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Taken from al (May 21, 2011)

Michael Franti brings musical sunshine to the Hangout

by Carla Jean Whitley, Birmingham magazine

Michael Franti
James Minchin III

Michael Franti has performed his reggae-influenced pop music throughout the state of Alabama, and his set was one of the highlights of the 2010Hangout Music Festival. After the storms that made festival organizers temporarily clear the area on the last day of the 2010 event, Michael Franti and Spearhead was the first act to bring back the music. As people returned to the festival, he brought aural sunshine to the crowds dancing in the sand before him.

He’ll return for the 2011 festival, and though he was at his San Francisco home when we spoke Friday afternoon, Franti said he planned to be in Gulf Shores in time to take in some of the music Saturday—includingMotorhead, a band he’s never seen live and is eager to hear. Franti will perform on the Shaka Island kids' stage from 1:30-2 p.m., and on the Hangout Stage from 6-7:30 p.m., both on Sunday.

Carla Jean Whitley for Birmingham Box Set: Your latest album is The Sound of Sunshine, a title that seems to encompass your sound. But many of those songs came out of tough times, when you nearly died after your appendix ruptured. How did you "find the sun" again as you wrote?

Michael Franti: The main thing is that I really believe in the power of positivity. Right now is a difficult time in the world: the economic crisis, we’ve got wars going on, all the environmental stuff that’s been going on, the oil spill and then floods. I wanted to make a record that was uplifting and made people think that maybe today things seem dim, but we could still find that sun in our lives, in our hearts somewhere and share that with somebody else. Help us get through these rough times and keep our vision alive.

BBS: How does your diverse musical background, including punk and hip-hop bands, influence your sound?

MF: My musical sound is like my iPod [laugh]. On my iPod, I’ve got everything from club dance music to lots of reggae, rock, metal, pretty much anything. Country music. Anything that is a great song, I like. I don’t really think of music in terms of genre, or even by artist. I think of just a great song.

My music sort of draws upon all of those things. I write all my songs on the acoustic guitar first, but they could just as easily be played with an orchestra or a drum machine or rock arrangement or anything. I think if it’s a great song, you can play it any way and it’ll still work.

BBS: Your bio indicates that you don't wear shoes, and haven't for 10 years. Is that literal?

MF: On my birthday, April 21, it’s been 11 years. I started traveling to countries where kids couldn’t afford to wear shoes. I would take off my shoes and walk around with these kids and they would laugh at me hysterically because I couldn’t even take three steps without wincing. I decided to come home and go three days barefoot. At the end of those three days, I decide to go another week. Now it’s been 11 years.

You learn a lot going barefoot. You learn to step lightly, to watch where you step. It’s kind of a metaphor for life. When you go through the forest and you step on a little tree that’s just starting to grow, it hurts. A lot of times in life, when you have people that are raising their voice, you say, ‘Please don’t trample me.’

BBS: How does that work on a practical level, say if you’re at an airport?

MF: The hardest thing for me is the cold. When I go to the airport or a restaurant I don’t protest, I carry flip flops with me.

BBS: I suppose the Hangout's the perfect venue for you, then. Last year was certainly magical, as you were the first person we came back to after those terrible storms.

MF: Our music is all about letting go and feeling grateful for what we have. I remember last year, there was so much concern, worry that people weren’t coming down to the beach there because of the oil spill. The festival was worried, were they going to be able to do it again in another year. I had such a great experience there that I spent the year talking about it, talking to my friends about how beautiful the beach is there, and how remarkable the people are who live in Alabama and who rely on the beach for their livelihood.

My music is both about letting go, having fun and playing in the sun and the water, being yourself, but it’s also about that beach being there for generations to enjoy and make a living from.

BBS: It seems that the people of Alabama have had more and more reason to turn to music for solace lately. I’ve heard a lot of that in the wake of the recent tornadoes.

MF: It seems like Alabama has had more than its fair share of environmental issues lately. My heart goes out to everybody who’s hit … But every time I’ve been down to Alabama I’ve noticed one thing: That people have this ability to laugh and smile even when things are so serious and seem so hopeless. People have a real resilience there, and I think it’s a good lesson for the rest of the country in terms of waking up to what’s happening with our climate and environment, but also our ability to endure and to forge ahead. I’m always really inspired when I come down there.


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