Michael Franti Spreads The Soulshine
Photo by Dino Perrucci
Michael Franti is all about spreading the good vibes. The singer/guitarist—who once played the theme music to Sesame Street in front of a crowd of convicts at California’s notorious San Quentin State Prison, has been preaching the gospel of peace, love and music for almost 30 years, though his style has evolved quite a lot during that time. We recently spoke with Franti about his new Soulshine Tour, which find the musician and his band Spearhead teaming up with SOJA, Trevor Hall, Brett Dennen and an assortment of yoga instructors for a cross-country road trip. We also touched on his love for the festival scene, his political/social outlook, the changing fanbase that come with fame and more.
Your upcoming Soulshine Tour will feature pre-show yoga classes. What made you decide to combine the yoga experience with the music experience?
Well I’ve been practicing yoga for about 15 years, and everywhere I travel around the country I’d go to different yoga studios. We started inviting people to come to our shows, and after one of our shows, we sort of did an impromptu yoga session out in a park somewhere or a parking lot. Then last year we decided to do an acoustic music jam and invited people to play/practice yoga at Red Rocks one day. And we were expecting, you know, only a few people to show up, and we had 2,000 people show up. So this year we decided to do it at every stop on our tour. We’ve assembled some of the best-known yoga teachers around America, to come on tour with us and we’ll have this big yoga session, with acoustic music to start every show.
These artists you have joining you on tour—SOJA, Trevor Hall, Brett Dennen. What made you choose these guys to come along with you?
Well they’re some of my favorite artists today. I’ve known Brett since about 15 years ago and he’s been amazing to me, you know, as an artist and as a person. He’s obviously a talented singer and guitarist, but he’s also just really a very mindful person. He’s always thinking about things and questioning the world, you hear it in the lyrics to his songs. Trevor is someone we’ve toured with in the past and had a great experience with on the road. He’s also a very mindful and spiritual person, you can hear that in his music, but he also loves to have a great time—backstage, hanging out, jamming together, then onstage. SOJA and we recently recorded a song together called “I Believe” with Nahko Bear. So we love what they do and it’s great that we have a song that we just collaborated on. They’re just artists I really love, that I feel a connection with—musical soul mates—and also they are all into yoga as well, so it works out.
Can we expect some collaboration between you and some of the guys you are collaborating with on this tour?
Yeah, yeah for sure. I’m guessing that this tour, more than any other tour that I’ve been on, will involve a lot of collaborations on stage because we’ve all know each other for many years. This is the first—apart from Trevor—the first chance I’ve had to tour with Brett and had the chance to tour with SOJA. Usually we’re just trying to throw something together at the last minute and get up on stage. I think on this tour we will have a lot of time off stage to work things out and to jam together.
Obviously politics have always been integral to your music and outlook, how do you see the intersection of music and politics today, where do you see it?
Well I think that the most important thing that any of us can do in the world today is strengthen our compassion and have an understanding of where we can contribute to the greater good. I think that in terms of politics, I don’t like to tell people who to vote for or who to not vote for, or on what side of the argument you should be on, but I do encourage people to be compassionate and to extend that to whatever way you’ve thought of the world, and to connect politically through the planet.