Taken from San Diego Union Tribune (July 7, 2016)
Michael Franti talks music, yoga and MLB All-Star week
The veteran musician and leader of the band Spearhead credits yoga with helping him gain mental clarity and physical resilience — and for giving up weed
by George Varga
Michael Franti performs during the San Francisco Giants’ Yoga Day in 2014. Brett Mazurek
Gwen Stefani, OneRepublic and Tori Kelly won’t be doing the Downward Facing Dog or the Sun Salutation when they perform at Friday and Saturday’s Budweiser Major League Baseball All-Star concerts at Embarcadero Marina Park South. Likewise, chances are less than slim that Fall Out Boy and Akon will do the Wounded Peacock — or any other yoga poses — when they perform at Sunday’s invitation-only MLB.com All-Star Bash at the San Diego Convention Center’s Sails Pavilion.
But Michael Franti is another story.
On Saturday morning, the veteran singer, songwriter and leader of the band Spearhead will team with Heather Archer for Soul Pose MLB All-Star Yoga at downtown’s Waterfront Park. Archer will lead two one-hour hatha and vinyasa yoga sessions. Franti, who stands 6 feet 6 inches tall and attended the University of San Francisco on a basketball scholarship, will provide the music.
It’s the first time MLB has had a yoga event as part of its All-Star Week activities. But it’s not the first time Davis native Franti has stepped up to the plate for an MLB-sponsored event.
“For the past four years, we’ve done a partnership with the San Francisco Giants where we’ve done a yoga day in center field at AT&T Park and I’ve played,” he said. “We had about 700 yogis come out, and the Giants made yoga mats to give away to everybody. It’s been a really successful event.”
Franti, speaking from a recent Spearhead concert tour stop in Milwaukee, let out a sly, knowing laugh.
“We figured San Francisco is that kind of a community! But word spread around MLB and some other teams started doing it, too,” he continued.
“Bringing music and yoga together is great. I see the two going hand in hand, and I see (yoga events) happening in all sports. Yoga strengthens your body and makes it more limber, so you’re less prone to injuries. More importantly, it helps you focus.”
Franti and Spearhead’s 10th and newest album, “Soulrocker,” was released June 4 by Fantasy Records and smoothly draws from reggae, hip-hop, folk, tropical-rock, EDM and more. He and the group scored a global hit with their infectious 2009 song “Say Hey (I Love You).” They have performed at such festivals as Coachella, Bonnaroo and last year’s debut edition of KAABOO Del Mar.
A jock and a musician since he was a kid growing up in Davis, Franti is uniquely qualified for Saturday’s Soul Pose MLB All-Star Yoga event here.
“I first got into yoga in late 2001 through (actor) Woody Harrelson, who is a longtime friend,” he recalled.
“Woody said he was going to send somebody to meet me while I was on tour. I’d just started taking a few yoga lessons and I was doing a hippie festival, Gathering of the Vibes, in upstate New York. Woody sent two yoga instructors from Hawaii, who spent a week with me and helped me get the fundamentals down. It was a great gift.”
Franti, who turned 50 in April, reaped immediate benefits.
“Life on the road is grueling for your body, with lots of late hours,” he noted. “And, a lot of times, you’re eating food in horrible places. It all starts to add up to generally feeling tired, all the time, and feeling pretty cruddy. I first walked into yoga class and wanted to find way to loosen up from being sore from getting out of planes and tour buses.
“I found there was a lot more to it than I thought. I learned to take care of my body in every way, in terms of nutrition, relaxation and the focus of my mind. And I lost about 25 pounds, which was a great byproduct and not my intention.”
Becoming a yoga devotee — he’s especially fond of headstands and inversions — also changed Franti’s life in another way that has yielded major health benefits.
“I stopped smoking pot, actually,” he said.
“I smoked a lot of weed. But when I got into (doing the) Downward Dog, I felt like I had a box of bricks in my forehead. So I said to myself: ‘I won’t smoke tonight, because I have yoga class tomorrow.’ Then, weeks later, someone offered me some pot, and I thought: ‘It’s been a month since I had any; I’ll go without it.’
“That was around 2003. It (quitting pot) has really helped my singing voice and my sense of overall clarity.”
Gradually, Franti’s passion for music and yoga began to merge.
He and Spearhead began inviting fans to practice yoga at the band’s pre-concert soundchecks. At first, only a dozen or so did.
By 2013, up to a thousand fans were turning up at each pre-show yoga session. In 2014, Franti launched his first national Soulshine Yoga and Music Festival. In January, he will hold his fourth annual Michael Franti’s Yoga & Music Retreat at Soulshine Bali, which he co-founded with a close friend, Carla Swanson. Limited to 25 attendees, the January event in the hillside Balinese town of Ubud is sold out.
“When we co-founded it, the idea was just that we would open a hotel in a beautiful environment in Bali for people from all around the world to come and practice yoga,” Franti, who also meditates twice a day, explained. “I didn’t plan to put on retreats myself every year. But as we have grown, it’s something I have come to enjoy. ...
“My music is played in tons of yoga classes, all around the country. I think the reason is that all of my songs have a similar message, which is: ‘How do we work our way through challenges, and how do we focus — in a positive way? — when we’re in the most dark times on our journeys?’
“I think that’s one of the main motivations for people walking into yoga classes. Yoga is a chance for everyone to set their own intention.”
An array of free and ticketed events will be held between today and Tuesday’s 87th annual Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Petco Park. Below is a list of the Pepsi Music Series concerts and other scheduled music performances. For a complete list of music and nonmusic events, including FanFest and the Pepsi Block Party, go to mlb.com/all-star-game.