Taken from ParkRecord (June 29, 2019)
Franti and Spearhead, urging fans to 'Stay Human,' open Deer Valley Concert Series
by Scott Iwasaki
Photo Courtesy Of Anthony Thoen
Michael Franti and his feelings of optimism and pessimism are engaged in an ongoing war about the state of the world.
"It's like I have an angel and devil on each shoulder," the singer-songwriter-poet-activist said. "The devil is saying the world is screwed and there's nothing we can do, but the angel tells me that there are still some amazing people out there who are doing little things every day that make differences in the lives of many people."
This battle inspired his most recent album, "Stay Human II," which he recorded with his band Spearhead and released in January. Franti will perform songs from the album as well as selections culled from his 32-year career when Spearhead plays Sunday at Deer Valley's Snow Park Amphitheater. The concert will also feature Ziggy Marley.
Although "Stay Human II" shares a title with Franti and Spearhead's 2001 release, "Stay Human," it isn't a direct follow-up, he said.
I want to be involved in solution-based politics, rather than party-based politics...
Michael Franti, songwriter, poet and filmmaker
While "Stay Human" examined capital punishment, "Stay Human II" is a companion piece to "Stay Human," a documentary by the same name that Franti made and that screened at O.P. Rockwell in January, during Sundance and Slamdance.
"All the songs were either written for the film or written during the filmmaking," he said. "The film is all about how we hold on to our humanity during challenging times, and it is about people who inspire my optimism."
Franti met the film's subjects while traveling in Indonesia, the Philippines, South Africa and the United States.
"I saw their tenacity and ability to get through challenging times, while retaining their smiles, sense of humor and sense that anything is possible," he said.
While writing the songs that would appear on the album, Franti tried to make his observations as universal as he could.
That's the difference between him walking on stage and citing three minutes of statistics of gun violence, or singing a song called "The Flower," while showing a video of families who have been affected by gun violence, he said.
"The role of a poet, musician and filmmaker is to take these ideas in the world and distill them into something people can understand," he said. "I like to hear people's stories. The more of myself I put into my music, the more the song connects with others."
This approach differs from how Franti wrote songs at the start of his career.
"Back then, I was angrily pointing fingers at what I thought was wrong in the world," he said. "Over time. I came to realize that anger isn't my superpower. My superpower is to connect with people and help people connect with each other. I want to be involved in solution-based politics, rather than party-based politics."
One couple who appear in the film is Hope and Steve Dezember, and their story inspired Franti.
"Steve has battled ALS and has been in a wheelchair for years," Franti said. "They came to my concert and were at the side of the stage when I started singing 'Life Is Better with You.'"
During the song, Steve, paralyzed in all but his mouth and eyes, told Hope he wanted to dance.
"So Hope lifted him out of the wheelchair ,and they did this beautiful slow dance in front of 20,000 people, who, like me, were all cheering and crying," Franti said.
Afterwards, Steve told Franti that before the show, he was just a guy rolling around in a wheelchair, and people didn't know how to connect with him.
"He said after that moment on stage, he suddenly became someone," Franti said. "He said people began asking him to hang out with them, and to have a drink with them."
After the conversation, Franti and his wife, Sara Agah, a nurse, decided to start the nonprofit, Do It For the Love.
"We give wounded veterans, children and adults with special needs and people who are sick and dying the chance to see any live concert by any artist anywhere in the world," he said. "We want to give them the same opportunity that Steve and Hope had when they came to my show."
Using art as a way to do good in the world is a concept Franti learned when he was a child.
"I was taught as a kid to speak up when you see something that is unjust," he said. "I was taught to go help people who need help or who have been treated unfairly."
Franti knows a thing of two about experiencing social challenges.
"I was a kid who was adopted and raised in a mixed family, so it was hard for me to understand who I was as an individual," he said. "So I resonate with others who feel that sense of being left out, or being an outsider."