Michael Franti and Spearhead play the Bessborough Gardens on June 29 as part of the SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival. Photo Courtesy: Chelsea Klette
“I loved the festival so much I married a Saskatoon girl,” he said.
To say Saskatoon has defied Franti’s expectations is probably an understatement. It’s the hometown of his now-wife Sara Agah and many friends. Today, the California native visits the city around twice a year. Agah still has a place in the city and recently completed her master’s in public health at the University of Saskatchewan.
“Saskatoon is a type of berry, I believe, but if it was in Urban Dictionary I think it would mean ‘A town where people are doing cool sh**.’ I have so many friends there now and there are so many creative people,” Franti said.
One of those creative people is Nathan Thoen, who accompanied Franti on tour taking pictures and collaborating on him with videos. Thoen’s band Bombargo will open for Franti at the festival. Asked if he helped the Saskatoon band land the open spot, he laughed and mentioned he might have put in a good word.
Another long-time local collaborator is yoga instructor Ryan Leier. Franti’s connection to the practice is strong. In fact, he had just finished a class when he picked up the phone for the interview. For the second time, Franti and Leier will host a free yoga jam in the Bessborough Gardens (June 29 at noon). Franti said the first such class in 2015 was great for hard-core yogis and novices alike.
“It was kind of like a yoga class that would erupt in spontaneous dance parties every 15 minutes or so. It was really fun,” he said.
The yoga jam will be followed by a mainstage concert in the same venue. As always, Franti will be joined by his four-piece band Spearhead.
“There’ll be five on stage until we pull about 20 people up from the audience,” he said.
It’s a stage he’s happy to return to, both for the vibe and the view. Franti himself will also venture into the crowd, for old favourites and songs from his newest album Soulrocker. It continues in Franti’s tradition of music with a message. He wants people to develop compassion so the music combines real issues with a feeling of hope.
Franti oozes positivity, from his laid-back music to his signature barefoot style, but he admits it is still challenging to stay upbeat all the time.
“Almost every day I get out of balance on something or I get hurt feelings about something or I’m angry. I’ve learned ways to get myself back on track. It’s something you have to practice. It’s like getting good at free throws. If you do it all the time it just becomes second-nature.”
In the current political climate in the U.S., he said activism is more important than ever.
“It’s been a component of my music since I first started in 1985 and now 30 years later, it’s more important than ever. I never imagined we would have a president in my country that would every day be Tweeting things I would ground my teenage son for. That kind of bullying coming from the top down is something we need to resist,” he said. “I really believe at this time that we need to raise our voices about what we believe in, no matter what perspective you’re from. Freedom of speech is only as powerful as the ability to listen to each other. If we can never listen with an open heart and mind free speech falls on