For over 20 years, Michael Franti & Spearhead have used an infectious blend of reggae, hip-hop, and rock as a platform for spreading uplifting messages of community and social justice.
Of course, it's easy to radiate positivity and maintain an optimistic worldview when you're a wildly successful international rock star. But Franti's resilience to adversity was given a major test last year when his son Ade was diagnosed with a serious kidney disease that had already robbed the teenager of over 50 percent of his kidney's function.
"When we found out about the diagnosis, we were obviously devastated and thought it would rip our family apart because it tore our hearts open, but as we moved together to fight the disease there started to be more hugs in our family," Franti recalls. "There were more kisses and more 'I love you's' and more moments when we went from just being in absolute tears of fear to spontaneous laughter and saying we're going to get through this together."
Out of this experience came "Once A Day," a new single that encourages listeners to give their loved ones a hug and a kiss at least once a day. Like the group's double platinum hit single "Say Hey (I Love You)" that came before it, the song highlights Franti's ability to write and perform simplistic lyrics that carry motivational messages without being cheapened by a sense of corniness or naiveté.
Franti's long history of social activism (as we spoke on the phone his team was busy preparing a special presentation for the night's show in Colorado to raise awareness about a toxic mine spill in the nearby Animas River) helps to ground his idealistic lyrics in legitimacy. In a refreshing change of pace from activists who are quick to point fingers at those who they perceive to be in the wrong, Franti's approach centers around the importance of those diverging groups coming together to solve problems—which is reflected in his rallying cry, "we all will rise up."
"When I say, 'we all will rise up,' I mean we're all going to rise up to the challenges that we face as individuals and as a planet," Franti says. "We're going to do our best to not just demonize other groups of people or governments or corporations, but to work with those groups to make the changes that we need in this world as we move into the next generation. If we don't, we're doomed, but I really believe that we can."
This mentality of cooperation and togetherness has a habit of leaking into the band's performances as well. The group isn't tied directly to any specific religion or ideology, but a glance at a Michael Franti & Spearhead show could convince someone they're at "church." A sense of communion and celebration often fills the air as people of different backgrounds and ideals are brought together for the night.
"There are seven billion of us on this planet and all of us have a different way of getting inspiration from that which is greater than ourselves. Some people call it spirituality or God or religion. Some people call it practice yoga," Franti suggests. "Some like to take walks through nature and others get it through music, but we all require that inspiration from something that is greater than ourselves and the celebration of that diversity is what I believe is the key to us becoming a more whole planet."
6:30 pm, Sunday, August 23
Les Schwab Ampitheater