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Taken from Houston News (September 7, 2011)

Michael Franti & Spearhead spread sunshine to Pavilion

by Lynne Margolis, Contributing writer

Michael Franti
Michael Franti, pictured, and his band
Spearhead open for Carlos Santana
Saturday night at the Cynthia Woods
Mitchell Pavilioin in The Woodlands.

If you couldn’t already tell from listening to his music, Michael Franti isn’t afraid to wear his emotions on his sleeve.

He even confesses he still cries every time he watches the final scene in the film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

“When Willy Wonka goes from being the biggest [jerk] to being the most beautiful, loving person … it just gets me choked up,” Franti said during a recent phone interview from his San Francisco home.

“I love that about people’s life journeys,” he added in his pleasant voice. “Somebody like Nelson Mandela is in prison for 28 years and comes out and says, ‘We want to build a nation that’s inclusive of all people.’ Those are the types of changes in life that get me inspired and excited to make music.”

Franti and his band Spearhead will open for Santana Saturday night at The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion.

Franti, whose current CD is “The Sound of Sunshine,” had a life-changing experience of his own in 2009, when he nearly died from a ruptured appendix. It took doctors a week to figure out what was wrong. While he was in the hospital, he had time to reflect on what was important: The love of family and friends naturally topped the list.

As he sings in “I’ll be Waiting” – “The best things in life aren’t things/they’re living and breathing. The best things in life aren’t things/they’re something you can believe in.” He also found a new appreciation for simple pleasures, like strumming his guitar or feeling the warmth of the sun. As he recovered, he’d go to the window each day and open the curtains to see if the sun was shining.

“I’d get this different feeling, like, ‘Wow, the sun is coming down and it’s giving me this sense of hope and optimism that today is gonna be a really positive day,’” he recalled. “So we tried to capture that feeling musically.”

TV viewers who don’t TiVo past the commercials are already well-acquainted with the album’s title track from its use in an often-aired beer ad. But the tune, which literally embodies the joy of embracing life, is so infectious, it’s darn near impossible to get sick of.

The hit version isn’t the first one he wrote, however; in fact, the earliest edition of the song is the album’s final cut, “The Sound of Sunshine Going Down,” a slower, less jaunty but very pretty take.

“It was written at the time of seeing the sun going down and that sensation that you have, like, ‘Wow, the day’s over. Whatever BS happened today, it’s gonna drop in the water with the sun,’” Franti said.

That attitude – the idea that negativity can be erased by a setting sun and hope is reborn with each new day – is part of what makes Franti and his band Spearhead’s music so refreshing. Sure, he espouses the positive vibrations of hero Bob Marley, but he does it in a way that’s uplifting without being cloying. He also weaves in some sweet love songs – songs that also have an incredibly groovy beat, like the reggae-fied “Shake It,” with lines like, “you’re perfect just the way you are” and “it’s not the way that you look, it’s the way that you shook.”

That appealing mix of romantic and inspiring, life-affirming tunes has an energizing, mood-elevating effect. Even when he criticizes, as in the opening lines of “Anytime You Need Me,” it’s merely the set-up to a more positive sentiment, in this case, the importance of being a loving, supportive friend.

But Franti’s version of support goes far beyond his inner circle. Ten years ago, he noticed people in many parts of the world are so impoverished, they can’t afford shoes. After giving up his own for three days to find out what it was like, he kept up the practice. Now, he wears flip-flops when he has to; otherwise, he’s barefoot. Last August, he joined forces with Soles4Souls, a charity that donates shoes to needy people worldwide. He hopes to collect 100,000 pairs via donations or sponsorships.

“In a lot of countries … people have things a lot worse than we do,” he said. “And every time I’d go and play somewhere like that on the street, I’d play these serious songs about the problems of the world, and people would always look at me and go, ‘That’s really cool, we get it, but play something that makes us laugh and dance.’

“It really changed the way I started to write songs. The goal of my work changed from wanting to just make music that raised social consciousness to making music that made people happy and inspired [them] in dark times.”

Perhaps not coincidentally, his profile began to rise, too. In 2008, he released his most successful album, “All Rebel Rockers,” fueled by the hit “Say Hey (I Love You).”

Ironically, every now and then, a fan recalling Franti’s work in the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy or his University of San Francisco punk band, the Beatnigs, will complain they’d rather hear angry songs.

“I don’t quite know how to respond,” Franti said with a laugh. “Sorry to make you pretty [expletive] happy?”




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