farm Aid 2009 transitioned into the headliners' sets.
1. "The Remedy" 2. "Never Too Late" 3. "Anything You Want" 4. "Spirit in the Sky" (Norman Greenbaum cover) 5. "The Dynamo of Volition" 6. "I'm Yours"