Michael Franti and Spearhead 6.3.23 (Photos)

Boulder Theater
Boulder, CO

Words & Photos by Andrew Wyatt

Something’s up with Michael Franti. No, he is still as upbeat as ever. Still dances with his passionately devoted fan legion. Still freely offers hugs and takes selfies in the crowd. Still invites the young, and the young at heart on stage to dance to his infectious tunes. (Just not on the stage sound equipment, please.) Geez, he still exudes so much positivity, you could bottle up his sweat, call it "Soulshine Scent," and make a mint.

But still, something has shifted for Franti. Last weekend at his band’s uniquely staged acoustic show billed an intimate evening at the Boulder Theater between tunes, he opened up about the harsh effect of Covid lockdown in his life. It was hard on many people, he acknowledged. Really hard. Himself included. He spent much of it separated from his wife. His natural father died due to Covid. (Like me he is an adopted child.) After carefully building a successful music/business/wellness brand that included an impressive Indonesian retreat center, an annual cruise festival, a traveling yoga and meditation practice, it all came crashing down, in the blink of an eye. Michael Franti, of all people, felt lonely and depressed. And he was unemployed, just like all musicians are when they first start performing. It all was a bit overwhelming for someone who seemed to have manifested and cultivated so much beauty, joy, and goodness across so many years.

His young son gave him solace and inspiration. “What should we do today?” Franti would ask. “Let’s find a stick!” his ever-optimistic son piped up. And find a stick they did. The most uniquely weird, gnarled, knobby stick they could find. And then they merrily proceeded to march to the water’s edge to go fishing. And they caught a dinosaur, a big dinosaur. After the setting sun blushed its last light on the ocean, they tossed the day’s haul over their shoulders to roast marshmallows-on their newfound stick. Even though roasted pineapples are dinosaurs’ favorite! There was a simple magic to be found even in the treacherous crosscurrents of lockdown’s murky undertow.

Between songs at the Boulder Theater Saturday, Franti revealed that he even discovered a newfound freedom that comes with expressing self-deprecating wit. If you can’t make fun of yourself, then why have a sense of humor at all. How funny it was to reflect back on the irony of a moment that after 20 years in the recording industry that he scribed his first top 10 single, “Hey Hey Hey” while sitting on actor Woody Harrleson’s toilet. As Harrleson embarked on an extended film shooting schedule to make his hit Zombieland movie, he offered his home to Franti as a writing retreat of sorts. One morning after a shower in Harrleson’s home, a song came to Franti, Woody calls him to inquire how the writing was going. “Great!” Franti responded in the most awkward of moments. “But I can’t talk right now. I’m writing a song.

Woody tried to interject, “I really want to know how’s it going.”

Franti’s response was clenched and anxious. “No really. I’m writing a song. Right Now. In your bathroom.” After ending the call, Franti instantly grew frantic. There were no writing implements or paper immediately available. The song would evaporate in moments, and he needed to problem solve quickly. A blanket of vapor still coated the shower door, but that too would quickly vanish. So, he scribbled rapidly on the shower door and grabbed his phone to take a shot. Whew! But the image recorded the words backwards. More anxiety ensued till another phone call to a band member that enlightened Franti to the magic of using Photoshop to flip an image. And thus, his first number one hit was born.

Covid lockdown shoved his lifelong battle between his natural inclination towards optimism and ingrained sense of cynicism in very stark relief. The flood of often paradoxical emotions and flooded his song writing and all of it poured from the stage at the Boulder Theater on Saturday night in a cathartic crescendo bristling with an energy that rivals any evangelical revival tent. As the band ripped through simple old favorites like the “Sound of Sunshine” and catchy new tunes like “Big Love,” my wife commented to me her wonder in the band’s ability to whip the crowd in a body-jangling frenzy while mostly performing perched on bar stools. Towards the end of the show the band could no longer contain themselves and they too rose to their feet and danced alongside fans invited to the stage.

Something is up with Michael Franti. But it’s not the kind of stuff you want to bottle up and cram on a store shelf like Solshine Scent, you want to uncork that shit and fling it across every corner of the universe like fairy dust. And it sounds and feels a lot like hope and joy, and surely we could all could use a lot more of both.

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