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Taken from Monterey Herald (Oct 09, 2019)

Beth Peerless, Where it's at: The uplifting sounds of Michael Franti

by Beth Peerless

Michael Franti. Photo credit: Jay Blakesberg
Michael Franti brings his uplifting music to the Golden State Theatre Monday. Photo credit: Jay Blakesberg

Anybody who has experienced a Michael Franti concert knows this: no one tries harder to lift people up and to bring joy to the proceedings than Franti, whether he's performing with his band or as a solo performer on the streets.

Franti loves to do both and wherever he goes in the world, his mission is to connect with people, directly, honestly, selflessly and with love. What he's discovered is that the personal is universal. And so he shares his deepest thoughts in his songs. He appears Monday at 8 p.m. at the Golden State Theatre in Monterey.

"Yeah, when we're on tour I always get my guitar and go play out on the street," Franti said in a phone interview from a tour stop in San Diego. "It's something that I love to do. One of the main things that I've learned is that there's no one that you wouldn't love if you knew their story. That's made me think about the way that I want to approach the message in my music. Do I want my music to be just pointing my finger outward at the problems in the world saying, 'This is wrong, this is wrong?' Or do I want to be looking inside myself and expressing what's in my heart, the things that I care about deeply, things that make me sad, or the things that make me joyful, things that connect me to my kids, my family, my wife? And increasingly I realize when I share more of my personal story, the way I grew up, and the way that I live, it's able to connect with other people who can identify with that story. So that's how my music has really evolved."

As a fan of Franti since first seeing him play at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz in the late '90s with his band Spearhead, there has been a personal interest in his journey to arrive where he is today. This is a man who walks his talk and who has taken very seriously the possibilities he's afforded to make a difference in the world.

"Well, I've always been a promoter of optimism," the 52-year-old Oakland native said. "I think if there's one word that's gone through everything it's been that. Throughout the years when I first started with music with the Beatnigs in the late '80s, we were on the Dead Kennedy's label Alternative Tentacles and we played in punk rock venues all across the country. And then with the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, we were invited to open for U2 and traveled the country on their Zoo TV World Tour. And with Spearhead, we were kind of playing more hip hop, a jazz/funk-oriented hip hop. Then somewhere along the way around 2000, I started playing the guitar because I wanted to play music on the streets. And that took me to the streets of Iraq, Gaza and the barrios of Brazil. Most recently we were in Uganda and Rwanda and all around the world. Also in Indonesia."

He's also expressed that from his days in the Beatnigs there has always been a DIY punk rock spirit that he's carried with him. Not in that tear the stage apart and rebel against everything spirit, but in a fearless attitude of positivity that he relentlessly unleashes on the world.

"I believe that as a musician you've got to work hard," he said. "As a band and crew and everybody who works in our touring family, we're about spreading optimism and positivity. We have to embody that from the minute we step off the bus to the doorman at the hotel, the janitor at the nightclub as the last person is leaving. Also, I believe in the power of music. I did then and I do more so today. I think maybe one way that I've changed is back then, I thought music can change the world overnight. Today, I don't know if it can change the world overnight but I know it can help someone make it through a difficult night."

For one who has admitted he is prone to depression, it seems obvious that he has worked out a way to turn it around. Not only does he practice what he preaches, but he also reaches out to those who are struggling in life, whether with illness or as a victim of natural disasters, as depicted in his new film "Stay Human." He and his wife Sara Agah Franti, have established Do It For The Love, a non-profit founded in 2013 to bring people living with life-threatening illnesses, children with severe challenges and wounded veterans to live concerts. To date, Do It For The Love has granted more than 2,000 wishes with the support of more than 100 artists. As well, he's built Soulshine Bali yoga retreat, "a place of happiness where your soul can soar in the sun." This came as a result of his employing yoga to help reduce the stress he felt after the 9/11 attacks.

"I think that optimism is like a muscle that you have to exercise. If you're in a dark place, and someone says, 'Come on snap out of it,'" and he chuckles at the thought, "it's very challenging. In fact, I don't like it if someone does that to you. If in your moments when you're in a better place, if you practice that optimism and practice seeing the positivity, then it becomes easier when you're in a dark place to click that back on. I've learned if I can change my thoughts I can change my feelings. That's kind of like a mantra I use myself. 'If I can change my thoughts I can change my feelings.'"

All of this good energy he brings to all his music. He is currently touring in support of "Stay Human Vol. II," a companion song collection to the film and the 10th LP from Michael Franti & Spearhead. It follows three consecutive albums that climbed into the top 5 on the Billboard Rock Albums Chart. He's also charted five singles in the top 30 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart and had eight songs reach the top 25 on the Triple-A Chart. His hit, "Say Hey" has accumulated more than 2 million downloads worldwide. Franti also had a No. 1 hit single with his 2010 song, "The Sound of Sunshine." Most recently, Franti was a recipient of the congressionally recognized Ellis Island Medal of Honor Award in May 2019. The award recognizes individuals who have made it their mission to share with those less fortunate while acknowledging their debt to their ethnic heritage as they uphold the ideals and spirit of America.

"I've always loved great storytellers who make you dance," he said. "Like Bob Marley and Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, John Lennon and Johnny Cash, and Run DMC. Those kinds of storytellers who make you dance are what I've been inspired by. And ours are the shows that are super high energy, and to experience them hasn't let down at all."

Opening is Devon Gilfillian, a gospel/blues and southern soul songwriter from Nashville. Advance tickets are available at all four levels, $56 to $100, through the venue website, www.goldenstatetheatre.com. You can call the box office at 831-649-1070.


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