Larger than life, standing at 6'6" tall, Michael Franti enters the Fillmore in grand fashion. From the back of the venue he wades through the crowd, heading to the stage to start his show. The 51 year old singer songwriter beginning his set like no other. For the next nearly two hours, the Fillmore was full of a vibe that only happens at Franti gigs. His messages, songs, and guests always have a deeper meaning. He's a compassionate, intelligent, and thoughtful 'positivity pusher'. And in my opinion, we need more of them in this world, especially in present times.
On this night he shared with the audience a bit about himself that i had never known. He was born in Oakland. His mother, Mary, was of Irish and Belgian descent, and his father, Thomas, was Native/African American. His birth mother put him up for adoption because she was afraid that her racist family would not accept him. He was adopted by a Finnish American couple in Oakland, who at the time had three children of their own and also, one adopted African American son. Charles Franti (his adoptive father), was a professor in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. And his (adoptive) mother, Carole, looked after the five children. And that's where he got teachings from his mother about love for all humanity, being kind, compassionate, and open minded. Michael attended University of San Francisco on a full basketball scholarship. During that time he met a priest who taught him about writing stories. He then purchased a bass at a pawn shop, and started creating music inspired by hip hop, punk, and reggae that he heard on the campus radio station, KUSF.
Franti began his music career in 1986 with a band called The Beatnigs. Then, after another music collaboration or two, in 1994 he formed his band, Spearhead with a few studio musicians. He moved away from the politically charged rap to more of a funky feel. He then infused a bit of a reggae flavor and over those early years brought in others such as Joan Osbourne and Stephen Marley.
One thing that sticks out in my mind about Michael Franti, is he's always barefoot. I once asked him, why he doesn't wear shoes. He told me that in the year 2000, he was in Africa and saw that the children had no shoes. He wanted to feel what it was like for them, and to 'walk in their shoes" so he initially shed footwear for a couple days...those few days of being barefoot rolled into now 19 years of being barefoot, most of the time. Apart from when he boards a plane or eats in a restaurant. He now knows how it feels to walk in the shoes of people who cannot afford to wear them. I also asked him if he would ever consider running for president of the United States. As we are now in need of a huge dose of his positive attitude...In his reply, he didn't even pause before he answered an adamant, "no" to my question.
Experiencing a Michael Franti & Spearhead show is elating, invigorating, intense and educational. I've seen him several times over the past few years and he usually picks a topic to enlighten the audience about. At this show he talked about the 39,000+ people who are killed by guns in the United States alone. He then introduced onto the stage, a mother whose youngest son tried to break up a fight between two guys, and was murdered whilst doing so. She and the choir behind them, held up photos of her deceased son. Franti then went into a song, containing the lyrics, "We can be the healing, we can be the flower in the gun". At that point I looked over at my friend Stefanie, tears were streaming from her eyes, hearing about the mothers' sadness and the deep feeling of grief for the son that was lost. I then realized that this was Stefs' first time seeing a Franti show...four more times during his set were there tears from Stefs' eyes. Yes, she is a fairly easy crier, but his messages were deserving of evoking the deep emotion he conveys.
There was a young woman Franti featured on the stage that night, Victoria Canal, (vocals and keyboard). She was wonderful. Full of energy, and boasting a big beautiful voice. He told the audience that he found her on You Tube. At the end of the show he announced she will be going off the make her own record. He also had the SF Live Choir onstage throughout the show, as well as his very happy, energetic band members. J Bowman (guitarist), was never without an ear to ear smile across his face. All band members obviously enjoying what they do and who they get to work with. Sara Agah, his wife, briefly came onstage, and after a kiss from her husband, she talked for a moment about their charity called, "Do it for the Love Foundation."
Michael Franti continues to grow in social movements and popular contemporary music through touring, air play and word of mouth from Franti concert goers and their supporters. He is a regular guest on the 97.3 Alice Radio Morning Show with Sarah & Vinnie. And he is definitely one of the most positive artists on the scene today. Northern California should be proud to include him as part of the Bay Area Music family.