STORY WRITTEN BY CHRIS CAMERON
For Digital First Media
Musician, filmmaker, humanitarian, Michael Franti and his band Spearhead bring the “Once A Day” tour to The Electric Factory in Philly on Friday.
“Once A Day” is more than a tour, it’s a movement and title of his forthcoming single about the chaos and uncertainty of life.
“It is my belief that we should all take the time to hug, kiss, and remember someone at least once a day,” Franti said.
Franti has long been recognized as a pioneering force using music as a vehicle for positive change. With the multi-platinum success of his song “Say Hey (I Love You)” and his 2010 release “The Sounds of Sunshine,” Franti and his band deliver a high-energy show that is thought-provoking.
Franti’s music blends rock, hip-hop, pop, and folk into a jam-band sound that aims to educate as much as it does to entertain audiences. His songs often tackle themes of politics, positivity, and equality. He said that all of his songs are inspired by whatever is in his heart when he is composing.
His latest single and tour was inspired by both the joys and challenges of unexpected moments in life. He discussed how he used to work as a bike messenger in San Francisco, CA and would take moments to marvel at the beauty of nature within the bustling financial district.
“Sometimes you have these moments of unexpected beauty and other times you have these intense challenges,” he said.
His 16-year-old son was diagnosed this past year with FFGS, a kidney disease.
“It broke our hearts and we thought it would break our family,” he said. “It actually brought us closer together. So the song is about embracing those unexpected moments in life and taking the time, every day, to love and show acts of kindness to others.”
Franti knows about the power of music and how it can inspire, uplift, and make people want to dance or cry. His foundation, “Do it for The Love,” brings people with advanced life-threatening illnesses to concerts across the country. He started the foundation after meeting a fan who was dying of ALS.
“I met the man and his wife backstage and invited them on stage while he sang a song,” he said. “He was so moved that he asked his wife to help him out of his wheel chair on stage so he could dance. There were 20,000 spectators at the show and there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. Afterwards they told me how important the show was to them and I talked to my fiancé who is an emergency room nurse and we came up with idea for the foundation.”
Franti immersed himself in music from a young age. Growing up in a household of five children in Oakland, CA, he was always surrounded by music from both his parents and his siblings.
“Everyone played the piano,” he said. “I took one lesson and quit. I’ve always regretted that.”
Franti credits his upbringing with his inspiration for many of the themes that reoccur throughout his songs. He was adopted by the Franti’s when he was a newborn and grew up in a culturally diverse household.
“My mother was insistent that although we were all very different, that we be treated the same and given the same opportunities,” he said. “She taught us that everyone we met we should treat as we expected to be treated (or better) and I carried those lessons throughout my life.”
Although his parents instilled in him the importance of embracing diversity, they were not initially supportive of his career choice.
“They were both teachers and they wanted me to do something else with my life,” he said. “Before my father died he told me that he wished he had pursued his dream of becoming an architect, but he didn’t because he felt it was more pragmatic to become a teacher. He eventually told me that he was glad that I’d followed my dreams.”
Franti said that he has presented his two children with a similar message and he wants them to follow their dreams and be free to explore their passions, but he also tells them that they have to work relentlessly to be successful in life. Franti has been writing music for 30 years and it is a career that he hones relentlessly.
His passion for songwriting took shape during college under the guidance of a priest who helped him develop his writing skills.
“He was my freshman English teacher at University,” Franti said. “I was playing basketball for the school and I needed to keep my grades up to remain eligible and he worked with me, teaching my how to organize my thoughts into written words. He taught me how to write and it changed my life.”
Franti still approaches music with the excitement of a fan, and he recognizes the importance of inspiring others through art. This enthusiasm carries into his live shows.
“I was always the first kid in line to buy concert tickets,” he said. “At the show I’d run to the front of the stage to see what effects pedals the guitarist had and I’d get excited about all the little details that went into a show. I still come to music as a fan, and to hear others get excited about my music, that’s the highest token of appreciation.”
Michael Franti is looking forward to returning to Philly and cites the musicians in the city as an integral part of Spearhead’s early sound.
“Some of our first records were made there at Ruffhouse Records with Joe ‘The Butcher’ Nicolo,” he said. “There are so many great musicians from Philly that we’ve worked with over the years. We’re really looking forward to coming back.”
IF YOU GO: Michael Franti and Spearhead perform at The Electric Factory in Philadelphia on June 5 at 9 p.m.. Tickets cost $35-$45. The show is all ages. Visit www.electricfactory.info or www.michaelfranti.com for more information.