Taken from San Francisco Chronicle (Nov 09, 2017)
Michael Franti on keeping spirits high when times are low
by Aidin Vaziri
Michael Franti, who lives in Hunters Point, is shown performing during Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in Golden Gate Park in 2015.
Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle
Michael Franti is serious about helping people. After witnessing the news of the firestorm that ravaged Northern California last month, the 51-year-old Bay Area native jumped at the chance to headline one of three benefit concerts being put on by the promoters of BottleRock Napa Valley in support of relief efforts. Michael Franti & Spearhead top the bill at the “For the Love of Napa” concert scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 18, at the Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville, while Counting Crows perform the same day at For the Love of Sonoma at Green Music Center in Rohnert Park. Train plays Dec. 1 at Napa’s Jam Cellars Ballroom. Franti spoke to us from his home in Hunters Point.
Q: How many seconds did it take you to agree to do this benefit concert?
A: Well, I’m a Northern California kid. I’ve lived in San Francisco since 1984. I was born in Oakland. I grew up in Davis. I love both the natural beauty and the diversity of Northern California. Anytime a natural disaster like these fires takes place it breaks my heart — to see miles and miles of homes destroyed and knowing there were people of all walks of life affected by this.
Q: Were you here when the fires were raging?
A: I was on tour. We flew in, and I remember arriving in San Francisco and thinking, “What the hell is happening?” The sky was completely orange. There were particles from the smoke. To see it on our doorstep and to get calls from my friends who live in the Napa and Sonoma region as they were cutting back the brush and debris, it was scary.
Q: It was another surreal moment in an exceptionally surreal year.
A: It’s been such a crazy time. From the numerous hurricanes and floods to the earthquake in Mexico and forest fires in the Western states. Then there was the attack in Las Vegas. I remember we had just walked off the stage with Train in Arizona. We had been playing for 10,000 people and just thought, “This could have been our show.” We have so much to be grateful for in our lives, but we’re living in a time that makes all of us feel vulnerable and fragile. That’s why we wanted to do this concert. I think it’s important that people get together and gather and have a good time.
Q: You do such a great job lifting people up during your concerts. Is it difficult to conjure that enthusiasm when you’re having a bad day?
A: No. I’ve been making socially conscious music now for 30 years and touring the world and playing for people of all walks of life — from Iraq to San Quentin to hospitals to massive festivals. I’ve tried with every ounce of my creativity to inspire creativity. The world is still a sh— show, but I meet people along the way who are doing extraordinary things and I’m reminded, everything counts. There are so many things that make life appear so fragile. It’s the extra little thing that inspires people to go one more day.